Taboo Finds His Stand In Native Roots

By Sandra Hale Schulman
- News From Indian Country -

“I owe it all to my grandmother,” says Jamie Luis Gomez, better known as Taboo, an American rapper, singer, songwriter, actor and DJ, best known as a member of the hip hop group Black Eyed Peas.

His Shoshone grandmother showed him his heritage as he was growing up at fairs and powwows and Indian markets. He has carried that heritage onto an international stage, having won six Grammy Awards and sold an estimated 60 million records worldwide. His striking stage presence has always carried some beadwork or turquoise to keep him grounded, but the larger image of the group overshadowed him.

He had some well publicized problems with addiction but overcame it all over a decade ago. In 2008, Taboo was in the process of creating a solo album, but also focused on music he has co-written and performed that has been featured on many movie soundtracks, including Coach carter and Legally Blonde. His autobiography,

“Fallin’ Up: My Story”, was released in February 2011, but his real battle came after its release.

 He was diagnosed with stage 2 testicular cancer in June 2014, he went through 12 weeks of intense, aggressive chemotherapy out of the public eye. Taboo says he was diagnosed after going to the emergency room for what he thought was the flu. He now is cancer-free.

“I had pain but I never dealt with it. I didn’t listen to my body. I went on tour until it got worse. I had tumors in my spine that had come from my testicle.” The six-time Grammy winner had been suffering from chronic pain after  he fell off a stage in 2006. In 2014, he was feeling the pain intensify in his back and abdomen, and went to the emergency room. After a few tests, the doctor told him he had testicular cancer.

“The first thing I felt was shock and confusion. I could only think about my kids,” Taboo said at Fortune’s Brainstorm Health conference in San Diego. The next day, he went into surgery, followed by an aggressive chemotherapy. “There were times I wanted to give up,” he said. “It was brutal.”

His cancer is now in remission.

This battle gave him new ammo to help provide better health care access on Native reservations. He’s also visits cancer centers to give patients emotional and mental support.

In May 2014, Taboo released his solo single, “Zumbao,” which is “all about having fun, being infected by positive energy.”

In November 2016, Taboo released the single “The Fight” about on his successful battle against testicular cancer. The track was made in partnership with the American Cancer Society, for which Taboo is a global ambassador. The ACS receives all funds generated by the song. Taboo said “I’m so proud to release The Fight because it’s truly an anthem of survivorship. I want to use this song and my story to inspire and motivate people all over the world to live their best, healthiest lives possible.”

Then Standing Rock happened.

“This was my call,” he said “this was something I could get behind and do something about with my people.”

Hip Hop Caucus, creator of People’s Climate Music, partnered with Taboo, to debut “Stand Up/Stand N Rock”. This song and video were created in support of the Standing Rock Reservation and the Sioux Tribe, when they lead a peaceful, powerful, and diverse movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). The anthem song was produced by Printz Board, the video directed and edited by Johnny Lee.

Taboo created the song which features actress and activist Shailene Woodley, and the Magnificent Seven, seven Native American artists from across North America. Also making appearances is Wind River actor Martin Sensmeier. The song gave a rallying cry to the movement and was awarded an MTV Video Music Award on live TV last fall.

Taboo At Seminole Fair

Earlier this year at the Seminole Tribal Fair and Powwow Taboo brought the Mag7 for a live performance and to premiere another video song called “We Are One” that calls for unity in these current times of division. Taboo has his own traveling tribe now and they are making some serious noise, much like rapper Litefoot did before he became a national native issues advisor.

Marvel Comics has been doing a series of videos called Becoming Marvel where they show cosplayers putting together and donning their costumes. It shows a lot of the work that viewers don’t normally see that is put into the design and look of elaborate costumes. The latest one features Taboo who grew up a fan of comics, but didn’t see any Native American heroes when he was growing up. But upon when he learned of the Marvel character Red Wolf, he wanted to embrace the character but not by dressing as him or portraying him — Taboo wanted to become Red Wolf. With the help of costume designer Lauren Matesic of Castle Corsetry, Taboo got his chance.

Red Wolf first appeared in Avengers #80 (1970) as a man named William Talltrees. After the success of his first appearance and a move to incorporate more female and minority heroes, Red Wolf got his own nine-issue series, except it was set in the old west. He appeared as an Anachronaut in the Avengers Forever run, but Talltrees was still the Red Wolf of the modern era until now.

Taboo As Redwolf

In the video Taboo speaks about the character in a way that it means more to him than just putting on a costume. The character and the outfit represent his heritage and his grandmother. He caresses his sharp red claws and smears black across his eyes. This seems to be a test, and if Red Wolf were to ever appear in one of Marvel’s live-action films or television series, I think Taboo would be first choice to play the character.

In music, films and life, Taboo has hit his hip hop stride and found his native voice.

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