In his recently released memoir, Fallin’ Up: My Story, Taboo—otherwise known as The Other Other Guy from Black Eyed Peas—stands naked before the world and bares his scars and his soul. He’s unafraid to depict himself as either a lonely, sad little grandma’s boy or as a pathetic drug addict so wasted, he shits himself in public and crawls around the Four Seasons naked in an Ecstasy-fueled haze. Taboo’s candor is admirable, but it makes being a cynical smartass about his achingly sincere book much harder.
Taboo’s memoir is a terrifying reminder of how much unites us as human beings. Oh sure, the Black Eyed Peas may appear to be holograms created through a complex web of corporate synergy, but Fallin’ Up stands as an enduring testament that even creatures as ridiculous as Taboo have wrestled with issues that affect us all—loneliness, insecurity, low self-esteem, self-doubt, and a pervasive emptiness at the core of his being that could never be filled with sex, drugs, money, and meaningless anonymous sex.
Fallin’ Up forces us to do the unthinkable: identify with the Other Other Guy from Black Eyed Peas. It sadistically makes us concede how much we have in common with people we see as our cultural or creative enemies. It forces readers to empathize with a pop-culture walking punchline who occupies a curious cultural space somewhere between minor villain and clown, and to identify with his arduous struggle to become a man. It’s easy to hate The Other Other Guy as an abstraction, an idea, a commercial construct, and a subdivision of the Black Eyed Peas© brand. It’s harder to hate the sad space cadet who rhapsodizes endlessly about his beloved Nanny. It’s hard, but not impossible. This is a member of Black Eyed Peas we’re talking about.
Fallin’ Up chronicles Taboo’s heartwarming tale of triumph over adversity, tracing a traumatic childhood that took him from the gritty streets of L.A.’s Dogtown neighborhood to nightclubs and coffee shops where he honed his craft dancing and rapping alongside Will.I.Am and Apl.de.ap before the Fergization of the group transformed the Black Eyed Peas from a group whose music mainstream and hip-hop radio wouldn’t touch to a group whose music mainstream and hip-hop radio are legally required to play every 15 minutes.
As the Black Eyed Peas’ career rocketed into the stratosphere, Taboo’s personal life nose-dived proportionately. He doesn’t merely fall into every trap of the music industry or the fame business: He leaps lustily into it with vigor and enthusiasm. He gets the pop-star starter kit: groupies, drug dealers, and random dudes who live in your house for some indeterminate reason.
Taboo eventually escapes the proverbial nightmare descent into booze and pills, but his thinking hasn’t gotten any sharper. In fact, it’s pretty goddamned fuzzy. The front cover’s angry demand “Keep it on the positive” establishes a tone of painful, spacey New Age sincerity, epitomized by passages like this:
“Mom says she knew I was going to be a handful then and there. It’s good to know that even in the womb I was injecting the Black Eyed Peas vibe, jumping around, rocking it, getting everyone on their feet. Mom said it was like that for the last three months of her pregnancy.”
“When the Peas are making music, we see colors. It is almost a psychedelic experience. If we were able to see sound, we think we’d see color, because each song carries a certain energy and aura.
So as Will comes up with a beat, a sound, a chorus, we all focus on the music and envision a color; seeing the hues that fire in your head. Do it. Listen. When a sound hits your ears, what’s the frequency? Is it vibrating high, to bring you up? Or vibrating low, to bring somberness? When you hear, what do you see? Is it light or is it dark? Is it red, because it’s hot, steamy and sexy? Or blue because it evokes darkness, sadness and deep reflection?
Take some Black Eyed Peas songs as examples.
“I Gotta Feeling”: it’s red because it’s uplifting, radiant, firing the body. We actually say it’s a rainbow, a party of colors.
“Where Is The Love?”: it’s blue and gray because it’s sadness seeking hope, creating emotion with all that talk of the KKK and the CIA… people dying, people crying.”
“Meet Me Halfway”: it’s pink because it’s soft. It’s about love. It’s girlie.”
“Imma Be”: it’s gold and silver because it’s regal, and robotic futuristic. (Well, duh!)"
