Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas, Seminole Tribe members Spencer and Zack “Doc” Battiest and a few other Native American artists dubbed the Magnificent Seven won an MTV Video Music Award on Aug. 27 for “Stand Up / Stand N Rock” music video.
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 and activists to voice their opinions and show their support.
“A lot of indigenous artists trying to make it in the mainstream came together with no egos, just to support those out there protesting on the front line,” Spencer said days before the awards ceremony. “It’s a great opportunity to continue to voice struggles of indigenous people and stand up for what’s right for all nations and tribes.”
Winners in the category were announced at the VMA ceremony in Los Angeles by Susan Bro, the mother of slain protester Heather Heyer, who was killed during an anti-fascism and neo-Nazi protest in Charlottesville, Virginia on Aug. 12.
“I want people to know that Heather never marched alone,” Bro told the audience. “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.”
The artists were hand-picked by Taboo, who produced the song in September 2016. The singers live throughout the U.S. and recorded their parts remotely, but Taboo brought them together in New York to perform as a group for the first time in March 2017 during the “Can’t Drink Oil, Keep it in the Soil” climate justice event.
“It wasn’t about advancing our careers, it was purely about what we can do to help,” Spencer said. “The fact that we did it together is amazing. It was a great opportunity whether or not you win an award. We just wanted to stand together.”
Taboo begins the song with a verse that includes the rap “We’ve been fighting for our freedom since the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María.”
Every artist sang or rapped a verse of the song, each with a similar theme.
Spencer sang, “To all my Native People, to all my Tribal people, keep your head up. Stand up, stand up,” as Doc rapped “woke up and said we won’t go quiet, we’re ready for the battle and we ain’t running.”
The musicians gathered in Los Angeles to record the studio scenes of the video, but the Battiest brothers were performing in San Francisco at the time and recorded their part with Taboo later. Most of the video was filmed at the DAPL site in North Dakota and highlights Sioux culture and dance along with the water protectors on the scene.
“I am part Shoshone, but this issue is deeper than my Native American heritage,” Taboo said in a statement. “The Dakota Access Pipeline is a shameless example of corporate interests being put ahead of human rights and our environment. This song is a ‘thank you’ to the protectors that have stood against the pipeline and a call to action for all native peoples to stand proud and unify for our human rights and to protect our land.”
“Stand Up / Stand N Rock,” which also features activist actress Shailene Woodley, was never released for purchase and is the only nominated song in the category that was produced and released without a record label. The Best Fight Against the System category was previously called Best Video with a Social Message, but was rebranded this year.
The nominees in the category are Taboo ft. Shailene Woodley for “Stand Up / Stand N Rock #NoDAPL,” Logic ft. Damian Lemar Hudson for “Black SpiderMan,” The Hamilton Mixtape “Immigrants (We Get the Job Done),” Alessia Cara for “Scars To Your Beautiful,” Big Sean for “Light,” and John Legend for “Surefire.”
Spencer and Doc attended the VMA less than a week after they performed at the Seminole Tribe’s 60th anniversary celebration in Hollywood.
(Editor’s note: The MTV Music Awards ceremony was held Aug. 27 as this month’s Tribune was close to publication. More extensive coverage about Spencer and Zack Battiest at the VMAs will be provided in the Sept. 29 Tribune and the Tribune’s social media).