Interview: Jaime “Taboo” Gomez – Founding Member of the Black Eyed Peas

Posted: February 17, 2011 in interview, music
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Date of Interview: 02/17/2011

Jaime “Taboo” Gomez is one-fourth of America’s best-selling hip-hop collective, the Black Eyed Peas. Since 1995, the group has sold more than 27 million albums and 20 million singles in various international outlets. In February 2011, the Black Eyed Peas performed in-front of an audience of millions as the headliners of Super Bowl XLV’s halftime show.

With the assistance of Steve Dennis, Taboo has written a behind-the-scenes look at the phenomenal rise of the Black Eyed Peas, as well as the personal and professional demons that he has fought along the way. Appropriately titled, Fallin’ Up chronicles an amazing life story that will serve as an inspiration to any person in active pursuit of their dreams.

In the midst of a promotional campaign for Fallin’ Up [released February 8, 2011, via Touchstone, a division of Simon & Schuster], Jaime “Taboo” Gomez managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on the influence of Nanny Aurora, the challenges of marriage and fatherhood, and the cultural diversity of the Black Eyed Peas.

Clayton Perry: As a musician, it is one thing for your fans to connect with you on a musical level; as an author, however, it is a completely different thing for your fans to connect with you on an emotional and spiritual level. What do you consider to be your ultimate purpose in being super-personal with your fans?

Taboo: I felt like it would be therapeutic for me to write about all the issues that I was dealing with as a child, a teenager and as an adult. There’s nothing more important to me than honesty. I wanted to lay it out on the line and be honest with not just the fans, but with people who may be going through similar situations that I’m going through. For me, it was the direct link to let people know the story of the Black Eyed Peas, how they took me under their wing, our good times, our bad times, our trials and tribulations to get to where we’re at. Within that, my story was intertwined. Being a kid from East L.A., and having such big dreams and aspirations to one day become a performer and an artist, a lot of people don’t really come out of my neighborhood and are able to become somewhat of a local hero. What I want people to get out this book is if a person picks up the book and gets a sense of hope or inspiration or motivation, then that’s what I’m trying to convey with my message.

Clayton Perry: As a member of group, there is a certain degree of anonymity that you can shield yourself behind. Were there any details in the book that you were hesitant about sharing?

Taboo: Not at all. Not at all. I’m not embarrassed about what I’ve done. What I wanted to let people know is that there are people, especially in my industry, that are held so high on a pedestal, and eventually you come down from that pedestal. I definitely got my legs kicked right from under my feet. For me, it was the opportunity for people to know a more vulnerable side. We all make mistakes, but we all deserve second chances, and this is a second chance to be able to let people know the setbacks that I’ve been able to overcome.

Clayton Perry: I found it very interesting that your book, Fallin’ Up, was also the title of the first track of the Black Eyed Peas’ first album. In the track there is a line that I wanted to discuss with you: “the business is the music and the music isn’t the business.” When you hear those words, what do they mean to you?

Taboo: Well, let’s start with the title: Fallin’ Up. “Fallin’ Up,” like you said, it’s a song off of our first album, before any success, before any fame.  And the name best represents letting people know that I never forgot where we started, where we came from, the essence of what Black Eyed Peas was since the beginning. We evolved into so many different things throughout the years, and the process of “falling up” best describes what is happening now in my life. For a long time I was spiraling out of control, I was living reckless, and the only other way to go was to fall up, because I was spending so much time falling down, metaphorically, that I needed to pick myself up. As far as the music business goes, I learned so much about how shady and how many people have their hands in your pockets. I learned how to run your business and how to detect what is a good choice for you and what is a bad choice for you. Especially in these four years that I’ve changed my whole way of thinking and the way that I conduct my business, I feel like I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve missed out on a lot, because I was blinded and because I was sidetracked by a lot of other things.

Clayton Perry: You state in the preface, “March 27, 2007…”

Taboo: The epiphany, yes.

Clayton Perry: “…that was your wake-up call [following an arrest and brief incarceration].” As a father, you know that your actions also have effects on everyone around you – from your wife down to your children. When you do look back to that particular moment, in what ways has marriage and fatherhood affected your career decisions and your life decisions on a more personal note?

Taboo: Well, the thing about it is that now you’re not thinking about yourself. It’s a joint venture with me, my wife and my children. So I have to think about their futures, I have to think about the sacrifice; but also the balance of being able to be with my family and knowing that there’s a lot of great things that are occurring. We have a baby coming on May 3rd, so I definitely have to balance being there and making sure that I assist my wife, because I want to be very hands-on with helping out. It’s just finding that balance, and knowing that I have a great partner. Me and my wife have great communication. It’s taken a long time for me to realize that being a father is not just being a sperm donor, but actually being there and making the right decisions.

Clayton Perry: I definitely understand what you’re saying. And I think a lot of guys definitely learn some lessons the hard way. There’s no manual for these types of situations! [laughing]

Taboo: Right! [laughing] There’s no manual! [laughing continues] You really have to take what you’ve learned. I’ve not been the most prolific father. I haven’t been the most prolific husband, but I think that in the time of learning and understanding the position of being a father and a husband, I’ve managed to really secure myself as a man, and understand the importance of our relationship: the marriage and the fatherhood. It means a lot to me, and I always try to make sure to know that that’s my main priority right now.

Clayton Perry: Considering the astronomical success of the Black Eyed Peas over the years, how creative have you had to be, in order to make sure that your marriage and personal life stay afloat?

