California represent! East Los Angeles native Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas shares his insights of their newest record Elevation, the group’s ninth studio album. It was fascinating as a Californian myself (from the Bay Area) to hear about Taboo’s childhood in SoCal with and and how the music they create now is heavily influenced by their upbringing.
In this candid conversation, Taboo speaks of the thankfulness he feels as an artist towards Latin music and the music industry as a whole continuing to support and feed the newest records of the band. He also talks about collaborating with reggaeton legend, Daddy Yankee, as well as comments on the strong impact that the new wave of Latin artists like J Balvin, Maluma, and Bad Bunny have on popular culture beyond music. Taboo shares his philosophy of “always educating [yourself]” and being “students of the game”. His open-minded and humble approach to creation demonstrates his artistry and wisdom. There is no doubt in my mind that the Black Eyed Peas are here to stay.
I want to start by saying congratulations on your 9th studio album, Elevation, released in November last year. What have these past months been like since the publication?
It’s been amazing, man. I appreciate talking to you. And I appreciate that folks are still rockin’ with us in 2023. We’ve had a very blessed career. Coming out with our first album in ‘98, which we celebrated a couple of weeks ago… Now, to have our ninth studio album in 2023 and a European tour, it’s always mind-boggling how you are able to have this longevity in the music business because it’s like ‘you’re here today and gone tomorrow.’ Sometimes you hear that a lot with artists.
Fortunately, we’ve been able to sustain, be students and compete, and continue to push the envelope when it comes to our awareness of the times changing with technology and with different platforms, so I’m very thankful that the fanbase has grown and evolved. It hasn’t been stagnant. It has not maintained one style. It has actually evolved just like our music, and I’m glad we have the opportunity to present that today.
Elevation invites more Latin influences just as I’ve noticed in your more recent records like Bailar Contigo. How has it been finding this new inspiration that’s rooted in both your own heritage as a Mexican and Native American musician?
Great question! The Black Eyed Peas, as a group, were all inspired by Latin rhythms as kids. Growing up in LA you hear a lot of different sounds and frequencies from Latin artists (Spanish-speaking and Spanish-singing artists) – from Celia Cruz in the salsa world to Los Tigres del Norte in Mexican regional style to Héctor Lavoe, Juan Gabriel, Los Bukis, or Joan Sebastian. You hear people like Paulina Rubio or Shakira and you say to yourself, ‘These are the rhythms we grew up with along with hip-hop, pop, R&B, soul, and reggae.’
All of these influences stem from our childhood, so the fact that we can focus on collaborating with the new wave of Latino artists like the J Balvins, the Malumas, the Nicky Jams, Piso 21, El Alfa, Shakira, and Anitta is awesome. This was just a way to say thank you to our upbringing and to Latino artists for inspiring the Black Eyed Peas, and we did it in a very respectful, authentic way to contribute to what was already happening in the reggaeton world and the urbano Latino world. We just added the Black Eyed Peas flavour to that.
We were just honoured to rock with all of those artists I just mentioned, along with the architect of reggaeton, Daddy Yankee, with whom we just released Bailar Contigo. It was a blessing. We’re very thankful that they were down to work with us.
And furthermore, how has it been combining these Latin sounds and genres with the classic style, or “flavour” as you said, of the Black Eyed Peas?
It was fun for us because we got to be scientists and bring our own style but also fine-tune our Spanish writing. I’ve written Spanish verses in the past, but some of my tenses were off because I was trying to fit words phonetically. It fit for that time period because people weren’t being so dissective of a guy who wasn’t really born in Mexico but was appreciative of his Mexican culture and learned Spanish from speaking in the neighbourhoods.
We were able to implement our Spanish in these new albums but in a very way where the past and present tenses are accurate. We were really fine-tuning what words we were using because we weren’t just using East LA Spanish; we were using global Spanish that would appeal to a Colombian or a Spaniard or a Mexican. You can have these different accents or words that are very general and not just pigeonhole yourself to one neighbourhood or one community. You actually empower your verse to be universal, especially in the Spanish-speaking world.
Bailar Contigo is a great example of this mix of style and influence. Tell us a bit more about how the song came to be.
We met Daddy Yankee in the early 2000s. was working with [Daddy] Yankee on his project in 2004, so we’ve always had a personal connection with him just as friends. I remember we did the Latin Billboard Awards, and he was there. I believe this was 2020 or 2021, and we actually came together and went, ‘We’re going to collaborate on something.’
