Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Fergie finally talks Hip-Hop!

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Since joining The Black Eyed Peas as frontwoman just over four years ago, LA-born-and-bred Stacey “Fergie” Ferguson has not only impressively helped said Californian hip hop crew sell 18 million records worldwide, but has also recently seen her current debut solo set ”The Dutchess” sail past Triple-Platinum-plus status

Indeed, if credibility were earned solely from record sales, there`s no question she`d be the singularly most respected female hip hop artist on the planet right now. Nevertheless, fact is credibility and sales DON`T always equate - and Fergie has indeed faced her fair share of criticism over the past few years. Not least from some of the The Peas` original hardcore followers who - fairly or unfairly - have on occasions delighted in naming her as solely responsible for turning their one-time underground rap heroes into what they perceive as an over-commercial, money-spinning global pop phenomenon.

Then of course there`s her international style icon/every man`s wet dream/pin-up status. Which in turn has predictably (if unfairly) provoked bitchy accusations of the “shallow celebrity” kind. Yet through it all, comparatively little opportunity has been given to Fergie herself to directly address the frequently-vitriolic attacks of her haters and in turn reveal details of the bona fide hip hop lover and genuine artist behind all the Brit nominations, Grammy performances and obligatory tabloid gossip.

Nevertheless, as the old saying goes, there`s never any time like the present. As, relaxing amidst the minimalist décor of Park Lane`s trendy Metropolitan Hotel, it`s a highly personable and down-to-earth Ms. Ferguson who this afternoon greets “B&S” to give what even she herself acknowledges as one of her most revealing musical interviews to date. Yes urban headz - it`s the one you`ve been waiting for! As, amongst other things, FERGIE FINALLY TALKS HIP HOP!

Sinking her diminutive 5`4 frame into her hotel suite`s comfy leather sofa, the 32-year-old singer/rapper instantly reveals how one motive for recording her solo record was indeed so the public could get to know the real woman-behind-the-image that much better: “With “The Dutchess” being my first album, I wanted to really represent who I am and what I`ve been through - which definitely includes my early hip hop background. I wanted to put forth the truth and let people know that I am more than just the tomboy they see be-bopping onstage with a bunch of guys! My goal was to be honest and to let people know the thinking side of me, as well as the more aggressive side which comes through on songs like (the US chart-topper) “London Bridge” and “Glamorous” , where I have Ludacris - one of the cleverest MCs in the business - bringing that Dirty South flavour that`s so big right now.”

Indeed, it`s the Polow Da Don-produced “Glamorous” that`s possibly the album`s most honest song of all: “The thing about “Glamorous” is that, when you hear the title, you`d think it was just gonna be another superficial/surface typea song. Whereas, if you really listen to the lyrics, it`s actually talking about the duality of my life”, continues Fergie: “It`s taking you from my days of living at my mom`s house in Hacienda Heights to now, when I`m staying in luxury hotels. When I first left to go on tour with The Black Eyed Peas I was collecting unemployment benefit and just trying to hustle to get my first album done. I had no money and was living a very humble lifestyle. And, though many people would like to think otherwise, the fact is I do still have that mentality! Even though I now do find myself in these larger-than-life positions, at the same time the first thing I do when I get off an airplane in LA is go straight to the fast-food drive-through - because that`s my comfort food! I may fly first-class and live in hotel rooms across the world, but I`m still just a regular girl! I guess you can take the girl out the suburbs, but you can`t take the suburbs out the girl!”

In fact, it was during Fergie`s teenage upbringing in the LA suburbs that she first became inspired by the female MCs of the day, whose flavour she`s set out to revive on album cuts like the aforementioned, Eighties-inspired “Fergalicious”: “Exactly! Roxanne Shante, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Monie Love, Salt`N`Pepa... there were WAY more female MCs back then than there are now! Which is why I wanted to pay tribute to them on my album and bring back that old style. You know, back when I was around 14 my friend and I would go to the underage dance clubs and make up these routines where we`d do our own version of battle-dancing! And, because that was such a big memory for me and because I also feel that fast rhythm is missing in today`s music, I wanted people of today`s generation to experience it in the same way I did. All those women that I looked up to back then were sending out very strong female messages. So, while I don`t claim to be a battle MC, I am trying to bring that old skool flair back to people`s attention today by sampling tracks like JJ Fad`s “Supersonic” and coming with the braggish lyrics that lend themselves to those dance-friendly rhythms from that era.”

Meanwhile, the Sixties flavour of tracks like the Shangri-Las-influenced “Clumsy” (the current single) and Temptations-sampling “Here I Come” reflect a different side of Fergie`s upbringing: “Yeah, the old skool thing comes from two different parts of my life”, she acknowledges; “With my parents - who were huge Motown fans - taking me to see The Temptations and The Four Tops when I was 10, Motown was something I latched onto very early. Then, during my High School years - with Hacienda Heights being a mixture of the suburbs and the barrio - I also got a glimpse of the whole Cholo style and the Mexican-American low-rider culture. I remember sneaking out of my house to put on a lot more eyeliner and lipstick and teasing my bangs up cha-cha style, so I could join the guys to go cruising on Whittier Boulevard in their low-rider cars! You know, it would be jam-packed; everybody`d be listening to oldies... It really was a big pop-culture thing in Southern California. So I guess in that way my love of that nostalgic music does make me very much a product of my environment.”

