Interview: Taboo of The Black Eyed Peas on SXSW, the Music Industry Today and Going Solo

by Liz Moy on March 11, 2014

We’ve got a feeling that you may recognize hip-hop artist Taboo as one of the 4 members of pop supergroup, The Black Eyed Peas. What you might not know, is that the LA-native is stepping out on his own, with a solo EP titled ZUMBAO set to release mid-April, and will be headlining the High School Nation Tour presented by Aquafina FlavorSplash at their first non-official SXSW event. Taboo joins Drake Bell, Trevor Jackson and a ReverbNation artist onstage, all to support keeping music and arts programs in local public schools in Austin.

We sat down with Taboo to learn more about what lead him to start a solo career, how he reinvented himself and how promoting music has changed since the last time he performed at SXSW.

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Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas

Hey Taboo, it’s great to talk to you today.

Thanks so much for this opportunity!

So have you ever performed during SXSW music week before?

Yes, I did in 1999 with the Black Eyed Peas when we first came out. We played Stubbs Barbeque, and that was our first official introduction to SXSW. We performed with The Roots back then, and it was exciting because it was the first time that we had been at any type of music conference. It was kind of like going to college and seeing all these different musical artists and bands that you were inspired by coming up.

When we were there, we were playing in-store performances at Sam Goody and Virgin Megastore, record stores that don’t even exist anymore. We would meet fans and they would buy our physical tapes, and we would sign autographs and posters. Back then, there was no Twitter, no YouTube, none of that. We would hand out cassettes and VHS videos of our first single, Joints and Jams, and it was more about spreading things by word of mouth. Now people go on Twitter and Instagram to find out about what bands are performing, how they’re doing, where they’re going to be.

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“Back then, there was no Twitter, no YouTube, none of that. We would hand out cassettes and VHS videos of our first single, Joints and Jams, and it was more about spreading things by word of mouth. Now people go on Twitter and Instagram to find out about what bands are performing, how they’re doing, where they’re going to be.”

Things have definitely changed since then, but it seems like one thing that’s remained the same is the variety of performers who come to SXSW. On the High School Nation tour, it seems like your style of music is much different than co-performers Drake Bell and Trevor Jackson. Would you say that’s true?

Trevor Jackson is R&B and he’s a soul singer and I think our music, when it first came out had influences like soul, hip-hop and R&B. So we’re not too far away from one another. The last two Black Eyed Peas albums were very Dance and Electro-styled, but in our early days we were an underground hip-hop group.

I believe my individual project caters a little bit more to the essence of hip-hop, but I appreciate everyone’s take on music and how they want to express themselves. I’m here to support all of the artists, you could say I’m the ambassador of the tour. I’m here to help inspire the youth and to activate the youth to understand how important it is to give back and how important music and the arts are.

That makes sense. What excites you about being a part of the High School Nation tour this year?

I’m most excited about being able to give back. With the Peas I was able to accomplish so much but now as an individual I get to be a part of something that is very important to the youth, and I can be active in different communities around the United States. I’m active in LA with programs like Little Kids Rock East Los Angeles where we donate musical instruments to inner city schools. I’ve always identified and been involved with these types of philanthropies within my own community.

It means so much to me to be able to take that on the road and make a difference in the lives of children through a great organization like High School Nation.

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“I’m most excited about being able to give back. With the Peas I was able to accomplish so much but now as an individual I get to be a part of something that is very important to the youth, and I can be active in different communities around the United States.”

That’s great that you’re so involved in your local community, and it seems like they’ve shown you some love back – your featured piece in LA weekly was really moving.  Did your own life experiences have an impact on your decision to become involved with High School Nation and support arts programs in schools?

Thank you, that was a very personal look into my life outside of the Black Eyed Peas. It’s one thing to be a part of such a big group, but then to really understand me outside of the group, it was kind of like my rebirth as an individual. For that piece, I was promoting my movie that came out, Jamesy Boy, but it was also letting people know about my personality and my approach to creating music. It showed people who I was as Jimmy Gomez, not just Taboo.

Not just “The long haired guy from the Black Eyed Peas,” right?

Right, not just that guy. If you’re in the music business and you’re able to reinvent yourself — your image, your packaging, your music — it goes a long way and it has a lot of longevity. I was inspired by people like Prince and Madonna, and people who were always able to reinvent themselves and come up with something new that made people say “Wow, what will they come up with next?”

When I heard about the tour and ReverbNation and what the whole thing meant, I thought “This is a great opportunity for me to activate the youth and go back and make a difference.”

Even if just one person is inspired by this that’s worth it. My job is to be that ambassador of inspiration.

