Black Eyed Peas has always blurred the line separating underground hip-hop and shiny, happy pop-rap. The underground has generally equated stone-faced solemnity with authenticity, but Black Eyed Peas never hesitates to smile, dance, party, aim for the pop charts, and do whatever else it feels like doing, purists be damned. In 2000, the trio struck a perfect balance between underground ambition and pop savvy with Bridging The Gap, an eclectic, adventurous, genre-hopping magnum opus as accessible and radio-friendly as anything P. Diddy or Nelly has ever done. The album should have made the photogenic, stylish, hard-working group into a multi-platinum sensation, but it didn't. Three years later, BEP returns with Elephunk, an album whose blatant commercial ambitions make Bridging The Gap sound like Metal Machine Music. The guest list sums it all up: Its predecessor featured turns by De La Soul, DJ Premier, Mos Def, Wyclef Jean, and Jurassic 5's Chali 2Na. Elephunk features Papa Roach and Justin Timberlake, and the latter's contribution, "Where Is The Love," marks the album's high point. Then again, nobody has ever confused Black Eyed Peas with Dead Prez or Black Star. The group's appeal has always had more to do with its breezy, lush, seductive sound than its often just-adequate lyrical content, and Elephunk is no exception. At its best, the album has a loose-limbed exuberance that's hard to resist. "Latin Girls" and "Let's Get Retarded" are gloriously dopey fun, while "Where Is The Love" soars on the strength of Timberlake's falsetto, sweeping strings, and Will.I.Am and Ron Fair's elegant production. Elephunk gets off to a discouraging start, with non-starting dance tracks like "Hands Up," "Labor Day (It's A Holiday)," and the dancehall-flavored "Hey Mama," which sound busy and cluttered without being infectious or catchy. It picks up around its halfway point, though, as the pace gets less frantic and the production becomes smoother, subtler, and more refreshingly sophisticated. Elephunk may not blow up, but it does go pop with enough style and verve to make its lack of substance irrelevant.
More from The A.V. Club