When Immortal Technique released his second LP, Revolutionary Vol. 2, he left hip-hop's collective face with a bruised left eye and a severe concussion. Not since KRS-One's and Chuck D's heyday had an emcee so seamlessly blended revolutionary consciousness with raw and passionate lyrics. Like Dead Prez, Technique schools heads on the global struggle of blacks and Latinos fighting for economic independence and political autonomy. But Technique, who lives in Harlem and is an accomplished battle emcee, is far from a coffee-shop revolutionary. He's the Che Guevara of hip-hop, navigating the underground and gaining a steady following for his refusal to conform. If the recent presidential election has taught us anything, it's that this country will remain bitterly divided along philosophical lines. With this race touted as the most important election in decades, music moguls Russell Simmons and Puff Daddy looked to the hip-hop generation to unite and have their voice determine the winner of the election. A lofty dream, but numbers don't lie.
[more:]Prefix Magazine: We know the United States government and the New York Police Department has used surveillance to track hip-hop artists. Given your recent confrontation with the Drug Enforcement Agency in Colorado and your political philosophy, do you think you are being targeted by the feds?
Immortal Technique: I've said everything I have to about the federal government and their sorry-ass National Security Agency, which fronts like they can't find their boy bin Laden, but knows who I was speaking to on my cell phone two weeks ago at 7:51 p.m. If they are watching me, what can they do? They're going to have to plant stuff on me, because I'm one hundred percent legit right now: legal gun permit, legal armed guards, legal business, paying taxes, voting, I don't rob or steal, I barely drink or smoke. In other words, to be a revolutionary requires a serious commitment and being responsible for your actions. That's what I'm facing right now. PM: If you had five minutes alone with President Bush what would you say or do?
Immortal Technique: He would leave after my first question. PM: What are thoughts on Puff Daddy's and Russell Simmons's respective voter registration campaigns? Is it enough to register voters without educating them about politicals?
Immortal Technique: Voting is just one aspect of affecting change; it can't stop with voting, you have to mobilize black and Latino people to create independent blocks that address issue-based voting as well: voting on propositions and on land development and on who gets the contracts. In the hood, I see us valuing the image of wealth much more than wealth itself. I'd like to see us investing in land, supporting our own businesses, buying black, contributing to our community. In that respect we can begin to dictate policy with economic leverage -- other groups do the same thing, white conservative Christians, Jews, gays, the National Rifle Association. Where is our lobby? What industry do we control? Nothing. In that respect, we cannot be effective by just voting. It has to go further. We will not be satisfied being sheep who vote. We must be informed. PM: In New York it seems the neighborhoods hardest hit by the war in Iraq are Harlem, Spanish Harlem and Washington Heights. As a man of the community, how hard is it to see young African-Americans and Latinos die in Iraq?
Immortal Technique: The military has found a way to fuse the instinct and desire for men and women to defend their home with patriotism. Rass Kass said it best: "Jews don't salute the Swastika, but niggaz pledge allegiance to the flag that accosted ya." That statement doesn't encompass all my sentiment; I believe there are lots of good things about America that can be built on. Democracy, however corrupt, isn't an idea to scrap because of the racist elements that control it and the capitalism that serves as its religious doctrine. A lot of my niggaz are out there right now, and it's hard to know how to feel. I understand why the rebels are fighting. If someone took over America, I'd be fighting too. But I want my peeps to come home safe. Killing people to obtain peace is not a Christian thing to do; we do not have a Christian president, we have a puppet. A stooge. Our people are warriors, so we feel the need to defend our country even if it means being brainwashed into killing innocent people who didn't attack us on September 11. Without a proper leader and proper equipment, troops will not be able to function. They will not be liberators, but occupiers and oppressors, the harbingers of their own demise in the sand. Four more years? Four more years of this shit? Are you kidding me? PM: Can you expand on some of your lyrics: "They want to rearrange the whole point of view of the ghetto," from "The 4th Branch."
