Black Eyed Peas’ Taboo Reflects on His Wild Journey and Fergie’s Departure
The Mexican American and Native American rapper talks about the upcoming release of his children’s book, Fergie leaving the group, and how surviving cancer inspired his activism.
A founding member of the Black Eyed Peas, Taboo is known for helping create a stellar catalog of aughts hits. He’s also nabbed the ultimate trophy: a Grammy (well, six of them, starting with the group’s 2004 fist-pumping party anthem “Let’s Get It Started”).
The 45-year-old is also a cancer survivor after being diagnosed with stage 2 testicular cancer in June 2014. He’s a proud Mexican American and Native American, as well as a fierce activist for Native and Indigenous peoples. He’s a Marvel Comics writer, a dancer, and may have a project up his sleeve with Cartoon Network.
But at home in Los Angeles, he’s Jamie “Jimmy” Gomez. To his four kids, he’s simply known as Dad.
“I live and breathe this part of my life,” he tells The Daily Beast. “The Black Eyed Peas is not an everyday function. Me being a husband and a father is an everyday function. So, I spend 95 percent of my life, when I’m not working with the Peas, just being with my kids. Everything that I do embodies what my kids would think—how do I inspire them?”
With three children ranging in age from 11 years old to 5, Taboo says he and his wife Jaymie Dizon have worked hard to raise them with a deep understanding of their cultural background, plus an appreciation for others. (Taboo also has an adult son, Joshua, from a previous relationship.)
It was these types of conversations that led Taboo to partner with publisher A Kids Book About for his first children’s book A Kids Book About Identity, which is available for presale July 7 and set to be released in September.
“I wanted to do something that spoke to my kids, educated them about appreciating their identity and wanting to learn more about themselves, and not being scared if you don’t know everything about it,” he says.
It’s an important conversation that Taboo has had with himself his whole life, growing up in Los Angeles and being of Mexican heritage on his grandfather’s side and Native American on his grandmother’s side. Taboo admits he struggled throughout his adolescence because he was unsure if he was “Mexican enough,” particularly because his Spanish wasn’t great and he grew up without his father or grandfather.
His biggest influence was his Shoshone grandmother, who instilled in him pride of his Native American ancestry. She brought him along to Native American fairs and markets, and would fondly speak of her family’s roots in Jerome, Arizona. But still, Taboo says he worried he wasn’t Native American enough because he wasn’t born on a reservation.
It’s a common tightrope act that many young people of multicultural backgrounds are forced to walk during their formative years, feeling as though they’re caught in the middle of different cultures and fearing they have to choose one over the other.
For Taboo’s children, who are also part Filipino because of his wife, he wants them to embrace all aspects of their identity. “We really appreciate the mosaic of culture that our family is because that’s what it is, a beautiful mosaic of understanding and learning,” he explains.
While celebrating their diversity, Taboo says he’s also had to have tough conversations with his children about race, particularly after 2020 and the rise in attacks against Asian Americans. “When it comes to hatred and people showing rage against other cultures and creeds, I try to be as transparent and as candid with them,” he says. “I’m not trying to have my kids in a bubble.”
“But I also want them to know not everybody is like that,” he adds. “We, as a family, make it a point to live with love, respect, and empathy, because that’s important to us. We can’t change everybody, but we can just be the best versions of ourselves.”
It’s a mantra that all three of the founding members of the Black Eyed Peas live by, immortalized with their 2003 breakout song “Where Is the Love,” which ties into their own multicultural backgrounds—will.i.am is Black and apl.de.ap. was born in the Philippines.
While Taboo has always been tapped into his cultural background, he said it wasn’t until he was diagnosed with cancer in 2014 that he became an activist for Native and Indigenous communities. “That was my moment of healing,” he says.
After enduring 12 weeks of intensive chemotherapy, Taboo says he had a vision of his grandmother advising him to “keep his hands in the soil, keep your hands connected to Mother Earth.”
“That led me to think that I needed to really reconnect with my native roots,” he maintains.
It culminated in him traveling to North Dakota in 2016 to stand in solidarity with Native Americans and non-natives to protest against the potentially destructive Dakota Access pipeline that would run straight through the grounds of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, where Sioux Natives reside.
“That was part of me being a voice,” he adds. “I didn’t go there as a Black Eyed Pea; I went there as Jimmy Gomez, a proud Native. That was the start of becoming a voice and using my platform as a Black Eyed Pea, away from Standing Rock, to be able to help Indigenous and Native issues.” Impassioned by their fight against an “imperialistic oil company,” Taboo released the call to action music video “Stand Up / Stand N Rock,” which would go on to win an MTV Video Music Award in 2017.