It’s good timing too, since your new EP ZUMBAO is about to release! Congrats on that. When is the release date?

YES! FINALLY! WOOHOO!

I’ve been working my butt off for this one. It’s been years of trying to fine-tune the sound and make sure everything is properly aligned. Finally my dream is coming true. I’ve got the right team to help me out with that and I’m on cloud nine right now. Everything is going according to plan. I’m in a great place in my personal life and in my business life and I’m very excited. As of now the EP is set to release mid-April.

I appreciate life and everything that’s come my way. I have a beautiful wife and family of three boys, and I couldn’t be happier. That’s something people didn’t know about the guy with the long hair. He never smiled. But this guy will always smile and let out a big “WOOHOO!”

What has the whole process of creating and producing the EP been like?

It was a lot of fine-tuning and trying to find my voice. With the Peas you have four different voices and everybody kind of feeds off of each other. But now it’s just me and my writing partner Joshua, and I’m so used to writing with Fergie, Will.I.Am and Ap that it was new to take a different approach and I used a lot of my personal feelings about things I was going through, like being a father, being a husband, traveling the world by myself as an individual and just all these inspirational elements. I’ve been working on it for about three years.

It’s given me a lot of peace of mind to be able to create this album, this form of self-expression, and telling a lot of my own personal stories within the music.

I’m a new artist with a lot of experience, coming from playing with a group like the Black Eyed Peas. With my solo career, I’m starting from ground zero like most new artists do. It’s really interesting because I have both worlds colliding into one. Even as my team and I promote the album, we want people to know that you can be that big, but also still find your identity as an individual and create your own voice. That’s part of what I want the kids to know. Kids can get so lost in finding themselves and their own identity, I want to inspire them to keep striving to be true to themselves. This has been such a humbling experience for me as an individual. Coming from a world of private jets and selling out arenas and stadiums, playing Super Bowl games and attending awards shows, I look at that as a previous chapter of my life.

Now I have to reboot, go through a rebirth and start all over from the ground up.  I have to reintroduce myself with this whole new project.

There are going to be some people who don’t know the Black Eyed Peas in this day and age. The Peas came out with our last release in 2011, and there are kids in High School that didn’t understand the music at that time.  Reinventing myself has allowed me to utilize my humor, my enthusiasm and my passion.

With my solo career, I’m starting from ground zero like most new artists do. It’s really interesting because I have both worlds colliding into one.

“With my solo career, I’m starting from ground zero like most new artists do. It’s really interesting because I have both worlds colliding into one.”

Past and present, name one artist who has inspired and influenced you and why?

Past, it would be Michael Jackson for his showmanship and the hard work that he put in over the years to create the ultimate entertainer — singing, dancing, the wardrobe, the music. He was all-around one of the greatest, if not the greatest.

Present, I would have to say Pharrell. I like what Pharrell’s doing right now. I like that he was gone for a while and then he came back with “Get Lucky” and “Blurred Lines” and now with “Happy.” I really appreciate that about Pharrell. I remember touring with N.E.R.D. and they really blew up. Then Pharrell came out with “Frontin’” and then he kind of branched out and had his own niche going. Then he came out with “Happy” and the whole Despicable Me movement, it put him in a different stratosphere. Now he’s like performing at the Oscars, has a #1 Hit in 60 countries.

If you could give any advice to aspiring musicians, what would it be?

Don’t allow anyone to stand in your way of your dream. The person who inspired me to create music and pursue it was my grandmother. She was the person that set the tone for going after my dreams and aspirations and not letting anybody interfere with that. She was very supportive and was very understanding of the trials and tribulations that would come. When you have someone in your corner like that — it could be a family member, a best friend, a teacher — it goes a long way.

Fine-tune your chops. There are so many artists who go out there and think, “I’m going to make it” but their skills aren’t strong. If you’re am emcee, make sure you’re able to rap and stay on beat. Practice creating songs, not just creating raps. If you’re a singer, get a vocal coach or find a way to work on your voice.  If you’re a producer, get the equipment and programs that you need and get the proper training.

Believe in yourself. I often get discouraged and beat myself up, because I’m a perfectionist when I’m onstage or in the studio. If you don’t believe in yourself nobody else is going to believe in you or your music either. You need confidence. Not ego, not arrogance, but confidence within yourself.

Don’t allow anyone to stand in your way of your dream

“Don’t allow anyone to stand in your way of your dream.”

Follow Taboo on Facebook, Twitter & Instagram. Catch the unofficial SXSW High School Nation Tour event on Friday, March 14, 12pm – 4pm at 7th St & Medina Parking Lot, 1121 E 7th St. See website for more details.

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