Revolutionary Rhymes: A Talk with Immortal Technique
Immortal Technique is an artist in the lineage of Zach De LaRocha and Chuck D, and he needs to be listened to. His story is a testament to the power of the pen. Born in Peru and raised in Harlem as a child, he foundhimself in trouble with the law as a teenager and young man. After serving timein prison for a couple years and becoming free, in more ways than one, Immortal Technique worked his way up through New York City underground Hip-Hop inthe early 2000's battle-rap scene. During this period, Tech got a name forhimself for delivering vitriolic rhyme schemes deconstructing a system that hasrepeatedly lied to many in order to benefit a few. He also ran with the well-known underground NYC Hip-Hop crew, Stronghold, and frequented thenow longest running open mic in the city, End of the Weak.
His song “Dance with the Devil” is a piece that I think will stand the test of time, much like a Johnny Cash tune. The presentation laid forth by the narrator is so gritty that it almost fits the mold of Horror-core rap, the type that Ill Bill and Necro have taken to the next level over the years. Where this song veers away from the Horror-core mold is where Tech is rhyming about things that sound like they could have happened somewhere last night. A number of my friends say that they cannot listen to that song too much, because it's so disturbing. But again, this is not for the sole reason of shock value, a criticism that is often leveled against Horror-core rap. Rather, it's disturbing because of what it reveals.
Immortal Technique has established a worldwide presence and a strong global following, doing so from an independent stance, from the very beginning. I've had conversations with other MCs (Why-G being one)speculating on the possibility of Tech going platinum without the backing of a major record label. This feat would be unheard of, a true inspiration.
Tech's rhyme style has been one of a vicious battle rapper, coming out of a particular battle-heavy era in NYC underground Hip-Hop, seeking to eviscerate his adversary. And on his Revolutionary volumes 1 and 2, this adversary appears to be United States Government. Tech has had his detractors, those who feel that his style has been weighed down a bit by the battle rap rep, and that his flow offers nothing new. But my answer to that is that the power of what he is actually saying far outweighs his style of presentation. Also like all great artists, his style has progressed and become more nuanced through time.
Over the years Tech has matured as a writer, speaker, thinker, and perhaps most importantly an activist. He appears to have settled into his stride and has gone deeper in his analysis. His recent release The 3rd World Mixtape provides some different stylistic offerings from Tech. And one only needs to go on YouTube and watch his interviews to discover his further evolution. Very recently, he has opened an orphanage in Afghanistan. This is something no one in Hip-Hop has ever done; this is unparalleled.
I caught up with Tech while he was between tours and finishing his upcoming project, The Middle Passage.
Prop: Recently, I saw footage of you speaking at the South Central Food Co-op back in 2006. I was really impressed with your analysis of the possibility of revolution in today's world, in so much as what is achievable and tangible. Can you provide us a breakdown of, first, what you identify as Revolution, and second, what aspects of it are truly possible in the world's current state?
Tech: I can't recap that talk verbatim, but the way I view it today is, I always believed that revolution is the highest level of change. Not the superficial change of replacing people who are in positions that were created to prevent others from questioning their government in a more accountable manner. But more to the point, I think that revolution is a sacrifice and responsibility.
People who are usually faced with the prospect of actually engaging in a revolution are usually people who have had to suffer enough injustice, and are prone to more cynicism than others. And there is a certain point when a government just accepts the fact that there is going to be a revolution, and they then look towards cutting their losses as much as they possibly can. Like for instance, striking an economic deal with the new government, so that the illusion of freedom is given but that economic subservience to the same manufacturer and/or the same corporation is maintained. And that's something that Latin America has an incredible amount of history in.
I also think that revolutions can only occur when the people stop being pacified, or when they stop allowing themselves to be pacified.Without pacification people start to see exactly what their money is being spent on. I'm not saying this because I don't like sports, or I don't like shows, or music, you know what I mean. I think that without these things the country would tear itself to pieces. Imagine how many angry people that go andvent and pay all this money to see a gladiator sport. But what would you do if you didn't have that on Sunday or Monday? Maybe you'd actually pay attention to what is in the Patriot Act, or what is in the Stimulus package, or what your Congressman is doing. You would have an active role in government.