Making music that includes commentary on social justice issues has always been an integral part of the Black Eyed Peas’ mission, Taboo explains. “Whether we’re talking about the kids at the border, we’ve never shied away from the uncomfortable conversation, that’s been our motto.”
“Before we’re jumping around talking about ‘I Got a Feeling,’ the Black Eyed Peas were known as the dudes talking about the CIA and the KKK being a terrorist. That’s unheard of at that time period. In 2003, the Dixie Chicks [since renamed The Chicks] had just gotten taken off radio because they said something similar.”
“People have to speak when others don’t want to speak, and it’s not a job for everybody. We don’t have to be agitators and negative frequencies, because we lead with love, but we also lead with facts. I want to be as communicative as possible and start conversations that are sometimes maybe a little bit alarming to some folks.”
Taboo said it made sense that the Black Eyed Peas’ 2018 comeback album, Masters of the Sun Vol. 1, would be about social justice issues. It marked the group’s first album in eight years and, more sensationally, it was their first without Fergie since she joined in 2002.
They had been riding off the high of performing at the Super Bowl halftime show in 2011 and the completion of The Beginning tour when the Black Eyed Peas announced they’d be taking a hiatus, with members pursuing various solo projects.
A few months before the release of Masters of the Sun, will.i.am confirmed that Fergie would not be returning—a shock to fans, who saw Fergie as a leading member of the group.
“She took a big break from everything,” Taboo says of Fergie’s decision to part ways with the trio. “She made a conscious decision to step away from wanting to be a part of this. I respect her journey. Her journey is now to be a full-time mom and she appreciates that life. She didn’t really want to be part of this journey with us and it’s OK. It’s not for everybody. So, we said OK, we’re going to have to continue the legacy that we started in 1995 as a trio.”
Unfortunately, Masters of the Sun was not the smash album they had hoped for and led to their longtime label Interscope Records dropping them.
“It was hard because people were like, ‘We don’t know this,’” Taboo says. “There was this conflict, some fans on YouTube will be like, ‘This is not what we remember.’ But in actuality, a lot of people that were rocking with us in the beginning were like, ‘This is the original Black Eyed Peas.’ We have to be respectful about everybody’s opinion and perspective, but it’s not going to skew us from doing what we do.”
After being dropped by Interscope Records, the Black Eyed Peas began talks with Sony, who were looking for a Latin pop song for the upcoming movie Bad Boys for Life—and they had soon-to-be hit “Ritmo (Bad Boys for Life)” up their sleeves.
The Peas saw a way forward. The group always had a strong Latino fan base and sounds that were Latin-inspired, so it wasn’t a difficult jump. Eventually, they secured a new deal with Epic Records and released the Latino pop-rap album Translation in June 2020. The summery feel-good LP features guest appearances from a variety of Latin American superstars, including Shakira, J Balvin, Maluma, Ozuna, Becky G, and Nicky Jam.
Taboo says the group recognized the summery soundtrack was not reflective of a year where the world had been rocked by COVID-19 and ignored the tidal waves of protests against police brutality in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd.
“We thought to ourselves, maybe this is what we need to be bringing right now,” he explains. “We’re bringing celebration and hopefully around the corner, we can get over this pandemic and we’ll have some form of celebration when we can go back on stage. But we said to ourselves, we would not do this album justice if we didn’t do a social commentary song. Maybe it doesn’t match, but it’s OK to have it be the last song.”
The group came up with “News Today,” a decidedly more somber tune than the rest of the album that touches on the pandemic, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the fear that everyone experienced while facing a fatal new virus.
“It’s dark,” Taboo says. “It talks about the pandemic. It talks about being messed up. It talks about things that were happening in 2020 that we didn’t really address on the record until that point. So, unfortunately, we didn’t release Masters of the Sun at the time that maybe it was calling, but the thing we did, is we brought joy and happiness. We brought an international sound and it kind of put us back on the map. But at the end, we let you know, ‘Yes, we understand.’”
Looking forward, Taboo is thrilled to be working with his “brothers” again, and they already have another album on the way, with a feature from rap’s newest darling Saweetie. It will also include vocals from the newest member of the group: Filipino singer J. Rey Soul.
Taboo says eventually the Black Eyed Peas would love to do a show featuring all the female artists that have graced their songs, including Fergie, Kim Hill, and Macy Gray. “You have these eras that show the growth and the evolution of our trio,” he says.
But for now, Taboo is happy to be back on the stage. “When I was battling cancer, I didn’t know what my future was going to be,” he says. “I didn’t know if I was going to be able to really get back to 100 percent of who I was, mentally and physically. To be able to get back to performing is super dope. We actually performed for the first time in front of a live audience two weeks ago in Miami. I felt like a kid again. I felt giddy and just emotional and just appreciative.”