Taboo: Well, the thing about it is that my wife actually was on tour with me when we did the Canadian run, so I was able to balance having my family on the road. We actually had our own tour bus. So, that was really cool, because I could bring my family to work with me, and it was a cool adjustment because like I said, it’s hard to balance when you’re touring a month or two months; so you really have to make time for family. And I’ve been blessed that I had the opportunity to do that.

Clayton Perry: Speaking about family, your book is dedicated to Nanny Aurora, who you credit for teaching you your very first business lesson: “It’s all about detail, detail, detail.” When you look at your career, what is one detail that you are always contemplating?

Taboo: I would say performance. Like I’m very critical about how I perform, how I present my imagery, how I’m perceived onstage. I’m always battling with myself: “No, I shouldn’t have done it like this. I shouldn’t have said that. Or I shouldn’t have danced like that.” I’m very, very picky when it comes to my performance.

Clayton Perry: One really big performance that you recently had, of course, was the Super Bowl. In hindsight, what did this performance mean to you on a personal level? And during your preparation, what was the most-difficult task in putting this performance together?

Taboo: Well, on a personal level, it was great to be able to have our families there. It was the first time that we had our families be part of such a huge event like the Super Bowl. As soon as I got offstage, I was able to go into the skybox and see my wife and my son Jalen and my other son, Josh waiting for me and really happy to see me. That was like the ultimate reward. Also, just being part of such a prestigious ceremony like the Super Bowl. When you think of all the artists that have performed there from Michael Jackson to Prince to The Rolling Stones to Bruce Springsteen; and now you have a hip-hop group from L.A. performing there, the most multi-culturally diverse group in the history of music. That was a huge moment for us, not just as artists but as people representing our cultures.

Clayton Perry: That is one thing that I don’t think a lot of people really give you credit for: the diversity of your music ensemble. Do you ever think about it much? And do you ever have conversations about the group’s makeup? In many ways, your group is an accurate representation of the American fabric.

Taboo: We talk about that all the time. My partner apl.de.ap is from the Philippines, and he came to America in 1989 and didn’t know a word of English. Now he’s one of the most prolific writers, and he’s established himself as an international act, a superstar that comes from the Philippines. Myself being Mexican-American Shoshone, I was able to kind of let kids know that no matter what walk of life or what race you are, if you believe, you can achieve. And those are just direct reflections of what America has become. It’s like the minority has [risen] to the top, and that’s what I feel Black Eyed Peas is like. Yeah, we’re all different nationalities, but our friendship and our love of music is what has put us at the forefront.

Clayton Perry: I would imagine that this is the kind of story most people would associate with a city like New York as opposed to L.A., if only out of familiarity. When you think about the early years, what do you see as the primary influences the city had on not only your style and your culture, but just the way you perceive the world?

Taboo: Well, what you see onstage is a melting pot of Los Angeles. The fact that we started by going to Filipino parties at a young age. That was an initial start. Will.i.am being the first African-American family living in the projects in a predominantly Mexican community. Me living in Rosemead and being a hip-hop head in a neighborhood where it was predominantly Mexican and Asian, and hip-hop wasn’t really a big thing in my neighborhood. So I kind of had to venture out and find other people that kind of resembled the same lane that I was going after. So it’s a reflection of what L.A. represents. You have such a diverse melting pot of communities. You have white, black, Filipino, Latinos all around Los Angeles. And when people see Black Eyed Peas, that’s just what we represent, the melting pot of L.A.

Clayton Perry: The Black Eyed Peas started as a small underground group in Los Angeles. Fifteen years later, the group is an internationally renowned pop act. When you think about the early years, between 1995 and 2001, what major obstacles are you proud to see the group to have overcome? What obstacles do you think the group still has to overcome?

Taboo: I think the early years were the hustle and the grind to be noticed, to be taken serious, to really understand what the music industry was about. We were critically acclaimed with our first two albums, and we got a lot of respect in the industry. I feel like we were fighters, and nothing was going to stop us, and that’s always been our motto. We’re like the most loved/hated band around the world.

Clayton Perry: That’s an interesting statement, but I definitely see your point. What advice do you have for your fellow entertainers who are in “a show-business heaven,” which can often become “a self-made hell”?

Taboo: I would say that everybody is an individual, and it’s really got to come from each individual. You can’t really push anybody to want to stop doing whatever they’re doing, whether it’s drug use or alcoholism. It’s got to come from them. You could do an intervention, but it could turn people away, and they could be like, “Yo, I’m not ready to stop.” It really has to come from the person. If they could use me as a vessel or as an example of how damaging those things can be in your life, then that’s cool; but I’m not trying to preach anything. My whole thing is making sure that people know that you’re your own individual. You make your own bed and you lay in it.

Clayton Perry: When you look back over the years, at your growth and development in the pre-BEP years, what do you consider to be the tipping point in defining and directing your professional life?

Taboo: When I was five years old, my grandmother used to sit in her living room on a big chair. I’ve told this story so many times, but it needs to be told again. This is the one millionth and second time. She used to sit on her chair, and she would introduce me and she would say, “Los Angeles, California, give it up for Jimmy Gómez” and she would start dancing. And the joy and the happiness that my grandmother felt or exuded on her face let me know that I would be performing in front of thousands and millions of people.

For more information on Jamie “Taboo” Gomez, visit the Black Eyed Peas’ official website: http://www.blackeyedpeas.com


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