I don't expect people to be as passionate about politics as I am, but I think that if they had half the passion and half the understanding of the average person who is interested in this stuff, then their life would be immeasurably different in terms of how much more proactive a role they would play in their own destiny.
And I think that's exactly what revolution is, playing ahand in your own destiny. Saying ‘You know what, I'm really not going to allow the rest of you to dictate to me what I'm going to do, and I am going to manufacture this lifestyle for myself one way or another.’
No doubt. So, you are originally from Peru and have family down there. Are you familiar with some of the shamanic traditions in your home country?
I have come across people who participate in those types of actions, and who live their lifestyle according to these philosophies. I think that the world is neither white nor black when it comes to stuff like that.There is always a possibility of using that in conjunction with other treatments. But I think that it's dangerous to believe in just one. People may think, ‘Oh that's just a bunch of weirdos singing.’ But at the same time, they take so much care to think of their physical health and they take so much care of their mental health, because they know if they don't feed their mind, their mind is going to devour itself. Yet they don't consider what the equivalent of that would be in terms of taking care of their spiritual health, which I think is what we are talking about now. Tapping into the human spirit. I'm not going to say that I'm a spiritual person, because that seems kind of clichéd. What does that mean? You believe in ghosts? You talk to your ancestors? To me it can mean a variety of things.
I believe in God, but I've never as an adult adhered to one particular religion over another. I've accepted that all of them equally have a certain sense of truth to them, and all of them equally have a series of unfortunate hypocrisies that are a result of mankind. I think that if the religions that now control the world had been in the hands of pious people, of righteous individuals, then they would have never expanded beyond the small radius that they had at their conception. But I figure specifically that because the religion had fallen into the hands of lesser men, that it is as extensive as it is now. In that, there is no further proof than what people call colonization – which I think is too nice a word, that people use to describe 500 years of rape and murder and cultural genocide, plain genocide,and political de-evolution. I don't know how we can sum it up in a word that makes it sound like we are going to Williamsburg, Pennsylvania.
In truth that we have lost about our society, that at times we may think we are tapping into something new, we may be tapping into something that's very old, that we once had long ago, but was destroyed our stolen from us. If not by recent conquerors, then the conquerors before them.We were not an innocent people when we were conquered. We did horrible things to one another. It's not like war was unknown to us. So things like you are speaking of are an incredible window to the past for understanding our people, and the evolution of all humans.
You strike me as an avid reader. I am curious if you havecome across the book Food of the Gods by Terrence McKenna?
I've heard of it, but I've never read it.
I think you would dig the book. So let’s get into the 9-11 Truth movement, a righteous cause in the quest to get some kind of clarity on what happened on September 11th, 2001. What are your views on this?
I'll be really honest with you. I was never a member, interms of paying dues or going to meetings. I've told everyone that was involved from the very beginning that I didn't adhere to one particular theory or another, because there is such a wide array of ideas about what actually happened. I've been hit up by a plethora of people, some of them actually have some expertise in this, and some of them do not. I'm not talking about just 9-11 Truth, I mean in general. I've been hit up be professors. I've been contacted by engineers, architects, people who were first responders, people who had family who were first responders, people whose family members had died in the attack on the World Trade Center. These were all people who didn't believe in the government’s version, and who had their questions about it. Tome, I think there is a difference between that and the people who have outlandish claims.
At some point you have to draw the line, and say, ‘You know what? Prove it.’ You don't get to just say silly shit like that and put it out there. So I thought to myself, unless I'm going to sit down and spend the next five or six years of my life being an investigative reporter, I'm going to speak from a position of ignorance and say I don't know exactly what happened that day. The government has a version of what happened, but they wouldn't tell us the truth about the air being safe to breathe afterwards.
When a cop gets busted and it turns out he lied and planted evidence, all of the arrests that he's made come into question. Well, is not the same logic applicable to a government that has consistently lied to people, and is just caught now in lying to people? You lied about a war, you lied about so many other things, and I know that's such a catch-phrase. The minute that a conservative person hears that they are immediately turned off, saying, ‘Oh, here we go again.’ I'm not a liberal you moron, you know. I'm conservative about a lot of things, but I'm not a person that is just going to blindly agree with one political spectrum. Or I should say, one structured political spectrum, because I think America has dimensions of politics that go beyond Left and Right, and I think for anyone that doesn't understand that, you've really been trained very well. You have no consciousness on your level.
