“Lots of people in America know that the system is fucked up. All of them know it. I think everybody in this country knows the government’s corrupt. They’re conscious of it, but they’re not gonna do a fucking thing about it. There are people that will, and me, I consider those people revolutionary.”
These are the words of 30-year-old rapper Immortal Technique. Not satisfied with being labeled a “conscious MC,” for the past decade, this Peruvian-born New Yorker’s aim in life has reached beyond the confines of the rap game.
Since stirring up the underground with his self-released debut, 2001’s Revolutionary Vol. 1, Tech has had hip-hop fans listening intently to his unflinching political perspectives and fiery flow enhanced by rugged East Coast production. Balancing “humility with brutal instinct,” he rails about puppet democracies in war-torn countries and the racist history of European religion and colonialism. Sometimes he seems to spit lines just to get a rise out of people; on “Leaving the Past,” for example, he raps: “I’ll do a free show in North Korea burning the flag/While J. Edgar Hoover politicians dress up in drag.”
When not delivering a revolution in the form of hip-hop, the MC born Felipe Coronel has made his ultimate priority fighting numerous injustices in Third World countries–most recently beginning a dialogue with fellow recording artists and Hollywood filmmakers in an effort to stop the United States’ embargo against Cuba.
As such, it took weeks of waiting to get Immortal Technique on the phone. When I did, music was almost a secondary topic of conversation. Tech was as eager to talk about his daily revolutionary work as his forthcoming album, The 3rd World.
To understand Immortal Technique, it’s vital to know that he was born into violence, coming into this world in a Peruvian military hospital shortly before the country’s civil war–a conflict that began in 1980 and lasted for nearly 20 years. While Tech has lived in the U.S. since the early ’80s, he hasn’t exactly evaded a hostile life, growing up in the streets of Spanish Harlem and then getting locked up for assault charges during his first year of college. Even if Tech has tamed his hotheadedness since being paroled in 1999, one gets the sense that he’s still down to throw his fists up at a moment’s notice, if necessary.
Tech started his career as a hungry battle rapper straight out of the penitentiary. His aggressive approach helped him win renowned East Coast battles like Rocksteady and gain the respect of peers such as Poison Pen, as well as a shout-out in The Source’s Unsigned Hype column. Growing tired of label limitations and promoters’ hidden agendas, Tech began recording independently via Viper Records. His only albums, Revolutionary Vols. 1 and 2,saw Tech channel the ruthlessness of battling into tracks with more substantial subject matter.
“Music is really just a small part of my life. It is only the beginning of what I have begun working on,” writes Tech in a recent journal entry on MySpace. The bulk of the piece is a personal narrative about a childhood friend who was unjustly beaten by the boys in blue. When he opens a dialogue with fans, asking them to share their stories of overzealous policemen, hundreds of responses roll in.
“I don’t consider myself an activist,” asserts Tech. “I’m not an embedded reporter–I’m holding a weapon and I’m in the field. I do revolutionary work. And it’s not that I don’t respect other people for marching or doing whatever, but I always felt that for me, personally, I have to take a more proactive approach.”
Being proactive doesn’t always mean getting dirty in the trenches of war. On a recent trip to his native Peru, Tech spent much of his time cultivating a farm he bought a few years back. On 300-plus acres of land he grows beans, corn, papayas, and other produce with the help of his family and an agricultural engineer. Aside from any financial gain, the purpose of the farm is to give the people more control of their own resources.
“Rather than doing what agribusiness would want me to do–which is to just to sell all my goods to America and then whatever doesn’t pass inspection sell it back to [my] own people–I’m trying to set a different standard down there,” he explains.
In addition to the farm, Tech is proud to own his home in Harlem, a neighborhood he refuses to leave even amid ongoing gentrification. “No matter how many brownstones white people buy, shit is still real out here,” he wrote in the liner notes to 2003’s Revolutionary Vol. 2 (Viper Records/Nature Sounds).
Tech does much of his work from his home office. If he’s not on tour or traveling in South America, an average day starts with a workout before hours spent on the phone or the computer connecting with anyone willing to help overturn the backwards policies of countless governments.
“It’s not like everyday we have a focus group or some shit, but I regularly communicate with people, whether it be in the Central American community or … the Palestinian community,” explains Tech. “There are lots of things of concern to me and I’m more than wiling to have [an] open discussion with people whose perspective I really want to understand.”
Not one to surround himself with yes men, Tech makes it a point to talk with those who carry radically different views. “I want to understand other people’s perspectives–even with right-wing Cubans, I’m open to having dialogues,” he says. “As long as these things are respectful and people know I’m from the street, they don’t try to pull no bullshit on me. So most of the time, they’re all very civil, fact-driven discussions.”
Due to his continued efforts outside of the studio, it has been more than four years since Immortal Technique’s Revolutionary Vol. 2 hit the streets. While his next album was supposed to be The Middle Passage, Tech pulled a sneak attack earlier this year when he announced that his next full-length would be called The 3rd World, presented in conjunction with DJ Green Lantern of Sirius Radio fame and the producer behind Tech’s last single, “Bin Laden.”
In Tech’s words, The 3rd World is “essentially an album that’s put together like a mixtape,” with Green Lantern occasionally making his presence known on intros and interludes and the songs seamlessly segueing into one another. Mixtape or not, the subject matter and beats are as raw as ever. The proof can be heard on the heated title track, which details the difference between the hood in America and in Third World countries over a Peruvian-sounding flute loop. With a particularly feverish growl, he spits, “I’m from where Soviet weapons still decide elections/Military’s like the mafia, you pay for protection.”
“People [in the U.S] will say that they’re poor because they live in the projects,” he says, explaining the song. “It’s like, ‘Word, nigga? Try living in a fucking favela.’ Whatever complaint that you have is magnified when you live out there.”
The 3rd World, which features guest appearances from Chino XL and Ras Kass, is not just a literal document of what life is like in nations such as Peru, Cuba, and El Salvador, it also makes a statement about people reclaiming their natural resources, whether it’s South American farmers or indie hip-hop artists. Moreover, on songs like “Mistakes,” Tech stresses the importance of self-responsibility and living up to one’s own actions. He will be the first to admit to certain shortcomings–like the way “wylin’ on the corner” got him turned back from the Canadian border.
Immortal Technique has never claimed to be above criticism, but the one thing you can’t call him is lethargic. This hip-hop firebrand intends to tirelessly combat political and social injustice in the same way he used to clash MCs in a cipher. “Originally when I was writing rhymes, I was still a battle rapper,” recalls Tech of his transformation. “I realized that I had much bigger battles to fight than with whatever local rapper was hot in Brooklyn or the Bronx or Harlem or wherever. I was like, ‘What am I really fighting over?’”