We had been sending him beats back and forth, and I just remember finally, we decided to work on this song, Bailar Contigo. He sent us his verse and his chorus, and we recorded our stuff in the Black Eyed Peas studio. will[] kept changing up the beat and making it more modern and adding new sounds to it, and then finally, we added the “Be-bop-ba-bodda-bope”, which is this Scatman throwback [a sample from Scatman John’s 1995 single Scatman] because the Black Eyed Peas, we always have this nostalgia with our songs, whether we’re talking about Dirty Bit [sampled Bill Medley’s 1987 classic (I’ve Had) The Time Of My Life] or Weekends [sampled Sly and the Family Stone’s Family Affair and used an interpolation of Debbie Deb’s Lookout Weekend].
We can highlight these different, catchy, nostalgic choruses that come from our upbringing in a very 2023 way. I’m glad we did that because a lot of people will remember it. Even if you don’t know that “Be-bop-ba-bodda-bope”, it sounds so familiar that once you research and learn that it came from something in the ‘90s, it’s pretty special.
Daddy Yankee is a legend, he’s one of the founding fathers of reggaeton. What was it like working with him? And how do you feel you’ve influenced and complemented each other when working together?
It was an honour and a privilege to work with one of the architects of reggaeton. Just that style, he brought reggaeton to a much broader audience when he did Gasolina. I know we had that ‘boom boom, mami mami’ lyric before that, but Daddy Yankee was able to cross over into a much broader mainstream conversation. He was able to appeal to not only the Puerto Rican demographic but also all of Latin America and all the folks that gravitated towards it, even if you weren’t a Spanish-speaking fan.
He’s definitely one of the people we look to for inspiration because every time he comes out, he reinvents himself. He’s always bringing something new, so when he mentioned he was going to retire from music, we went, ‘Aw, man. What if we don’t get the opportunity to release this song?’ Fortunately, he gave us the nod.
We shot the video, which is really dope. We had some of the dopest breakdancers – because we come from the breakdance community – who were able to rock with us, both female and male. It’s a throwback to our love for hip-hop culture, from the muralism and graffiti in the beginning to the breakdancing battle. It’s something that Yankee wanted to be a part of as well. He appreciates hip-hop culture. He comes from that background, so it was a very innate and natural thing for us to do.
In previous music videos of the album like Simply the Best, Vida Loca or Don’t You Worry, you all performed in front of the camera, but on the music video for Bailar Contigo you’ve taken the CGI route instead. What’s the intention behind going digital this time?
Something we were fascinated by is what Daddy Yankee had done in one of his albums. He had a big head, kind of like a CG head. It was somewhat of a throwback to what he had done previously. We love the art direction in his videos, like in the Con Calma, where he has a big head. It’s a nod to his leadership and his inspiration from that time period, and we just implemented that. Plus, our album cover has our animated characters that we wanted to also showcase because we love animation. We love storytelling, so it was a fun way to incorporate live action, animation, and technology - AI-type stuff.
Bailar Contigo and Elevation as a whole invite a new appreciation for Latin music. You collaborated with reggaeton icons like El Alfa, Anuel AA, and Nicky Jam. Moreover, Bad Bunny has been the most streamed artist for three years in a row. Did this rise in Latin music popularity influence how you put together Bailar Contigo? How did this phenomenon influence this song specifically?
We’ve just been fans for years, man. Even if it wasn’t a mainstream conversation, we’ve worked with artists like Juanes in 2007. And will had also worked with Daddy Yankee, like I mentioned earlier. The Latin explosion that happened recently is something that we’ve been championing and supporting throughout the years. We hadn’t focused on it as we did on Translation and Elevation as far as being a part of the contribution thematically, but, for us, we’ve always known that there was going to be a rise in the impact of these Latino artists with popular music and it being a popular conversation.
You see Bad Bunny not only in the music space but also in the WWE as a wrestler, which is awesome – I’m a big wrestling fan. You see him collaborate with adidas; you see him in commercials; you see him in movies. The idea of being able to bring that energy not just through music but also through different subcultures. He’s impactful all across the board. Same thing with J Balvin being a part of Fortnite and then having his own Jordan sneaker.
These are the moments that create momentum for the Latino explosion to really be a popular conversation, so for us, it just added to the excitement of collaborating with Daddy Yankee because, like I said, he’s one of the architects. So to have one of the OGs be part of our single and our album, man, it was a dream come true. We’re very blessed and very thankful that he rocked with us on Bailar Contigo.
This year, you’ve also released a bunch of remixes of Bailar Contigo by artists like Boniface, CLMD, Vanco, and Drenchill among others. What do you look for in other artists who remix your songs? What do you expect them to contribute to the songs sound-wise?
