In The Ones of the ‘10s, I’ll be reviewing every single that hit #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the 2010s and work my way up into the present. This column will be done in the style of Stereogum’s column The Number Ones where writer Tom Breihan has spent the last two years reviewing every #1 song in the entire history of the Billboard Hot 100 from 1958 to the present where he is currently up to 1978. Seriously, read his column it’s so good! Start with the latest song he’s reviewing and work your way backwards. My mission with this column is to give my thoughts on the songs that were big in the 2010s while also giving you guys the stories behind the songs and artists you either love or hate. And with that, we can try to make sense of what the 2010s were musically and where music is going now. In a nod to Breihan’s column, I will grade each song from 1 to 10. After my review, I’ll post Bonus Beats where I post various clips of the song’s use in popular culture from movies, TV, commercials, performances, covers, and samples. I’ll also post The Number Twos and the 10s of the ‘10s where I give my rating to songs that peaked at #2 and elsewhere in the Top 10 behind the song I reviewed that’s usually an 8 or higher. There are a lot of #1 songs to get throughso I plan on posting one song review a day or as close to every day as my schedule will allow. Enjoy!
The Black Eyed Peas- “Imma Be”
HIT #1: March 6, 2010
STAYED AT #1: 2 weeks
Throughout the course of this column, we’re going to be encountering many imperial phases. The point where an artist becomes super popular and reaches the height of their hit making powers and are able to wield songs that wouldn’t have been hits before or after an imperial phase just based on pure name recognition alone. This often means artists will take advantage of their fleeting power and release songs even bad, underwhelming songs to #1 just because they can. That’s the best way to describe how “Imma Be” reached #1 because “Imma Be” is mind numbingly repetitive garbage.
It’s a long way from where the Black Eyed Peas came from. It all started in 1988 when William Adams, will.i.am, and Allan Pineda, apl.de.ap, met in eighth grade and shared an interest in rap music and began performing around their hometown in Los Angeles. It wasn’t too long when they caught the attention of the nephew of Jerry Heller, the manager of Ruthless Records that was headed by N.W.A. member Eazy-E which ended up signing the two in 1992. With another high school friend, they created a group called Atban Khann. That group lasted only a few years as their planned debut album “Grass Roots” was shelved right before it was set to be released. The group themselves would get dropped by Ruthless Records after Eazy-E’s death in 1995.
After that, the group rebranded as the Black Eyed Pods with will.i.am and apl.de.ap and replacing their friend with another friend of theirs Taboo (they’d renamed themselves the Black Eyed Peas a short while after). They signed to Interscope Records and continued performing setting themselves apart from the gangsta rap music dominating the West Coast during the ‘90s with their preference of having a live band and adopting a more bohemian style. They released two albums in this style, 1998’s Behind The Front and 2000’s Bridging The Gap, garnering critical praise but getting little to no mainstream traction. Something had to change.
In 2001, the Peas started recording their third album Elephunk over two years and was meant to shift their style from the alternative conscious hip-hop they built themselves on to a more pop friendlier version of rap. During the sessions for Elephunk, the guys wanted a female voice for one of their tracks after their previous two female singers left the group so will.i.am invited a former child star and girl group singer Stacey Ferguson, Fergie, to sing and eventually was offered to join the group. All of this would prove successful as Elephunk was certified as double platinum selling over 3 million copies in the United States and over 9 million copies worldwide. It peaked at #14 on Billboard’s 200 Album chart, not amazing but a hell of a lot better than their previous two albums. This also extended to the singles with the first single “Where Is The Love?,” featuring uncredited vocals from Justin Timberlake, breaking them into the Top 10 (It peaked at #8. It’s a 10!).
They continued this on 2005’s Monkey Business which established their new formula of having Fergie and will.i.am be the more dominant stars of the group and relegating apl.de.ap and Taboo to supporting roles. It worked again with all four singles off Monkey Business hitting the Top 20 and two of them hitting the Top 10 with “Don’t Phunk With My Heart” (Peaked at #3. It’s a 6.) and “My Humps” (Also peaked at #3. It’s a 1.). After that success, the group went on a hiatus and focused on solo projects with Fergie enjoying the most success with her 2006 solo album The Dutchess launching three #1 singles, “London Bridge,” “Glamorous,” and “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” as well as two more Top 10 singles, the #2 hit “Fergalicious,” (It’s a 3) and the #5 hit “Clumsy,” (It’s a 4).