And then there’s this:
“I was Rosemead High School’s equivalent to Mumbles out of Happy Feet. In the same way no one had ever heard of a rap-dancing penguin in the 2006 movie, no one in Rosemead had ever heard of a Mexican b-boy.”
A man willing to put his name on prose like that isn’t easily embarrassed. So he’s predictably unapologetic about the group’s transformation from lively backpacker favorites to shameless corporate whores. Here’s Taboo on one of the Black Eyed Peas’ first and most rewarding love affairs with a massive corporation that shares the band’s core values of being against hate and for love and fun and stuff:
“Anyhow, Dr. Pepper’s message “Be You… Do What You Wanna Do” was a perfect fit with our take on life, so it was not as if we were selling out on our principles and attaching our names to any old product.”
That paragraph beautifully captures everything I hate about the condescending notion of “positive hip-hop.” Positivity devoid of context or principles is meaningless. “Be you. Do what you want to do.” What does that mean? Who could argue with that? The “positive” label has always struck me as condescending. It always seems to mean “That’s adorable that you’re rapping, but you’re dancing and wearing fun clothes, and you aren’t saying or doing anything that might make middle-class white people uncomfortable, like those other rapper guys. Who’s a good positive rapper? Who’s a gooood positive rapper?”
Taboo doesn’t see anything wrong with churning out mindless escapism, but in the aftermath of 9/11, Black Eyed Peas realized they had a higher calling. A divine calling. The group was considering whether to suspend its tour when Will.I.Am called them all up individually to tell them he’d just spoken with his wise old grandmother, and she told him, “If God didn’t intend for you to help people with your music, you wouldn’t be going on tour. Now, you need to provide therapy for people in this time of crisis. Your music matters, and you are one of God’s angels. If everything stops because of this, the terrorists win. You should do the tour.”
Now, I suspect Will.I.Am never even called his grandma. I’m not sure he even has one. But it’s remarkable that the Black Eyed Peas are able to reconcile their status as angels whose music provides therapy and comfort for the suffering masses and strikes a symbolic blow against terrorism (I think we all know who’s really responsible for bin Laden’s death) with Taboo’s oft-stated contention that the Black Eyed Peas aspire to do nothing more than make disposable dance music for a drunken night out on the town. I also don’t know how therapeutic “Let’s Get Retarded” or “My Humps” might prove, but who am I to speak against one of God’s healing angels?
Back to Fallin’ Up. As part of a misguided attempt to address Taboo’s out-of-control partying, Will.I.Am lures Taboo to a sleazy mansion under the dubious proposition that the Peas will be conducting a meeting about doing a possible interview and photo shoot with Hustler. In 2006. Bear in mind, dear readers, that they were not traveling en masse to a mansion to actually be interviewed, but merely to discuss the possibility that if the Black Eyed Peas played their cards right, they might score a feature in a hardcore pornography magazine 25 years after its dubious prime.
Fallin’ Up would be more effective as an anti-drug manifesto if it weren’t so unintentionally hilarious. Taboo stumbles through a bleary haze throughout the book, in a manner alternately disturbing and comical. Take this anecdote about a dinner that went horribly awry:
“With this drinking, the ego was irritable and aggressive, which is sad because I used to be the happy drunk who was unthreatening. I now switched and became one of those embittered, mean-spirited guys who was disrespectful to those closest to me, and even random strangers.
Take the time I went out for lunch with Jaymie at Benihana’s.
I was being loud, the center-of-attention guy, and had been knocking back the sake when, for some reason, I decided I wanted to buy everyone around me some shots.
There was a plump-looking lady sitting nearby with her family and I noticed she wasn’t drinking. When someone wasn’t drinking, they weren’t having any fun.
“You need a drink!” I shouted out, looking at her. “Get that lady a shot!”
She smiled, embarrassed desperate to ignore the belligerent drunk. “I’m pregnant,” she said. “I’m not drinking.”
“You’re not drinking! Have a fucking drink!” I said.
“No,” she said, cutting me dead.
There was something about the way she declined that stung me.
“You don’t need to be eating anyways! You’re not pregnant—you’re just fat. You’re a fat woman. Fuck you!”
