June 15, 2009

The Prophecy of Immortal Technique: From the Homeland to Afghanistan

by Nate Leskovic

Bono shows up to humanitarian summits here and there. Madonna “rescues” children from Malawi. Everyone plays benefit shows. Immortal Technique punches the clock in Afghanistan. Not even Iraq, which had a solid middle class and oil cash to sustain development before the U.S. began shredding it during the first Gulf War (“colonizing” may be a better term). But decimated Afghanistan, annihilated continuously for 30 years since the Soviets invaded in 1979. 

And Dick Cheney, you fuckin leech, tell them your plans/About building your pipelines through Afghanistan/And how Israeli troops trained the Taliban in Pakistan. 

The relentlessly rebellious MC has been slinging deadly political rhymes like this over the course of two records – 2001’s Revolutionary Vol. 1 and 2003’s Revolutionary Vol. 2 – and last year’s mixtape The 3rd World, but this trip takes his message to another level. While in the battle-scarred lands he helped build and launch the Amin Institute, an orphanage, school and medical facility in Kabul partnered with San Francisco’s OMEID International. Tech did stateside benefit shows and donated money from his mixtape sales to support the project. “I’m not just throwing money at the problem,” he says. 

This was no government-sponsored photo op. Tech would rather hole up in a Tora Bora cave than be embedded with a propaganda-shitting American unit. By keeping it real he got a heavy dose of reality, but realized a vision of hope. “The thing that made the most impact was the resilience of the people,” he says. “They might be down, but they weren’t out of the fight. If the world ended, these people might really survive. No matter the misery they’ve suffered from multiple invasions, including this most recent one where we are the occupier, they still have a very independent spirit.” 

Tech says he played his tracks for some of the orphans he was helping out. Though they didn’t understand the lyrics, he says they felt the virulence and told him it was “music to fight to”:

Now here’s the truth about the system that’ll fuck up your mind/They gave Al Qaeda six billion dollars in 1989 to 1992/And now the last chapters of Revelations are coming true/And I know a lot of people find it hard to swallow this/Because subliminal bigotry makes you hate my politics

Tech was born in Peru and moved to Harlem at a young age. He was never far from trouble, but was still able to get into Penn State. Multiple assault charges eventually got him locked up, though he will proudly remind you he did time instead of becoming a government snitch. 

Tech’s stint brought study and focus to his life. Once out in 1999, his rhyme skills and knowledge of the history and politics America doesn’t want you to learn turned him into the Noam Chomsky of hip-hop. But Chomsky caresses you into a comforting understanding of injustice, while Immortal Technique arms you with machetes of wisdom through his insurgency-inducing fury. If you don’t know the lyrics at most hip-hop shows, you’re left bouncing your head in the cipher cloud. At a Tech show, every word is immaculately chiseled into your dome, programmed for future use. 

Immortal Technique’s aggression is controlled like a bunker-buster laser bomb – it stealthily slips into that air vent until the target is reached. His brutal flow dances nimbly around the beat while your shirt falls to the floor – diced into a pile of shreds. The satisfaction he brings when he pops a “fuck” on the mic demands a cigarette. For those versed in leftist thought and cognizant of the great American myth, his verses are the MDMA to your serotonin. Rapid fire jabs against religion, racism and class warfare ignite. And he’s raw:

I’m obnoxious, motherfucker can’t you tell/Run through Little Havana yelling, “Viva Fidel”/Jerkin off with the sheets when I stay at hotels/Drinkin Bacardi at AA meetings, smokin a L

Tech has been pursued by major labels, but has stayed strictly independent due to pressure to tone-down his veracity and an aversion to being a corporate pawn without financial control of his destiny. His triumphant story should be a manual—call it The Art of War of unsigned hip-hop success. With much of his sales undocumented (though going straight to his pocket), Tech’s figures are illusive – but surely add up to hundreds of thousands of records. More important to him is the support he sees at shows. “It speaks much louder than some number you can wave in front of a big exec,” he says.

Tech took over the small Viper Records label in 2003. On his the track “Mistakes” from The 3rd World, he lashes out in the third person:

When I was young I got signed to a record label/The deal looked so good when it was on the table/It paid for my cable, cribs, cars and jewelry/The studios, the women, there’s nothing they wouldn’t do for me/Except stop screwing me for publishing the royalties/How the fuck are you my dawg when there’s no loyalty?

Tech hopes he can be an example to others. “It’s a blessing for me to be in the position I’m in without a major record label and someone sitting above me, dictating my career,” he says. His decision to stay independent also helps drive him. “It was part of my evolution as a businessman,” he says. “I can’t just get drunk and high with groupies after the show. Some people are a little shortsighted about what’s important in hip-hop. If you don’t map it out, you really can’t complain if it doesn’t happen to you.”

During the Vietnam era, “protest” music had its glory. Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Dylan, Jimi – it was ubiquitous. Rock music was antiwar. But the vibe couldn’t sustain. From the Altamont festival disaster, to the systematic societal and governmental efforts to undermine the 1960s counter-culture movement that flipped a hopeful message of peace into a Halloween costume, the zeitgeist was lost.

Though Bruce Springsteen kept the faith in the 1980s with “Born in the USA,” too many ignorantly fist-pumped the tune as a jingoistic pickup truck commercial. Political rock music just doesn’t have the power it once commanded. Singing about peace, unfortunately, just sounds lame most of the time. Neil “Four Dead in Ohio” Young’s Living with War sounded trite and unconfident in 2006. Forget about the Dixie Chicks horror story.

But no one ever laughed at Chuck D and Public Enemy. Though Zach de la Rocha’s lyrics are scattered and unfocused, Rage Against the Machine’s message remains real and clear. Did the “protest music” torch pass to hip-hop? Tech’s “Bin Laden” single, dropped in 2004, a definitive statement that buries the so-called War on Terror, is still smoking:

All they talk about is terrorism on television /They tell you to listen, but they don’t really tell you they mission /They funded Al-Qaeda and now they blame the Muslim religion/Even though Bin Laden was a CIA tactician/They gave him billions of dollars and they funded his purpose/Fahrenheit 9-11, that’s just scratchin the surface

“Hip-hop has the ability to say so much more because there are so many ideas you can put in 16 bars of even the most basic format,” speculates Tech. “And I think we’re feeling that end of [injustice] a lot more. Look at who they want to recruit.” If Woodstock spoke for the generation drafted off to Vietnam, boom-bap should be the voice of those disillusioned by American neo-colonialism. Relatively well-off indie rockers aren’t as likely to see their friends shipped overseas. And if hip-hop can spread the message more effectively, why risk getting booed off stage for singing songs that are “too preachy”?

In a world filled with wrongs, Immortal Technique has enough ammo to blast his truth into eternity. He had a filmmaker with him during his Afghanistan trip and plans on releasing a DVD about his mission as well as his stateside campaign called Urban Warfare. His new record, The Middle Passage, is also on deck. And if anyone thinks the election of a black man as president could put Tech out of a job, they’re insane. “Just because Obama got elected doesn’t mean that racism and poverty and the political aristocracy doesn’t exist,” he says. “And he had to do certain things to become president. He had to accept the story the government gives about 9/11. He has to side with Israel in the Israeli/Palestinian dispute. He has to support Plan Columbia. And I don’t think he’s going to stop the [Iraq] war, I just think he’s going to change it.”

Immortal Technique

Read more in the Digital Format Mag

1 comment:

  1. I've heard all of his music, this guy is a living legend.