In 2009, the Black Eyed Peas came back big with the release of The E.N.D (Energy Never Dies) which moved them further from pop rap toward the growing electropop dance music that was dominating which was inspired by will.i.am hearing the music in Australian clubs while in that country filming X-Men Origins: Wolverine. The album launched the back to back number ones “Boom Boom Pow” and “I Gotta Feeling,” the former being Billboard’s #1 song of ‘09. Together they spent 26 consecutive weeks at number one in ’09, the most for any act. Aside from “Imma Be,” the album launched two more Top 10 singles, “Meet Me Halfway” (Peaked at #7. It’s a 5.) and “Rock That Body” (Peaked at #9. It’s a 3.). Clearly, this is a group in the middle of an imperial phase.
“Imma Be” was released as the fourth single from The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies) and it’s obvious from the song that this is the work of a group who have reached the absolute height of their powers and feel that they do not have to put in much effort to prove themselves to get a hit. It’s especially obvious when the chorus is just will.i.am repeating the title til you want to go crazy. This type of annoying chorus goes for a lot of Black Eyed Peas and will.i.am involved songs but even then this is beyond annoying. Even after the chorus, the title is still repeated in almost every line like a lingering annoyance. YouTube music reviewer MicTheSnare in his recent 10 year retrospective on The E.N.D. (Energy Never Dies) noted how the Black Eyed Peas often have a very fluid and relaxed approach to songwriting. While they adhere to a typical song structure of intro/verse/chorus/verse/chorus, they also tend to go off on their own thing in their songwriting than the typical pop structure which is why many of their songs don’t feel as structured as your typical pop song. It’s especially evident here where the second half of “Imma Be” just turns into a completely different song after following the traditional pop songwriting structure for the first half.
Musically, it has the same style that the Black Eyed Peas were using at this time with robotic electro pop synth and AutoTune production trying to sound futuristic and yet sounding very dated listening to it now. They also switch up the song from what was a typical standard electro pop to a more bass heavy second half that where they continue to repeat the title to further annoyance.
As with most Black Eyed Peas songs and most imperial phases songs for that matter, it’s just them bragging about how awesome and superior they are. Considering how repetitive and stupid these lyrics are I could just go this whole review without mentioning them. The most laughable lyrics come from will.i.am where he describes himself as the “average brother with soul” along with comparing himself to a sperm bank, using his popularity to excuse the mindless repetitive writing which further fuels the imperial phase notion. Fergie in the first part displays more of the arrogance that the Black Eyed Peas often demonstrate in their songs. apl.de.ap in the final part definitely sounds like a supporting member cause he doesn’t leave much of an impact with his delivery all while Taboo is not even on the song. With the Black Eyed Peas’ popularity from 2009, it’s hard not to see “Imma Be” hitting #1 just because the music listening public was into whatever they would release next. They could have released any song at this point and it would’ve hit the same as “Imma Be.”
Contrary to the album title, the energy did eventually die for the Black Eyed Peas. Later in 2010, they issued the ironically titled album The Beginning which spawned their last two Top 10 hits, the Dirty Dancing sampling “The Time (Dirty Bit),” (It peaked at #4. It’s a 2.) and the electropop like ballad “Just Can’t Get Enough” (It peaked at #3. It’s a 5.). Through this, will.i.am was also working behind the scenes as a producer and featured artist and we’ll see him again in this column as a featured artist soon.
After their tour in 2011, the Black Eyed Peas announced an indefinite hiatus and since then have largely dropped off the mainstream. They put out a 2016 remake of “Where Is The Love?.” Fergie officially left the group in 2018 all while she released her long delayed second album Double Dutchess in 2017 and delivered a much talked about rendition of the Star Spangled Banner at the 2018 NBA All-Star Game. The remaining members got back together and put out Masters of the Sun Vol. 1 in 2018, their first album since The Beginning which was basically a return to their pre-mainstream alternative conscious hip-hop sound. And they’re still out there performing wherever.
Nowadays you don’t hear “Imma Be” a lot. You don’t hear it being covered. You don’t hear it a lot in commercials, trailers, movies, or TV. It’s a song that mainly exists now as a remnant of how big the Black Eyed Peas were that our cultural memory has done our best to forget about since 2010. It’s a song forever tied to its era and honestly I’m perfectly fine with that.
BONUS BEATS: Here’s “Imma Be” soundtracking a bar scene in 2010’s The Other Guys
BONUS BONUS BEATS: Here’s “Imma Be” soundtracking a flashback scene in 2011’s The Hangover Part II
(Cast member Bradley Cooper will eventually appear in this column. We’re far from the shallow now.)