I would say that throughout life, this government has persisted by keeping things from the people. I think it's the only way to conduct a government, I'll be perfectly honest with you. I don't think there'sa way to have a government and not lie to people. Because at the end of the day, there is not a government, you know what I mean? People say it's not a system, we live in a nation, and there's people ... exactly! Thank you for making my point for me. It's not about a government, it's about people who rule other people. It's about people that control other people for the interest of those people and a small conglomerate of individuals. Eventually it all breaks down to some economic oligarchy that runs New York City. Why can't we imagine this being a microcosm for what goes on in Washington, or anywhere else? We fashioned ourselves after the Roman Empire, as if that was a good thing. That was an authoritarian regime that ruled through tyranny and murder. The PaxRomana was not that for everyone else.
So again, when I talk about 9-11 and I talk about these other things, I come from a perspective of doubt, but also one of compassion. For not just the people that died from that act but also for the people that died as a result of dragging 9-11 through everything. It became a catchphrase.There are conservative Republicans that should be ashamed with that, every single thing was about 9-11, 9-11, 9-11. And at the end of the day, you beginto lose touch with the actual reality. How a family was never paid their money. How firefighters remains were quickly dumped into garbage trucks with all sorts of other debris. And I'm not talking about particles of dust that were once people, I'm talking about parts of individuals. It just brings up so many questions. Like, what are you in such a rush to get rid of the evidence for? Are we going to forget that Bush didn't want a 9-11 Commission? Are we going to forget that at first he tried to appoint Henry Kissinger to do that? At the end of the day, people are going to remember this. It's not my fault that I have a good memory. Don't call me a skeptic and a conspiracy theorist because I have a good memory.
I just remember all these things happening in conjunction with a massive attempt to blank out things in the media. When they finally hada quote-unquote picture of a plane hitting the Pentagon, and all the press was saying this was incontrovertible proof. And it looked like someone had super-imposed a duck bill over an old Polaroid photo, and I was like, ‘People believe that?’ So many other experts were saying, ‘This is Not the Pentagon, this is not the building,’ and then they pulled the picture. But they tried, and that's the whole point. Yo, you go to jail for attempted murder, even if you fail. So where is the attempted perjury that these people are trying to get away with? Shouldn't they be charged for that?
Those are basically my feelings on 9-11, and I think there alot of people within the 9-11 Truth Movement who see it that way. I'm sure that there are some people who think, automatically, that I'm naive because I don't see it their way. That I don't believe that George Bush is directly responsible for 9-11. There are people who come at me like that, and that's fine, because I don't need your permission to be who I am.
When you’re twice as old as me, you probably won't have accomplished half as much. That's fine. That's not me bragging, that's just me saying I plan to dedicate the rest of my life to what I'm doing. This isn’t some fly-by-night club that I've decided to throw together a band of revolutionaries to make music – this is my life. And I know people in the9-11 Truth Movement who are also dedicated to this for life, because they've lost members of their family. Their lives have been altered by it. And it isusually with those types of people, people that I can sit down and have a rational conversation, and agree to disagree on some things, that I am the closest with. And I’m more friendly about stuff when we have conversations within the 9-11 Truth Movement.
But I try to be open minded like that with all people I meet. I have a publicist whose entire family are anti-Castro Cubans. That's avery interesting conversation. You know, I learn more about the struggle from them than by going to a meeting of ultra-Leftists telling me how big of a miracle Cuba is. And yes, absolutely, it's interesting how it has lived under such deprived conditions, under embargo, and yet it's still not the poorest country in Latin America and the Caribbean. That's fucking amazing when you think about it. But at the same time, because I'm able to speak with those people, and because I am able to get another perspective, I say, you know, revolution isn't perfect. Here's the dark side of it, here's the things that goon behind the scenes, here's the unfortunate truth. And only by accepting those things can we possibly try to change them as a community and make the revolution stronger.
