Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas, Seminole Tribe brothers Spencer and Zack “Doc” Battiest and seven other Native American artists won an MTV Video Music Award (VMA) Aug. 27 for the “Stand Up / Stand N Rock” music video.
The group, dubbed the Magnificent Seven by Taboo, is comprised of Spencer and Doc Battiest, Emcee One, Drezus, PJ Vegas, SupaMan and Natalia Aka “My Verse.”
Nominated in the Best Fight Against the System category, the song is a protest against the Dakota Access Pipeline construction near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and serves as an opportunity for Native American artists to voice their opinions and show their support.
After the VMA ceremony, the Battiest brothers reflected on the experience and the songwriting that led to it.
“It felt like a dream,” Spencer said. “We were just happy to be here and not really expecting anything. Getting together to write the song, we didn’t expect any recognition. We hoped to reach a few people and let them hear our voices together.”
It was the first time Doc had seen Native Americans represented at the VMAs.
“For so long we’ve only had other races to look up to on TV,” Doc said. “To see someone who comes from the rez is pretty special; it’s like opening a door for some of our peers. Hopefully they will get looked at by the industry. There is so much more Native talent out there.”
The day of the show began when the Battiest brothers and manager Max Osceola met the rest of the Mag7 at Taboo’s Black Eyed Peas studio and creative space in Hollywood, California.
“It was a spiritual moment, it was the only second time we’ve all been in the same room,” Spencer said. “We are still learning about each other; we each have our own stories and traditions. It was like a history lesson among friends.”
The group gathered in a prayer circle where Taboo and SupaMan said prayers from their own traditions, one of the drummers from Indigenous Women Rise led a song and Taboo asked Doc to end with a Christian prayer since that’s how he and Spencer were raised.
Then it was off to the blue — not red — carpet. Spencer and Doc were proud to represent the Tribe by wearing patchwork jackets made by Tribal member Melissa DeMayo.
“I was keeping my cool until we drove onto the blue carpet and then it hit me that I was at the VMAs,” Spencer recalled. “There was no turning back and when we stepped out of the car, all eyes were on us. We stepped out with pride and our heads held high.”
The drumming group Indigenous Women Rise led the Mag7 onto the blue carpet, where 200 cameras followed the group for photos in front of the step and repeat wall.
“Once we got there, Taboo said we would all walk together. He was adamant that he wouldn’t walk the carpet without everyone else,” Spencer said. “He made sure we were all noticed and seen. He’s a stand-up guy who worked so hard. He made sure we all shared our stories with the world.”
Press interviews followed with USA Today, CNN, Good Morning America, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, E News, MTV and iHeartRadio. The group was on the press line for about an hour and each member had the opportunity to talk about their tribe and contribute their message to the media.
“We are modern people who have strong ties to our culture,” Doc said. “People see us as like a unicorn, like we’re not real. This was a chance to show us in a different light. It was very important that day to represent our people the right way; not just our people but the water protectors at Standing Rock. It was important to be able to talk to the media and tell them about the struggles we are going through currently. There is a racial divide going on in our nation, but our voices need to be heard as well.”
While Spencer and Doc were going to their seats, Drake Bell, known for Nickelodeon’s off-air show “Drake and Josh,” spotted Spencer and called out to him. The two toured together during the summer of 2016. Spencer was a bit awestruck and hit by the reality.
“These are my peers. I do have a career and I am accepted here,” he said. “I’ve worked hard all my life for my name. I was thrilled; we did something special. All we have in life is our reputation and our music.”
Then they sat back and enjoyed the show, which opened with a performance by Kendrick Lamar. Spencer, whose family members were in attendance with him, was impressed that Miley Cyrus had her family with her as well.
Winners in the Best Fight Against the System category were announced at the ceremony by Susan Bro, the mother of slain protestor Heather Heyer, who was killed during a protest against neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12.
“I want people to know that Heather never marched alone,” Bro said. “She was always joined by people from every race and every background in this country. In that spirit, MTV has decided to honor all six nominees for Best Fight Against the System. Through their diversity, these six videos show there are many ways to take action and many battlegrounds in the fight for social good.”
Hearing Bro announce the award was a poignant moment for Spencer.
“We were so emotional and moved by her presence, which made that moment so much more special,” he said. “Our song has a deeper meaning; the real story is about the people on the front lines who were fighting. The song was for the Standing Rock Tribe members and those people who were there for all those months.”
The winning videos were Taboo ft. Shailene Woodley “Stand Up / Stand N Rock #NoDAPL,” Logic ft. Damian Lemar Hudson “Black SpiderMan,” The Hamilton Mixtape “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done),” Alessia Cara “Scars To Your Beautiful,” Big Sean “Light,” and John Legend “Surefire.”
“The red carpet and pictures were fun, but the energy during the show was so strong,” Spencer said. “We aren’t going to let them silence us and who we are in our cultures. You could really feel the energy of unity; we as a young generation aren’t going to put up with those injustices. It was such an emotional moment and something we will remember for the rest of our lives.”
The show wasn’t broadcast live in Los Angeles, so Spencer and his family watched it together on TV later that night. Once he returned home, Spencer began to process just what had happened.
“We’re ever so grateful and still on cloud nine,” Spencer said. “I’ll be glad to have some quiet time and reflect. Social media was blowing up, which was so encouraging. From the bottom of our hearts, thank you for taking the time to vote, we appreciate the fans. The fact that MTV decided to give it [the VMA] for all of us doesn’t erase the fact that all these people took time out of their busy days to vote to us. It takes a team, a village, and we are all in this together. The more we have moments like this one, the more we can shed light on Native American people and our tribe.”
The excitement for the Battiest brothers and Mag7 will continue; the video was nominated for a NAMMY for Best Music Video — Best Narrative. The 17th Native American Music Awards will be held Oct. 14 at the Seneca Resort and Casino in Niagara Falls, New York. To vote for the video, visit nativeamericanmusicawards.com/home.