Unless you’re a superfan of the pop group The Black Eyed Peas, you probably wouldn’t know that the front-running songstress Fergie was preceded by a Black female lead singer in the late 90s.
In a New York Times documentary series titled Almost Famous, former member Kim Hill detailed her experience in the group and why her run came to an end more than 17 years ago.
Hill, who came from a stable middle-class background, joined The Black Eyed Peas in 1995, during a time where she recalled them being a more authentic hip-hop group. She crossed paths with her future band members— will.i.am, Taboo and apl.de.ap, all of whom came from the more gritty streets of East Los Angeles — while trying to jumpstart her career as an actress and artist.
“I had a showcase for BMI. I get on stage and I do my thing. This kid walks up and he’s like ‘I think you’re really dope. We should write music together,’” she recalled.
She said she initially didn't think things would take off, but will.i.am’s talent as a producer quickly proved Hill wrong.
“I saw that discipline and the ideas that came out of him,” she said. “I immediately had respect for him.”
As their careers started taking off, the group began touring and opening for major acts including Outkast, Eminem and No Doubt.
“We kind of couldn’t believe that our brand of hip-hop was being embraced,” Hill said. “We were happy at a time in hip-hop where it really wasn’t okay to just be happy. This whole L.A. underground movement — they really loved us. I did not feel like there would be pressure for me to be anybody but myself.”
However, the tide started to change once Hill and her fellow group members were feeling increased pressure to be more commercial and less organic.
In one instance, the group was invited to perform on the iconic music-dance show Soul Train. They were asked to lip-sync as opposed to sing live, as they normally did.
“The band was very specific about how we were looked at and received by people and being purists” Hill said. “Once the pressure started coming to soften it up, we were like ‘We’re not really gonna do that, are we?' and the guys [other group members] were like ‘You don’t have to go back to East L.A. if this doesn’t work out.’”
With a change in management came a more “messy” and “clumsy” dynamic that Hill said she wouldn't conform to.
“You want me to grind on will.i.am in a bathing suit. That was being asked of me. Never by the guys; that was happening from an executive level,” Hill disclosed. “How far out on this plank do you want me to go? The tug of war was about my sexuality and how much of that I was literally willing to … strip down. I never wanted to be objectified while doing my music.”
Subsequently, Hill wrote a letter to management, notifying them that she was breaking ties with the group. While she admits the executives’ sexist demands put a strain on the authentic bonds she had with her former group members, Hill said that she always remained proud of their success.
“No one handed them anything. They worked their asses off. They deserve it,” she said.
Hill added that she has never met Fergie, but she is sure that they would relate to one another as the only woman in a hip-hop group and that there's no animosity between them. In all, the songstress said she is grateful for the impact she made on the last dying form of underground hip-hop.
“No one can ever take that. It’s okay that it’s not wrapped up in a bow with platinum records and a big house. I have my happy,” she added.