GG‘s Number Ones column reviews every Billboard Hot 100 #1 single of the last 10 years.
The Black Eyed Peas third chart-topping single repeats the phrase ‘Imma Be‘ no less than 105 times. Lyrically, one-fifth of the song is the word ‘Imma’. From where did this ‘Imma’ fixation spring?
The Imma Explosion
While existing as part of Black America’s vocabulary at least as far back as the 1960s, ‘Imma’ enjoyed a newfound resurgence in 2009’s time-poor and text message savvy digital environment. By June, the month ‘Imma Be’ appeared on The Black Eyed Peas’ fifth album The E.N.D., the word ‘Imma’ was inescapable.
Its greatest moment, however, was yet to come. “Imma let you finish,” Kanye West declared one fateful September night. The location was New York’s MTV Music Awards. The reason for his interruption was Taylor Swift‘s ‘You Belong With Me‘.
The song had just been honoured with the title of Best Female Video. West thought differently. Despite Swift’s victory, it was in his view Beyoncé, the creator of “one of the best videos of all time“, who deserved the prize. West’s comments marred the ceremony for some and rendered it memorable for many more.
What Does ‘Imma Be’ Mean?
But what does ‘Imma’ mean exactly? Website Urban Dictionary describes the term as such: “Used in place of ‘I am going to…’ Technically should be spelled i’mma but since this is a shortened version, we leave out the apostrophe.”
When ‘Imma Be’ was officially released as the fourth single from The E.N.D in 2010, popular culture’s ‘Imma’ obsession had only escalated. Several songs topping the Billboard charts that year would deploy the term, including Rihanna’s ‘Rude Boy’, Eminem’s ‘Love the Way You Die’ and Ke$ha‘s ‘Tik Tok’.
The Black Eyed Peas On Top
‘Imma Be’s’ stint as a hit single could easily be overlooked. It topped the US Hot 100 for just two weeks in 2010. As catchy a tune as it was, it could hardly hold a candle to the album’s most well known single ‘I Gotta Feeling’ and struggled to match the excitement of ‘Boom Boom Pow‘. Nevertheless, it arrived at a time when the Black Eyed Peas were on top. The E.N.D. was an album too big to fail. With the Peas having run through three of The E.N.D’s strongest singles, they had to run with something.
Even if slightly shy of their A-game, Will.i.am, apl.de.ap , Taboo and Fergie sound invincible. “This is Fergie Ferg,” Fergie raps, “and Imma-Imma be here to stay.” From, she claims, the 21st century until infinity. In truth, her time with The Peas did not last nearly as long. Fergie’s appearances with the group would become more and more sporadic before she officially announced her exit in 2017.
The Black Eyed Pea’s message was escapist. It was about getting away from the pressures of life and having a good time. Their feel-good material was interspersed with social commentaries like ‘Shut Up’ and ‘Where is the Love’ but it is arguable that party anthems were what they did best.
The Beginning (Of the End)
When we fall in love with someone it is often because we see something that is missing within ourselves. Here too lays the core appeal of our love affairs with popular songs. The allure of ‘Imma Be’ and countless numbers of its kind. ‘Imma Be’ is not just its surge of easygoing and positive energy but breezy confidence.
Artists can make this kind of confidence seem easy. Yet often they themselves fail to live up to the image. Pop culture is based on an illusion – pop culture is an illusion. The Pea’s image was a dream, a life they, just as much as their listener, strived to but could not live. Being part of The Black Eyed Peas was far from easy. Dealing with obvious but undisclosed internal tensions the band formally announced a decade-long hiatus in 2011.
Rumour had it apl.de.ap , Taboo and Fergie experienced difficulty working with Will.i.am, whose ego (fuelled no doubt by his acting career, reputation as an in-demand producer, and general public acclaim) was beginning to grow greater than the band itself. Fergie was also reported to want time away from the group to have a child. (Her first son Axl Jack Duhamel would arrive on August 27, 2013.)
‘Imma Be’ and The E.N.D. as a whole was hardly a critics’ favourite. It was no Elephunk. Unlike the band’s breakthrough 2003 album, The E.N.D. further removed the group from their roots in conciseness rap. This was The Black Eyed Peas for the masses.
Alongside 2005’s Monkey Business and their fifth album presented the band as their most danceable, widely appealing, and fun. The most broadly appealing aspects of the band were distilled to their very essence and blown up supersized. ‘Imma Be’, as with most of the band’s output during this commercially successful mid-period, may not have a whole lot to say lyrically or musically. But by golly was it instant. ‘Imma Be’ is a pure infusion of pop energy.
Victims of Success
The Black Eyed Peas’ ‘Imma Be’ is the kind of song a band flushed with success feels all too easily called upon to make. The prospect of streamlining their music, simplifying, and pushing to another plateau is all too inviting. But how far could The Black Eyed Peas’ soul be stretched? How far could this music push in a pop direction before it loses meaning entirely? ‘Imma Be’ was the answer. Pleasing to all, it was meaningful to none.
Oh, how the siren song of mass appeal can divert even the most idealistic of acts before crushing their ambitions on the time-worn rocks of public indifference. The Pea’s quest for perfection may ultimately have led, at least temporarily, to the group’s undoing. (It also begs the question whether the current wave of conciseness rap, led by the fiery proclamations of Kendrick Lamar, is destined to suffer a similar fate.)
The Split and What Came Next
Like The Beatles, the group identity of The Black Eyed Peas became a burden to the creative spirits which dwelled within. With the benefit of hindsight, The E.N.D. hit a plateau. Underperforming 2010 follow-up The Beginning suggested The Black Eyed Peas had run its logical course.
Striving to outdo past performance is, after all, a draining experience. And this was the kind of pressure the Black Eyed Peas had now been under for more than half a decade. Will and apl.de.ap had been making music together since their high school years in the 1980s. Taboo joined them shortly before The Black Eyed Peas debut album Behind the Front in 1998. Fergie, more recently recruited in 2002, had also been paying dues in the music industry since 1990. It was not a matter of success but collective entropy that slid the final nail into the coffin for the classic iteration of The Black Eyed Peas’ chart-dominating run.
The @Bep will take a break after the beginning…just like we did from monkey business to the e.n.d…but it doesn't mean we stop creating
— will.i.am (@iamwill) July 6, 2011
Six Golden Years
The role of the artist has always been to walk the fine line between ecstasy and self-destruction. Groups are no exception. For six golden years, the Black Eyed Peas delivered strokes of brilliance. They mastered the pop medium before quickly grinding to a halt under the inertia of their own massive success.
Returning from hiatus in 2009 (without Fergie) the band’s comeback albums, a throwback to their pre-Fergie roots titled Masters of the Sun Vol. 1. and 2020’s star-studded Translation, struggled to reignite the public’s imagination. Nonetheless, the band had, by this point, long since paid its dues. To The Black Eyed Peas’ credit, the term ‘Imma’ remains a mainstay of pop and modern hip hop. And with just one listen to ‘Imma Be’ and its 136 repetitions of the word ‘Imma’, the expression “I’m going to…” will forevermore seem an unnecessarily protracted affair.
‘Imma Be’ Chart Positions
US/BILLBOARD: #1 (27 weeks on chart)
Australia/ARIA: #7 (1 week on chart)
UK/Official Charts Company: #55 (5 weeks on chart)
Canada/BILLBOARD: #5 (20 weeks on chart)
The Black Eyed Peas 'Imma Be'6
Kanye's MTV moment
The Peas did better
Kanye's MTV moment
May have lead some listners to fail English exams