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Issue 1084

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FERGIE: RISKY BUSINESS...

Fergie
Fergie Fergie 2 Fergie's Cover Image

Since joining The Black Eyed Peas as front woman just over 3 years ago, LA's Stacey âFergieâ Ferguson has not only impressively helped said Californian hip hop crew sell 18 million records world-wide, but has also recently seen her current debut solo set âThe Dutchessâ sail past Platinum-plus status.

Indeed, if credibility were earned solely from record sales, thereâs no question sheâd be the singularly most respected female hip hop artist on the planet right now. Nevertheless, fact is credibility and sales donât always equate - and Fergie has indeed faced her fair share of criticism. Not least from some of the The Peasâ original hard-core followers who have on occasions delighted in naming her as solely responsible for turning their one-time underground rap heroes into what they perceive as an overcommercial, money-spinning global pop phenomenon. Then of course thereâs her international style icon/every manâs wet dream/pin-up status. Which in turn has predictably (if unfairly) provoked bitchy accusations of the âshallow celebrityâ 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.

âWith âThe Dutchessâ being my first album, I wanted to really represent who I am and what Iâve been through which definitely includes my early hip hop background." says fergie "I wanted to put forth the truth and let people know that I am more than just the tomboy they see be-bopping on-stage 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 Bridgeâ' and 'Glamorous'... The latter is possibly the albumâs most honest song of all. âThe thing about 'Glamorous' is that, when you hear the title, youâd think it was just gonna be another superficial/surface type of song. Whereas, if you really listen to the lyrics, itâs actually talking about the duality of my lifeâ, continues Fergie. âItâs taking you from my days of living at my momâs house in Hacienda Heights to now, when Iâm staying in luxury hotels. When I first left to go on tour with BEP I was collecting unemployment benefit and just trying to hustle to get my first album done... 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 - thatâs my comfort food. I may fly first-class and live in hotel rooms across the world, but Iâm still just a regular girl! I guess you can take the girl out the suburbs, but you canât take the suburbs out the girl!â

Her early inspiration of female MCs of the day, whose flavour sheâs revived on the album are prevalent: Roxanne Shante, Queen Latifah, MC Lyte, Monie Love, SaltâNâPepa. "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 weâd 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 todayâs music, I wanted people of todayâs 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.â

Nevertheless, it was the emerging radical music happenings in nearby Compton that would have the strongest influence on the teenage Miss Ferguson. âYeah, 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 didnât 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.â

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 (â15-year-olds werenât getting signed back then, and white girls definitely werenât rapping publicly!â) 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.

âI first went to see BEP in 1998 at a place called the El Ray Theatre in LAâ, she recalls. âBecause 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 will.i.am, got on my hustle, and told him Iâd been wanting to work with him for ever! We exchanged numbers, and it was when they needed a singer for their song âShut Up!â that we actually started working together. I basically became a studio rat! Iâd go to the studio, put a background part here or there on the (2003-released) âElephunkâ album - and ended up becoming the recordâs background singer. We all started becoming friends; weâd go to clubs together... and, when it came to the point where âElephunkâ was actually finished, they decided they wanted a girl to do all the singing parts..."

So how did the woman who was recently voted one of âPeopleâ magazineâs â50 most beautiful peopleâ feel about the initial resistance towards her from the Peasâ original fans? âI felt horrible about it actually. Iâd cry and be like âIâm sorry guys, but Iâm just doing what I love to do. The group has always accepted me; they see no colour; they support me. So why canât you?â I mean, when those purists made it clear they didnât like me I did feel really bad - because obviously I didnât want the group to lose any fans... You know, âWhere Is The Loveâ was the song that 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 Iâd 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.â

So does she feel any of the criticism has been down to her colour? âWell 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 donât think Iâll be the last. I think more and more colour-lines will be erased because today hip hop is everywhere. Itâs not just in the South Bronx anymore! Itâs in Japan; itâs in the UK; itâs in Germany - and new boundaries are being broken all the time..."

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 is definitely increasing awareness of her true character and artistic breadth. âI do feel that a lot of females in particular are understanding me more now - especially now theyâve 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 âMy Humpsâ 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 âThe Make Up Songâ I am showing that Iâm also not afraid to tell you about my insecurities too. You know, to me an artist shouldnât be afraid to take risks. Because, at the end of the day, thatâs the only way music is going to grow.â

The single âGlamorousâ Featuring Ludacrisâ is released March 19. The album âThe Dutchessâ is out now, both through Will.I.Am Music Group/A&M Records.
Words PETE LEWIS

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