“The happy drunk who was unthreatening?” Was the manuscript poorly translated from Mandarin? Isn’t there a Hong Kong cult comedy called The Happy Drunk Who Was Unthreatening?
This anecdote is primarily designed as an illustration of the sad state of Taboo’s psyche at the time. It’s tragic and deeply sad, but it’s also, as stated earlier, fucking hilarious. It feels like the transcript of an outtake from I’m Not Here. It’s hard not to laugh at the idea of a drunken, belligerent Black Eyed Pea angrily ordering a pregnant woman to drink in the primitive, bullying cadences of an 8-year-old asshole. To make the tragic scenario even more hilarious, I like to imagine that Taboo was wearing a homemade crown à la Archie’s pal Jughead, and waving around a ruby-encrusted scepter like a deranged boy monarch.
Taboo has a hard time letting go of his rock-star ego even after sobering up. When his therapist orders him to go to Alcoholics Anonymous, he decides to make an indelible first impression by swaggering in wearing shades, matching diamond earrings and necklaces, an all-leather suit, and fresh new kicks. How could anyone be a high-functioning alcoholic in the music business for more than a decade without knowing anything about Alcoholics Anonymous? Taboo apparently thought that they were like red-carpet premières, only with more cold coffee and depressing anecdotes about waking up confused in unexpected places. Here’s Taboo’s stirring defense of the logic behind getting glammed up to talk to sad drunks:
"In my own defense, I didn’t know anything about AA and I had imagined that I was being sent to some rock star AA setup for other musicians and artists, and the room would be filled with some Ozzy Osbourne and Slash-type figure, not the ordinary man and woman in the street."
Celebrity can play havoc with a person’s conception of the world, especially if they’re a bit dim-witted in the first place. If Taboo acted throughout his career like the rules didn’t apply to him, that’s probably because they didn’t. There’s always a second and third and fourth chance and then a final reprieve when you’re a giant pop star and the world is your enabler. In that context, the idea that there would be a special famous rock-star Alcoholics Anonymous just for bitchin’ motherfuckers like you doesn’t seem that ridiculous.
Even in his darkest moments, like when he was arrested for drunk driving, Taboo’s bumbling idiocy and drunken shenanigans lend an unintentional element of mirth to the proceedings, like when he has to be dragged out of his cell because he won’t stop rapping or saying “I’m the Black Eyed Peas!” (Not “I’m from the Black Eyed Peas—just “I am the Black Eyed Peas,” repeatedly.) Needless to say, that endeared him to neither the jailers or his fellow inmates. Taboo at least has a sense of humor about himself, as illustrated by this surprisingly not-terrible homemade video he made spoofing the drunk-driving arrest that finally got him off the booze, pills, and weed for good.
Fallin’ Up stumbles between rank sentimentality, delirious self-parody, and guileless enthusiasm. I found the guileless enthusiasm most appealing. As Black Eyed Peas gets bigger and bigger with each tour until it threatens to block out the sun and single-handedly monopolize the entertainment industry, it’s attaining a relentless velocity that can be fun to experience vicariously, even, oddly enough, if you view the Black Eyed Peas as a cancerous boil that must be lanced from the body of pop music. Taboo’s enthusiasm for the Black Eyed Peas, his wife, the giant sneaker room of his giant mansion (he has 800 sneakers!) and his young son are infectious. And his book also brought this to my attention, which is kind of awesome:
Positivity and candor are all Taboo has, but this literary train-wreck is surprisingly readable, in a guilty-pleasure sort of way—even if it’s largely devoid of literary merit.
I at least feel like I know The Other Other Guy from Black Eyed Peas now. He not only has a name, he has a story. I know; I’ve read it. And he isn’t the only one. Taboo teases that Apl.de.ap went through some hard times himself, but that it’s up to Apl.de.ap to tell that tale. If Apl.de.ap’s dark inner struggles are half as hilarious as Taboo’s, I’ll be a very happy man.
Will we soon be able to add another memoir to that giant bookshelf we foolishly bought solely to house Black Eyed Peas tomes? If nothing else, expanding the Black Eyed Peas brand to literature would at least give them a whole new art form to ruin.