Immortal Technique: That shit was basically was made to tell people that the media, with all of it's biases, is the fourth branch of government. I explained the songs on the back cover of Revolutionary Vol.2. All the terrorism coverage is supposed to distract people from the failing economy, billion-dollar military contracts, growing consolidated power of corporations. Niggaz talk about the New World Order coming, but it's already here. The news affects ignorant people the most; that's why they're cutting school programs and educational funding. The media is about sensationalizing things, it's not about information or historical perspective. I didn't mean the Black ghetto, I didn't mean the Latino or the white ghetto -- I meant the ghetto period. They are using our ignorance as their greatest weapon in the war to control our minds. PM: On "Leaving the Past," you basically breakdown racial makeup if Latin America in a few lines. Can you expand on the lyric, "It's like apartheid, with ten percent ruling the rest."
Immortal Technique: Latin America is comprised of a large majority of indigenous people, native South and Central American Indians, and also Africans, some of which have been here since before Columbus. These people, both so-called Mulattoes (a racist term we'll speak about some other day) and Mestizos, make up about eighty percent of the entire Latin American population. But whenever you turn on a Spanish language channel, all you see is blonde-haired, light-skinned white people who speak Spanish. Our Native and African culture is only present when it's being mocked or misrepresented. It's like watching classical Hollywood cinema in all its pre-Civil Rights racist glory. I'm sure some people think this analogy is going too far, but they are probably Latinos or individuals who are so used to it being this way that they have actually never understood media conditioning and programming and its ideologically backward representation of blacks and Latinos. PM: Latinos have made a huge contribution to hip-hop, but a relatively small group of Latinos is making big waves. Why do you think that is?
Immortal Technique: A lot of Latinos are behind the scenes at major record labels, publishing companies, making beats and deejaying. There have been a few Latino emcees, but they've been confined to a target audience of their own people by the media, which doesn't think we can sell out of our own bracket to white and black people. As many times as this has been disproved by Latino hip-hop groups, this stigmatism is something the industry holds onto and something it uses to not let us in, keeping our shipping numbers and advance for marketing down. Those specific things sometimes determine the success of a record more than the music these days. But I myself and a lot of others in the game reppin' for the Latino community are making moves to change that. Being Peruvian and black, I see the way that we are made to become caricatures of ourselves. If you think industry controlled commercial hip-hop is bad, watch Spanish TV sometimes. That shit is so racist it disgusts me. PM: How do you feel when the media classifies you as "revolutionary" or "conscious" as if these elements are completely foreign to Hip-Hop music?
Immortal Technique: Being called a "revolutionary," is something I aspire toward. I have received the largest amount of my sales from shows and from the streets of Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx. Vol.2 has a hood agenda; it just attacks the government thoroughly from the perspective of someone who was forgotten by the system. As for the other titles you mentioned, very few people give me the title of "conscious rapper" or "street rapper." I am not confined to a viewpoint that would exemplify any of the other. A lot of people thought I was a battle emcee when I first announced I was working on a record. And while Vol.1 had that feel -- it was punch-line heavy and had battle rhymes and brutality -- the concepts like "Dance with the Devil" and "The Poverty of Philosophy" and other shit that spoke directly to the young, broke standards. Not in the sense that I did what emcees have never done before, but I broke standards for what people expected of me. People will always try to put you in a category until you have defined yourself. Critics find it very difficult to speak about artists in an original light, even more so than a positive one. I am ready to accept that challenge. PM: Are there any current hip-hop artists that inspire and drive your music?
Immortal Technique: Anyone that you see me working with is someone whose struggle I am connected with somehow, as are the people I'm not working with who share the same views and respect for historical truth in the world. But I take inspiration for what I do from my reality from the reality of my people and the Third World struggle. I don't draw from other rappers; I appreciate a lot of people's music but my focus is more rooted in transcribing what I have personally seen and experienced than confining myself to reiterating other people's work.