Immortal Technique: Interview

    Immortal Technique has always been a tough opponent to face. In his early rap days, he was notorious in the New York City battling circuit — a broad-shouldered, wild-eyed Latino with menacing tongue skills. But soon after frying small fish in the local rap scene, his aim was set higher, his pen locked and loaded for bigger targets. From corporations to crooked governments, Immortal Technique’s music focuses on attacking the oppressive elements of society and educating the hip-hop generation about social issues. With his third album, The 3rd World (released in June via Viper), this relentless revolutionary continues to shed light on what most rappers don’t talk about. 


    Aside from touring, what has kept you from releasing an album in the past four years?

    I was working on Revolutionary Vol. 3 and The Middle Passage; both of those projects are half-done, and a lot of work went into that. I also bought a farm in northern Peru about two years ago, and I’ve been tending to the business of that, increasing the land and creating a program that doesn’t just do what all agro-business does, which is sending out whatever passes inspection to Europe and America and selling whatever doesn’t pass back to the people who actually work the land. 


    I’ve also been involved in a lot of fundraising projects for different causes that are close to my heart, such as charities in Palestine that support children’s hospitals and projects in this country to support the communities of undocumented workers that are routinely victimized and demonized. A lot of parents are deported and then their children are left here in foster care with absolutely no support system. That is something I’ve been working on strongly — but the credit doesn’t belong to me; it belongs to a lot of activists that are on the front lines. I’ve chosen to participate in fundraising and whatever I can do on the side as an artist and as a revolutionary, but the people doing the legwork when I’m on tour or in the studio are the individuals that are involved in those projects.


    How do you decide what causes you will participate in and which ones you can’t get involved with?

    It’s about who approaches me with the most serious attitude and complete plan. That’s who I pay more attention to. Also, it’s usually people I have a personal connection with. Not that I won’t work with other people, but it’s just a question of whoever seems to be more structured and can tell me exactly what they need from me as opposed to people who make me play a guessing game. Unfortunately, some people will come to me and expect me to be able to drop everything I’m doing to help them.


    It’s the same with musical collaborations. People are so presumptuous, they’ll be like “Yo, I heard you were in town so I just rented some studio time; let’s do a track.” Like I’m supposed to drop everything I’m doing but I don’t even know you from a whole in the wall. In terms of the other work, there’s a whole process that’s involved because I gotta check out organizations and see who worked with them in the past and see whether they’ve been effective or not at achieving anything.


    Do you keep a strong link with your native country, Peru?

    I was born in the Hospital Militar de Lima and I definitely still have family out there, so it more than fits for me to go back there and bring something to the people. It’s weird because when I talk to individuals out there in the hip-hop scene, they’re like “Wow, you came back. Nobody comes back.” People just come to visit but they don’t stay, they come hang out at the casino and get some pussy. I’m not here for all that extracurricular shit, to show off my money or wealth. I’m here to make an investment in my people, in my land, in my country.


    Even though there are things that are more efficient about the American system, I can’t approach them with a superiority complex, as if everything that we do here is perfect. Definitely not. There are things we can learn from developing countries that can better the system that we have. It’s in our arrogance and unwillingness to accept different ideas that we find the beginning of our own failure.


    That being said, I take just as much pride in doing things for other countries that don’t involve my personal background. Whether we are raising money for immigrants in the United States or supporting a children’s hospital in Palestine, we’ll be demonized for it. Lately I’ve been working with certain organizations to build an orphanage in Afghanistan to be ready and prepared for complete operational status by 2009. It’s difficult trying to work with the bureaucracy of a modern colony and around the legal system in that area.


    Although your work remains peaceful and legal, do you see yourself as a militant?

    I definitely do get militant about a lot of things. I actually wouldn’t even describe myself as an activist. I’m not a pencil pusher. I’m in the street doing what I need to do. It’s a lot more revolutionary than just getting a sign and marching from point A to point B. It’s difficult to categorize yourself in civil categories that are already built. I don’t feel that I fit into any of them.


    People talk about being conscious and shit like that. What the fuck does that really mean? It just implies that you know something, but it doesn’t imply that you’re gonna do something about it. How many people are informed about how much corruption there is in their local and federal government? And yet they live in complete apathy and almost in a separate dimension of living and understanding when it comes to dealing with that.


