Perhaps no musical genre takes the politics of dancing quite as seriously as hip-hop, in which stone-faced, credibility-obsessed MCs have long looked down on dance-happy rappers as commercial clowns unworthy of respect. Like smiling too prominently, dancing takes on a larger social context within hip-hop, representing assimilation-minded escapism that's supposedly at odds with the socially conscious music Chuck D famously called the CNN of black America. The California hip-hop outfit Black Eyed Peas loves to dance—it does so fluidly and enthusiastically in its videos and live performances—and isn't about to let anything as minor as hip-hop dogma keep it from expressing itself in whatever manner it sees fit. The elegance and exuberance of its dancing carries over into its defiantly escapist music, which celebrates hip-hop's endless sonic possibilities with a winning mixture of theatricality and a finely honed spirit of adventure. Unfolding with refreshing unpredictability, Bridging The Gap gets off to a straightforward start with "BEP Empire," which teams the group with the bracing minimalism and signature scratching of legendary producer-for-hire DJ Premier. It's a solid if predictable collaboration, and it's a testament to the production savvy of BEP's Will.I.Am (who produced much of the album) that it's not one of Bridging's better tracks, lacking the warmth, genre-blurring eclecticism, and sense of joy that characterizes the disc's remainder. Like The Pharcyde's underrated Labcabincalifornia, Bridging is rooted in a sophisticated, distinctly Californian brand of hedonism based less on the instant gratification of gangsta rap than on the hard-earned joy derived from being who you want to be and doing what you want to do. Bridging The Gap is both an album title and a musical strategy, as BEP uses live instrumentation, smart samples, and brilliantly matched guests (Mos Def, Wyclef Jean, Macy Gray, Esthero, De La Soul) to bound effortlessly from hip-hop to R&B to bossa nova to soul and back again. Rooted in a love of hip-hop abundantly evident in valentines to the art form ("Rap Song," "Request-Line"), it still takes it in new and seductive places, making Bridging The Gap a heartfelt, infectious classic.

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