I think just being open to different styles, frequencies, and drops. I guess you can say the production, the time, and the effort that go into creating these remixes. We’re fans. We love hearing the new remix of our songs and going ‘woah!’ because Apl[.de.Ap] loves to DJ. He does a lot of DJ sets, so the fact that we are able to perform Bailar Contigo during one of his sets and do a remix to it, where it actually takes you on a different journey than what you’re used to, it’s pretty special for us as performers and just as fans, so we look forward to those remixes.
The Black Eyed Peas have a very fun sound – you guys are the party starters, you rile up the crowd with infectious beats, catchy melodies, and lyrics we can chant. How do you keep it fresh for each new song you work on?
We’re students, first of all. Students of the game, of sound and frequency. We’re seeing what’s out in the world in terms of international conversations with music. We’re connected with the pulse of the underground and what’s happening in the subcultures that are not really on top 40 radio just because we want to continue pushing those inspiration barriers.
Sometimes you get to a point where you’re complacent, and you’re stuck. You’re like, ‘Yeah, I’m this person’ or ‘I’m at this level, so I don’t need to be a student any more.’ No, no, no. We’re always learning. We’re always educating ourselves. We’re always wanting to compete, so to stay at that level, we have to be students of the game and learn what technologies are coming, learn how to amplify our performance, and learn how to make it visually stimulating, along with how to better the sonic and the live performance. So just wanting to always add on to what’s happening in culture.
You,, and have known each other since childhood. That’s a long time. You guys as a band have been active for almost a collective 25 years (disregarding the hiatus). How are the group dynamics after all this time – after different featured artists, massive success, and nine studio albums?
It’s the same! Well, Apl and will have a longer relationship than I do with both of them because Apl came from the Philippines in 1989, and the first person he met was, so they’ve known each other since then – I met them in ’92 or ‘93. We were 16 years old when we met at a club called Ballistics. We were teenagers, and we became the Black Eyed Peas at 19, which was in 1995.
The thing that has sustained and continued to keep us aligned is our brotherhood, our friendship, and the love for one another. We’ve had different configurations throughout the years, everybody knows that, but the one underlying theme is the love that you see onstage that we have not only for performing and creating music but also for bringing our brotherhood to the masses.
Things have changed throughout the years – different styles have happened, different platforms have come up, etc. –, but the beautiful thing about the Black Eyed Peas is that we’ve maintained, and we’ll always be maintaining because we write the songs. We will always continue to push each other in the studio to write the best songs, to create the best beats, and to make the best videos that we, as a trio, will always have control over.
How was working on Elevation different from previous records?
It was good to be in the studio together because, you understand, during Translation the pandemic happened, so we weren’t able to be part of the mixing and mastering component. A lot of the final stages of that album were done only by because he was the only one isolated in the studio. We were all quarantined in our own spots. We got to record our parts, but as far as finishing the album, will was actually the one in the studio quarantining to be able to finalise everything.
To be together recording Elevation and making the videos was great, because even the videos [for Translation], we weren’t able to film with the artist. We had to do it separately. We only got to shoot videos with J Balvin and Ozuna. For the Nicky Jam record, we weren’t able to film with him – we couldn’t do the Maluma song; we couldn’t do the Shakira video.
During Elevation, we were able to record Don’t You Worry in Barcelona with Shakira, and then, we were able to do Simply the Best with Anitta and El Alfa. Now, we have Bailar Contigo. That’s the difference. The difference is that we’re not in quarantine. We’re not in the pandemic any more, so we’re actually able to be with the other artists in videos.
You’re currently in Europe on tour for the first time since 2018’s Masters of the Sun tour. How is it going so far?
I’m in Turin, Italy. We started our tour on June 29th. We left LA and started our first show on July 1st. We’ve had three shows already, and this will be our fourth show in Italy. We have until the end of August, and after this, we go to Mexico in October and do a proper Mexico run, which is going to be dope.
After you complete this tour, where do you see the next step for the Black Eyed Peas?
We’re going to tour more. We have a lot of touring to do because we didn’t really tour Translation, and now we have Elevation. So, you have these two records that have all this music along with our catalogue of old music – people want to see that. Now everything is open. Promoters are excited about live performances, so we want to present these new songs to the world, to places that never saw us perform, like Kazakhstan, where we have the opportunity to go. It’s an obscure country but it’s an amazing place because we got the opportunity to perform there before. Now, we’re going back. These are the moments that we live for. Along with releasing new music, you got to have the live performance because that’s when people get to see you and feel you live.