In 2017, the multi-Grammy winning artist Taboo, of the Black Eyed Peas, walked arm in arm with a group of Native American and First Nations artists on the red carpet of the MTV video music awards. They called themselves Mag 7.
The Mag 7 group, which included artists Supaman, Emcee One, PJ Vegas, (Natalia) My Verse, Doc and Spencer Battiest, were nominated in the “Fight Against the System” category for their video “Stand Up / Stand N Rock #NoDAPL.”
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Taboo, Shoshone and Hopi and Mexican, and fellow Black Eyed Peas members apl.de.ap and will.I.am released their eighth studio album, “Translation.” Two of its tracks received nods from MTV’s VMAs.
“Ritmo,” with Latin artist J Balvin, has been nominated for best collaboration, and “Mamacita” with Ozuna and J. Rey Soul, for best Latin.
The Black Eyed Peas and artist DaBaby are also going to perform for the awards show Sunday Aug. 30.
In an interview with Indian Country Today, Taboo recalls what it was like to walk the red carpet in 2017 with a crew of Native artists, and speaks about the indigeneity of the album, which he calls a “mosaic of culture.”
Congratulations on the two VMA nominations.
Thanks so much. I'm excited about the two nominations.
It’s been a minute since Black Eyed Peas has been to the MTV video music awards, but it's always fun. It's a cool experience because you get to be with your peers. And although it's a different situation — we're going to be mindful and very careful because it is the pandemic — and I know that it's supposed to be in New York, so you just have to take the proper precautions, embrace it and just follow the rules and the guidelines.
We've still been able to keep the music coming. Our music has been doing very well, although we haven't been able to perform. We've been doing well with the streaming numbers and YouTube views, and that's what led us to get nominated for the MTV awards.
It means a lot, and I always cherish and appreciate the love from Indian Country. Any time that we get there, we get to represent on a big scale. Like the VMAs. It's a great opportunity. The last time I was at the VMAs, I won a VMA for Standing Rock in 2017.
What are your memories about that 2017 red carpet moment?
There was such a group of inspirational figures from Indian Country, the Mag 7, which was Supaman, Emcee One, PJ Vegas, (Natalia) My Verse, Doc and Spencer Battiest. We had Bethany Yellowtail, Sarah Eagleheart and a couple other sisters representing Indian Country.
So it was cool to have not only Indigenous representation from the arts and music side, but also from the fashion world and the activism world, and all of us representing and showing the beauty of our culture.
I don't think it had ever been celebrated in that manner, and it was beautiful. It was beautiful. It was a proud moment for us to walk that red carpet and to be nominated. When we did the “Standing Rock” song, we never ever envisioned monetary gain from it. It was just something that we did for the Standing Rock movement and for the water protectors and for Indigenous people around the world.
For us to walk that red carpet as heroes to Indian Country and Indigenous people around the world, that was the most compelling thing to me. I had been there before. But for these kids, it was the first time that they had actually participated in something to that scale — where we're walking the red carpet, and Kendrick Lamar is right there, DJ college was right here. So I said, “Take it all in. You deserve to be here. You worked hard. Take it all in.”
We used our art and our expression to elevate what was happening at Standing Rock and to just be the frequency of positivity and hope to the water protectors. At the MTV awards, we got to talk to other media outlets to address issues. Sarah Eagleheart talked about the murdered missing Indigenous women, and Bethany Yellowtail talked about having more and accurate visibility for Indigenous people in mass media.
Did you think you might actually win in 2017?
When we actually were acknowledged by MTV, we were like, “OK, this is beautiful.” When we ended up winning, that was even more icing on the cake.
It was amazing. It's such a great song that we loved in Indian Country, but we were shocked that it was nominated. In history, Indigenous people are so seldom acknowledged. I was excited and amazed at the same time.
It was a voice to Indian Country to let people know that dreams are attainable. Drezus and Supaman and all the artists that come from the rez may come from humble beginnings, but they have always maintained that work ethic and a desire to continue to inspire people, especially the youth.
We need more heroes like that.
So your newest nominations have this Indigenous perspective?
I am multicultural, I am Native and Mexican or Mexica on my grandfather's side. So with the Black Eyed Peas, we grew up in LA appreciating the different diverse cultures and the beauty of each culture. Apl (apl.de.ap) is from the Philippines, and will.I.am grew up in a Mexican community.
With this album, we focused on celebrating the Latino community around the world, its music, its art and the Indigenous perspective as well.
I love to honor and embrace that part of the work that I do that includes in Indian Country, which includes North America and Canada. But the amazing thing about our world is that there are a lot of Indigenous communities around the world, not just in North America, but also in South America and Mexico, and our music is a celebration of that frequency. Every time we have the opportunity to speak on that, I like to also acknowledge Indigenous communities from Latin, Central and South America, which of course includes Mexico and Brazil.
With our latest album, “Translation,” we got to celebrate this beauty of Latin culture.
It's all about bringing people together. I like to call it a mosaic of culture.
You have two VMA nominations: “Ritmo,” with Latin artist J Balvin, has been nominated for best collaboration, and “Mamacita,” with Ozuna and J. Rey Soul, for best Latin.
Yes, it's all about a cultural celebration, because as the Black Eyed Peas, we feel that's our contribution to the world. We have always had a good time. Our songs have messaging like, “Where's the love?” and “Big Love” and “Union.” We've always had the stamp of a celebratory-type music.
Whether you're playing our song at a basketball game or a wedding or at a bar mitzvah, it doesn't matter.
It speaks to everybody, and we did that again in 2020. I think that's why MTV acknowledged this.
What kind of representation do you think you're having for Indigenous kids now?
I think my track record speaks for itself. I would hope that the youth would get inspired by these things. I'm always trying to give back and provide that springboard and the idea of holding onto dreams, aspirations, no matter what.
No matter how you grow up, no matter your surroundings, no matter what people may say, or the naysayers, we have to champion each other and continue holding onto those dreams and aspirations.
Cause as I told you before, Vince, my grandmother instilled that in me. And she was a proud woman from Jerome, Arizona. She always said, “Believe in yourself, dream big, believe you can achieve.”
That's the mission: Always dream big. Even in 2020, I'm still dreaming, man. I have all these amazing ideas to always inspire the youth, not just through music, but also content creating. I have projects with Marvel coming, which is amazing. We’ve got a couple of animated shorts that we got coming, and I'm just proud.
I'm proud of where I'm at in 2020.
The 2020 MTV Video Music Awards take place Sunday, August 30 at 8 pm EDT. Viewers can vote for their favorite videos at http://www.mtv.com/vma/vote/.
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