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Black Eyed Peas Get Lost on ‘Translation’

Will.I.Am and crew hop on the Latin-pop bandwagon

Nabil Elderkin*

With every successful cultural movement, you’re bound to have bandwagon jumpers. As a plurality of reggaetoneros, traperos, and pop singers from across Latin America enjoy unprecedented albeit overdue global success, tourists like DJ Khaled, DJ Snake, and Tyga have inevitably glommed onto their sound, with varying degrees of success. 

None of these attempts have felt quite so cravenly opportunistic and sonically shallow as that of the Black Eyed Peas, who have struggled to maintain a semblance of their former cultural omnipresence in the years since the departure of Fergie. The reconstituted crew’s comeback single “Ritmo” solicited the services of the overextended J Balvin atop a convenient confluence of virally primed factors. The instant gratification of plundering Corona’s 1990s Eurodance hit “Rhythm Of The Night” at the precise peak of its funny meme moment along with the crossover bait of a Hollywood blockbuster sequel tie-in proved irresistible to radio programmers and streaming playlisters, sending the track to the top of the Billboard Latin charts for the bulk of 2020 so far. 

Had the Black Eyed Peas limited their exposure to “Ritmo” alone, the novelty might have taken longer to wear off. Instead, the oft clunky Translation doubles down for a full-length that deserved EP treatment at best. Mistaking fluke for formula, they recruit Nicky Jam to rap over the microwaved MC Hammer interpolation “Vida Loca” and compel Maluma to croon to a malformed Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam classic rechristened “Feel The Beat.” These and other such charmless do-overs are further sullied by the core trio’s offensively lazy Spanglish verses. Even longtime member Taboo, whose Mexican heritage lends some nominal credibility to this pan-Latin effort, tragically misses the mark with hackneyed lyrics and ad-libbed hooks like Let’s party like we’re running out of tiempo.

Still, Translation has its unlikely charms. The consistent and savvy Becky G does bilinguality better than most on either side of the Latin divide, as evidenced by her simple yet strong hook for “Duro Hard.” As usual, Dominican dembow sensation El Alfa brings his superstar energy to the relatively restrained “No Mañana.” Ostensibly Fergie’s replacement, J. Rey Soul brings a higher caliber of vocal talent to a handful of these cuts, her complementary presence alongside Ozuna on “Mamacita” in particular doing much needed damage control on behalf of a group so clearly out of its element.