Nevertheless, it was the emerging radical music happenings in nearby Compton that would have the strongest influence on the teenage Miss Ferguson: “Yeah, coming from a generation that hip hop was already making a very strong mark on, growing up on the West Coast during the birth of gangsta rap was definitely something else! With all these things going on in Compton - just 40 minutes from our house - it was fascinating for me, as a suburban girl, to hear about this crazy lifestyle of these people who were living so close to my own neighbourhood! I became fascinated by it to the point where I just immersed myself into listening to groups like NWA the whole time! I even had a desire at one point to just drive incognito through Compton and see what it was like - but I was too scared! Because, by living in the suburbs, I didn`t have to deal with any of the consequences of the negativity, I became attracted to guns, I developed a crush on Eazy-E… to the point where my parents - who were teachers - thought I was crazy! Which of course made it that much MORE attractive! It was a little bit rebellious, a little bit naughty... Which, growing up as a teenager, is exactly what you want to be!”

All of which in turn persuaded a 15-year-old Fergie to take time out of her then-career as a Hollywood child TV performer to join her first group, Wild Orchid. Modelling themselves on acts like TLC, Wild Orchid fought against the industry politics of the day (“15-year-olds weren`t getting signed back then, and white girls definitely weren`t rapping publicly!”) to obtain a record deal, though chart success evaded them. Nevertheless, being in the group did coincidentally lead to Fergie first hooking up with the outfit she would eventually go on to conquer the world with.

“I first went to see The Black Eyed Peas in 1998 at a place called the El Ray Theatre in LA”, she recalls: “Because they were hip hop-yet-abstract and their style was eclectic and theatrical, there was something about them I knew I could gel with. So years later, when Wild Orchid and The Peas happened to be on a radio show at the same time, I went up to (BEPs leader), got on my hustle, and told him I`d been wanting to work with him for ever! We exchanged numbers, and it was when they needed a singer for their song “Shut Up!” that we actually started working together. I basically became a studio rat! I`d go to the studio, put a background part here or there on the (2003-released) “Elephunk” album - and ended up becoming the record`s background singer. We all started becoming friends; we`d go to clubs together... And, when it came to the point where “Elephunk” was actually finished, they decided they wanted a girl to do all the singing parts. So - though I was working on my solo stuff at the time - I made the decision to become a full-time member of The Black Eyed Peas! And I`m obviously very glad I did! It finally gave me the rock & roll lifestyle I`d craved, but never had, with Wild Orchid - where the most we`d got to do was open for Cher!”

So how did the woman who was recently voted one of “People” magazine`s “50 most beautiful people” feel about the initial resistance towards her from the Peas` original fans? “I felt horrible about it actually. I`d cry and be like `I`m sorry guys, but I`m just doing what I love to do. The GROUP accept me. THEY see no colour. THEY support me. So why can`t YOU?`… I mean, when those purists made it clear they didn`t like me I did feel really bad - because I didn`t want the group to lose any fans. Especially when it wasn`t like I`d come in and changed everything. You know, “Where Is The Love” was the song the first got us all the crossover attention - and I was hardly even ON that song! So for me it was hard, and I really felt I had to prove myself to people. Every night I`d look at those heads in the audience staring at me and folding their arms - and feel I was in the middle of a war-zone! But you know what? That just made me even MORE hungry to be accepted and to be successful.”

So does she feel any of the criticism has been down to her colour? ”Well yeah, being a white woman in a primarily-black hip hop band is definitely not commonplace. But, while it may be a new thing, I certainly don`t think I`ll be the last! I think more and more colour-lines will be erased because today hip hop is EVERYWHERE! It`s not just in the South Bronx anymore! It`s in Japan; it`s in London; it`s in Germany - and new boundaries are being broken all the time! And, if I have to be the first one to do things, that`s fine with me! To be a woman in hip hop you have to be able to take criticism and not fall apart. And, with me being a very strong, thick-skinned person, I definitely can take it! You know, being in The Black Eyed Peas - where we`ve taken so many risks - has given me the confidence to not really feel scared of ANYTHING any more! I just know that I AM being true to my hip hop roots, that my truth is all I can hold onto, and if people can`t accept that then that`s THEIR problem!”

Regardless of any past public misconceptions about her persona and musical credentials, however, Fergie nevertheless feels that the release of her own successful solo project has definitely increased awareness of her true character and artistic breadth: “I do feel that a lot of females in particular are understanding me more now - especially now they`ve had a chance to live with the album and are understanding the lyrics better. You know, by putting out my own record I have been allowed to elaborate more on things that have happened to me as a woman. Those who only knew me as the “My Humps” girl are now getting to appreciate my deeper, more emotional side. Because, as well as having my upbeat aggressive party songs - which will always be a part of me - with tracks like ”The Make Up Song” I am showing that I`m also not afraid to tell you about my insecurities too. You know, to me an artist shouldn`t be afraid to take risks. Because, at the end of the day, that`s the only way music is going to grow,”

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