But there are people who do not want to accept that there is anything wrong with it, and they say, ‘Nah, it's perfect.’ You are proving our enemies point more by doing that. I'm willing to sit down with people that I have an ideological disagreement with and have that conversation. I'm willing to sit down with people who have served in the Israeli army and have served in the occupied territory, and have differing views than me on the situation, and I want to understand them. I talked to a lot of people when I went to Ireland whose family were the only type of Republicans who I can see eye-to-eye with. Those that were saying, ‘Hey they came and they took my son, what the fuck was I supposed to do? Was I just supposed to lay down and accept that?’ On the other side there, were some British people I spoke to who said that, ‘Oh, that movement was infiltrated from the beginning.’ All right then, where's the proof? Let's have that discussion.
When I meet more logical people, rather than the people that demand my political allegiance immediately, then I get along with them better.There have been a couple of people who have had an issue with me because I won't accept their theory immediately. But by and large I've met a very diverse group of people – not just within the the 9-11 Truth Movement, but within lots of these organizations – who are willing to say, ‘Hey, you know what, I don't agree with lots of this stuff, and I'm not going to propagate things I can't prove. I'm going to speak about my personal experience and how I was lied to. How they couldn't find my family, and how it turns out they put them in a goddamn dumpster. I'm going to talk about my uncle, how he was down there digging bodies out, and now he has lung cancer. He doesn't smoke, nothing, and now he has lung cancer. And you said it was cool to breathe down there. I didn't see you down there. You took your face mask off for the press photos, but then you put it back on.’ There's a lot of unanswered questions about stuff like that.
I think only after this country collapses are we going tofind out the truth. And still even after we find out the truth, there are still going to be people who will try to justify the government’s actions. And then you should just be recognized for the heartless, cold, fascist piece of shit that you are.
Let’s focus on New York City for a moment. Utilizing gentrification as a form of economic development has always been a trend, but it seems to have accelerated since the mid to late nineties. Up in Harlem right now there is the extension of the accelerated gentrification movement. Many will say stuff like, this is just a fact of life in NYC, but I wonder how people can work together to get some sort of equitable community going on and strike a balance between those coming in and those already living there?
Harlem, in general, is in a fucked up predicament right now, because the people who are supposed to represent it, don't. There are people who are supposed to represent us in Congress, and they don't, they represent themselves in Congress. And that's fine and dandy, but then don't lie to the public. Don't act like you are doing some sort of public service for us by stealing money and by accepting money from all these donors who are obviously individuals who are working for the complete gentrification of Harlem. I think itwas so interesting to see Charles Rangle have his name plastered all over next to Obama's. When I looked at that I was like, ‘You’re really trying to attach yourself to this man because if you ran on your own merit, you'd lose.’
As for Columbia University, here is an institution that claims to be about higher learning, and then you have the president of it who is quite aware of what's going on in West Harlem, but doesn't care. How much attention to detail of humanity are we observing, so at that point you realize that it's not just education that's important? You can be an educated person who is a cruel heartless bastard. Education doesn't imply being more righteous, being more human, being better, coming up with better solutions for the public. Many times it elicits the thought of coming up with better solutions for you, and how you can take advantage of people.
You know, they say all the time, Those who can't do, teach. That's the saying. But you know what, those who can't teach, chair a department, and those who chair a department are the president of the university. That dude, he knows how I feel about him, and there's nothing he can do because I own my apartment, in the co-op I live at in Harlem. So you can kiss my ass, homie.
Are you speaking about Rangle or the cat at Columbia University?
Bollinger, the president of Columbia. Rangle has his own issues to deal with and I think he's going to find himself in more hot water real soon. But that's not going to solve the problem, by just getting rid of him, because after him, then who? Who's going to come in and reverse that decision?They are going to find anything they can use on that guy. They are going to do whatever they possibly can to ruin that guy's chance of ever achieving anything. I think it's a shame. I think we should change the city. I think it would be interesting to see a Congressman come in and say, 'You know what, no, fuck you, I don't care what you say. You're not helping the residents of this community. You're gentrifying everything, you're creating unaffordable housing. And there's no effort to help our people find the civilization that we've lost.’
