Wearing a dark blue denim jacket, black jeans and his trademark hat, apl.de.ap – one quarter of famous hip hop act Black Eyed Peas – strides across the hotel lobby with a big smile on his face.
The group’s two-hour show at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney finished more than an hour ago and was a huge success. Their rendition of global hit ‘Where is the love?’ drew a standing ovation. The song is a track from their latest album Elephunk, which is certified gold in the US, the UK and the Philippines.
But rather than talk about the show, something else is on his mind. His grumbling stomach. ‘Do you know where we can get food?’ he asks. The last time he ate was over eight hours ago when he bought a meal from KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken).
Hang on. KFC? What happened to living it up and dining on seafood and wine at a five-star hotel somewhere?
This little fact speaks volumes about apl.de.ap. He is the antithesis of the archetypal ghetto-fabulous rapper. There are no bodyguards around, no Ludacris-style gold medallions swinging from his neck and definitely none of that ‘pass the Courvoisier’ lifestyle.
And so, at 1am in the morning, we headed to a café in the scenic district of Circular Quay, overlooking the Sydney Opera House, to get food. As he tucks into a plate of chicken satay with rice (”I gotta have some rice,” he says), apl.de.ap talks about his Filipino heritage, his music and the success of Black Eyed Peas.
Who is apl.de.ap?
Apl.de.ap, real name Allan Pineda-Lindell (hence the initials ‘apl’), was born on the 28th of November 1974 in Pampanga, Philippines. His mom is Filipina and his birth dad is African-American. He left the Philippines in 1989 and is based in Los Angeles. In LA, he met will.i.am, real name William Adams. They formed a breakdance crew in the early 90s that later spawned Black Eyed Peas (BEP). The two other members of the group are Jaime ‘Taboo’ Gomez and Stacy ‘Fergie’ Ferguson.
Despite leaving the country 15 years ago, Apl has not forgotten his roots. He can speak Tagalog and is fluent in his native dialect Pampagueno. He says: “You meet Filipinos who say they can’t speak Tagalog and you think, wait, I can make out your Filipino accent.” Chuckles.
The Apl Song
This off-the-cuff remark gives a glimpse of Apl’s character. He is intensely patriotic and draws on his Filipino heritage for inspiration. One of the songs in BEP’s album ‘Elephunk’ is called ‘the apl song’, which talks about his childhood experience. It contains elements from Philippine folk group Asin’s Balita.
The song was inspired by a personal tragedy in his life. Apl composed it after his brother committed suicide three years ago. He says: “I spoke to him on the phone and I thought ‘something is wrong, something is wrong’ and that I needed to go home. But I was too late. Two weeks later, he committed suicide.” It is this attempt to reach out to him that was reflected in the lines:
‘Oh brother, wish I could have helped you out.’
His brother’s death, which Apl believed was caused by drug-induced depression, spurred him to make changes to his own life. Apl used to do hard drugs (‘a lot of Filipinos use shabu in LA) but is now completely rehabilitated.
Filipino folk music
Apl’s music is very much influenced by Filipino folk songs. He says: “There are so many that are really good. Last time I went back to the Philippines (he spent six days there over the Christmas break), everyone wanted to sound like Chingy (an up-and-coming U.S. based rapper) and I’m like, I want to listen to the old stuff.”
If you compare the guitar play in ‘the apl song’ and ‘where is the love?’,you would probably hear some resemblance. He says: “Where is the love? has been influenced by the apl song.”
Back to his homeland
Apl can’t wait to go to the Philippines in May where Black Eyed Peas will stage a concert for the first time. He says: “It is a reward for all the hard work we’ve put in the past. For some people, their idea of a reward might be going on holidays in Africa or somewhere but to me, it’s about going back to my country and being able to perform there.”
His fond memories of the Philippines harks back to his life as a young ‘man of the land’: riding and milking carabaos (water buffalos), planting root crops, climbing coconut trees and fetching water out of communal water pumps.
Back in the days when he was poor? “I didn’t think it was bad or that I was poor growing up like that at all. I was happy.” Like the lines in his song:
Some would call it hell but to me it was heaven.
From carabaos to California
At 14 years of age, Apl’s destiny took a different turn. He migrated to America thanks to the help of a stranger, who became his stepdad. Apl explains that when he was a child, his mother signed him up to a foundation where people from the U.S. help support Amerasian kids. The man assigned to him offered him a sponsorship.
“I had poor eyesight when I was young and despite that, I was making good grades. I think he took pity on me and wanted me to go to the US so I can get my eyes fixed,” Apl says.
And so in 1992, he left his family and boarded a plane to Los Angeles. “I hated sunsets for a long time because it was sunset when I left home.”
The plane trip alone was scary enough for the young teenager but on arrival, Apl faced a bigger problem. He didn’t know how to speak English. “On my first day, I sat on the couch for eight hours not saying anything because I didn’t know how to say what I wanted to say in English.”
Black Eyed Peas rocking the red carpet
Black Eyed Peas’ success
Fast forward to more than a decade later and he was signed up by a record company doing what he grew to love: dicing and splicing the English language as a rapper.
What is his advice to those who want to follow his footsteps? “You just got to put in the hard work. Will and I used to practice everyday, even trying to come up with new steps or new ideas.”
As for their success: “I’m still overwhelmed by it. To me, everything is a blessing from God. But y’know, it took us ten years to get the recognition. We’re just so glad to be busy.”
From gigs in nightclubs to selling out arenas, the Peas have arrived. And Apl is smiling. Not bad for the young kid who used to milk water buffalos and plant root crops with his bare hands. As the sun set on that fateful day he boarded the plane to the US, little did he know what awaited him.
As he explains in his tribute to his homeland:
We’re makin’ it happen, from nothing to somethin’.
So he has.