Taboo is a busy, busy man. The Mexican-American artist is not only a father-to-be, but he's also starring in Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li, a new movie dropping Friday based on the legendary videogame, and putting the finishing touches on the first album in three years by a little group known as The Black Eyed Peas.
I talked shop with Taboo about the new movie and album, plus his inspirational abuela and dream collaborations for his upcoming solo record. Keep reading for the names, and don't miss a preview of the Peas' new single, "Boom Boom Pow," at the very end!
Tell us about your character in Street Fighter.
I play Vega, who is this handsome matador cat from Spain. He wears a mask because he thinks he's God's gift to the world, and when he gets in a fight, his whole thing is cornering you like you're a bull and toying with you. I've just been trying to show that I can put it down as an actor, because that's my first love before music. There’s no Mexican American martial artist and I'm gonna be the first one.
You grew up doing martial arts, right?
Yeah, my dance style incorporates martial arts. I first started dancing at five years old at quinceañeras… I would do cumbias, quebraditas, salsa, merengue, you know…every Latin dance you could imagine. Then I took Jeet Kune Do when I was twelve-years-old.
Who got you into dancing?
My grandmother, Aurora Sifuentes, was my biggest influence. I called her my Nanny. She would always say, "Mi'ijo, dale! Enseñales que tu eres chingón, hijo!" Like, "Yo, put it down for our people." Her aura kind of transferred over to me.
How is the new Black Eyed Peas album, The Energy Never Dies (The E.N.D.) coming along?
We’re pretty much done. will.i.am has definitely taken his production to the extreme and given it some heat. There will be like 10 to 12 songs on the actual first installment of the album coming out May 12, and it will also be on will.i.am’s website, dipdive.com, where people can go to vote for their favorite songs. The one with the least votes will be taken off the site and then another song will be added to it …until all the twelve songs that first came out on May 12th will be gone and then there'll be a whole new set of songs. So it's just gonna keep on transforming and giving you new material as we go along.
How would you describe your role in The Peas?
I'm still learning a lot. We've been in the group since 1995, and I started off as a hype man. I’ve evolved into being an actual MC and writing. We've gotten to the point where Will can say, “Yo Tab, write this, I'm gonna be outta here. When I come back, make sure it's done.” We knock it out and the end result is always good.
Did you grow up with more Latin music than hip-hop?
I did. I would listen to Sonora Dinamita, Celia Cruz and Tito Puente at quinceañeras and backyard parties, and I liked the rhythm of it. Then the first hip-hop song that I heard was "The Message" by Melle Mel, on this radio station called K-DAY. And I was like, "Oh, what is this?" And then I heard Slick Rick, then Doug E. Fresh and then NWA and De La Soul and Tribe, and it just started becoming part of my life.
Did your parents speak to you in Spanish growing up?
My mom is not from Mexico so she speaks, you know, East L.A. Spanish. But my stepfather is like such a newscaster—you’d think he was on Telemundo or something because he speaks it so proper.
Will your solo album have a Latin influence?
It'll be my take on what I believe is missing in the Latin community…there has never been a Mexican hip-hop/crossover pop sensation. I've done like two hundred and sixty five songs since November 2007, but they get stale after a while so I have to kind of re-polish them. I want to collaborate with Juanes, Mana, Café Tacuba and Shakira.
Have you always been so proud of your roots?
I was one of those kids who was embarrassed to be called Jaime Gomez. I'd be like, "Oh God, don't say my name. I'm Taboo." I was embarrassed to speak Spanish because I thought, "The kids are gonna think I'm a wetback." Now, when I come out in shows I have my Mexican flag. I let my people know that yes, I am Mexican. I'm not Asian, I'm not Filipino—I'm the Mexican guy from the Peas, ya know? I'm one of you traveling the world, selling records, doing positive things, giving back to communities. Even though I'm part of this foursome, I'm always that kid from East L.A.
LISTEN: The Black Eyed Peas, "Boom Boom Pow"