And as for Bollinger, him and his administration were the ones that created the Manhattanville community group and Harlem Renaissance. That has nothing to do with Manhattanville. They were just a bunch of niggas who decided to call themselves Manhattanville Community Group. A bunch of heartless devils, that were like, ‘Ok, here we go. Let's act like we're a part of this thing.’ And they go and hire David Dinkins. You're going to put David Dinkinson the hook of your district in order to make it less offensive to the black community? Really? That's how I feel about gentrification in New York.
We didn't even get into gentrification in Brooklyn or Queensor the Bronx, just Harlem, so imagine how it plays out with other city officials all over the city. It's funny because Hugo Chavez recently won a referendum so people can vote for him for a third term. We didn't even get that courtesy from Bloomberg. He didn't bring a referendum up to the people.
Word. I have heard a growth and progression in your music and words over these past number of years. I'm curious about what you are optimistic and hopeful about at this particular moment in the world and in Hip-Hop?
Honestly, in terms of Hip-Hop, it's sad but I really don't expect too much from a lot of people anymore. I've learned not to expect too much. Because as soon as I see someone who has a good idea or has some interesting work, they go and immediately think that they will get some money from some corporation, and that's it. The validity they had with the people is gone, and it's a shame, I wish it wasn't like that. I wish people thought about how much longevity they would have if maybe they took a different outlook on stuff like that. But they don't, it's not their perspective.
I hope that there are those in the realm of Hip-Hop who actually proceed to make something of themselves, and say, 'You know what, I can take this art really far.’ But the sad part is, most people don't give a fuck about taking their art nowhere. This isn't about art for them. They know nothing about art. They just know about using the same marketing strategy that everyone's been using, ‘I'm a hustler. I'm a killer.’ Not to say that people haven't killed or hustled. But I think now the Hip-Hop game is understanding that the street credibility doesn't sell records anymore. No one cares if you’re a murderer. You did time, congratulations. You know, your rhymes better be really good, or your gonna have to go back on the breadline, homie. People don't care about you being a fucking killer or a murderer. It'll get you some clicks onto your website. If you post your jail record, it might get you something on Worldstar.
It's like the public has an opportunity for the first time in a long time to say, 'You know what, I know this is a lot of tongue in cheek stuff. I've seen this film before, show me something new.’ That's the reason Hollywood is suffering, they got the same damn formula all the time. And you should suffer if you're going to be like that, fuck you. That's just what it is. I mean I think there are a group of promising individuals that I've had the pleasure of working with over the years that are doing stuff. I'm not just going to say that people who are promising are people that I've worked with.
I just hope that the independents that are in all of these regions –Midwest, the South, the West coast, the Northwest, the Southwest, the East coast, Canada, Latin America – and anyone who is reading this in Africa in Europe or Asia, I hope you realize the strength and potential that you have as an independent. And that you don't sell yourself short, because it's not a question of selling yourself short; it's a question of selling yourself, period.
So, to touch on this again: There's so much going on in the world right now and a lot of work that needs to be done. Is there anything that you see that has got you enthusiastic about, and has you saying, 'Yo that's dope. I'd like to see where that's going.' What's popping up on the radar for you?
I think that over the years, I've seen more and more peoplequestioning stuff and who are coming into their own revolutionary logic. Ithink that's a good first step, I'd like to see an expansion of that. But those parameters aren't going to be set by me, they are going to be set by people who choose to question and rebel against the status quo. Or they may say, 'Hey, it's too much of a bother,' and say fuck it. But there are more people out there willing to take risks for not just themselves, but for everybody, for a collective.
I've been really impressed by a lot of people. I hope that continues. I hope that more people realize how much we are connected and how much our struggles are connected, that we can learn from other people's revolutions and other people's failures and victories. That's why I have such a great amount of respect for all revolutions that have existed. That's why I have a great sadness towards all genocides, all holocausts. Because I want to understand each and every one in their own fashion, and how they all came to be. And what their impacts have been on our society beyond a TV show or a movie.
And I feel appreciated for my music. I have a very strong support base of people who are tired of hearing the same shit. And I'mma keep giving it to them. There's the documentary I got coming called Urban Warfare about my travels all over the world. I've got TheMiddle Passage coming. I've got a couple of artists that I'm helping put some small releases out. Showcase some talent. And I've got a soundtrack for the movie I'm working on, real shit. Ha ha!