    Being conscious doesn’t mean anything to me in comparison to people that are willing to put their lives on the line to try to achieve something. I’ve gotten plenty of death threats, people who said “You know what, we’re gonna get at you when you come out here.” C’mon, motherfucker! Do what you need to do. I’m gonna keep doing what I need to do and nothing you can say is gonna stop me from achieving my final goal. It might present different obstacles for me to overcome before I can achieve, but that’s life. People’s personal issues with what I’m trying to do and the message I’m trying to spread are inconsequential compared to the final result that needs to be achieved.


    Do you think you are being monitored by the government?

    I’ve definitely gotten harassed before by local government and by federal government. But look, there’s nothing cool about that. If you wanna talk about it we can, but I always hear rappers talk about it and it’s depressing to me seeing people trying to glamorize that, like they’re so important that the police is after them. No, you stupid ass nigga! No one cares about you! You’re just a dumb-ass rapper who smokes weed and sniffs coke with a bunch of groupies at the end of the show. No one gives a fuck about what you’re doing!  You’re not that important, and it’s usually your peoples that get you because you’re not paying them well.


    It’s not an honor to have the feds after you. I’ve seen what they can do; they’ll tear people’s lives apart. If they can’t get to you, they’ll indict your family. They’ll put your mother in jail on charges of being accessory to your fraud. The people that are being marginalized the most are the people that have access to information about what’s really going on in the world around us and have different opinions about the political system we have. Those are the people being chased the most, not some commercial-ass rapper with a bunch of metal in his mouth and a stick up his ass from the label.


    To what extent does your music serve the causes you work for?

    Most rappers that feel insecure about the fact that their music has no message usually have the following argument: Hip-hop is just about entertainment, the rest of ya’ll are taking it to another degree. But let’s take this example and magnify it so we can see the cracks in their foundation. If hip- hop is just about entertainment, doesn’t entertainment serve other purposes other than just entertain? It can inspire, it can explain, it can shed light on situations. If we look at comedy, from Lenny Bruce to Chris Rock, entertainment is saturated with a great deal of personal and national politics. Entertainment informs and creates a political slant; it can also distract and spread ignorance. It can be a method of drawing people’s attention away from important issues, but on the other side, it can also pacify.


    Look at its power: There’s more people voting for American Idol than in the primaries. I think that my music plays a role in bringing a lot of things to light, but it’s just one slow component in a larger group of things that I would personally like to get done.


    What themes and stories do you tackle in The 3rd World?

    Not only do we talk about the correlation between a superpower that traditionally exploited post-colonial nations, a.k.a. the Third World, for their natural resources, labor, and land, but also how that dynamic directly relates to the music industry and how major labels have consistently exploited the labor and natural resources of the underground — the third world of music.  Anybody that has ever been successful, any top-10 artist, at some point came from the underground, unless they are complete corporate puppets. And they have had to make compromises with the industry along the way. Not on small, specific issues, but compromises about themselves. They had to sell their masters, their publishing, they had to give up rights to their image, they had to sign 360 deals so people can get some of their show money and merchandising.


    In the same way superpowers come to the third world and say, “The only way for you to be civilized in the eyes of the world is to privatize your water, privatize your communications and transportations industries, everything. Sell us your oil rights, give it all up and we’ll distribute it to the rest of the world.” As if we don’t have the intellectual capacity or the financial coverage to support ourselves. That’s not the fault of America, the European Union, or the Roman Empire, but it’s also our own fault. We sometimes elect leaders that do this to their own people.


    In the album, I also talk about my mistakes as opposed to everybody else’s mistakes. I have a song called “Mistakes,” where I talk about what I personally felt I did wrong in my life, from political issues to personal responsibility. I put my experiences with mistakes and other people’s experiences with mistakes so that we can create a self-reflective attitude and we don’t just blame others for our problems. The underground can be as efficient as anything else out there and if we have to march to our death, then we do so fully understanding the reason that we were involved in this fight and struggle in the first place — not because we were brainwashed but because we understand what we are fighting for and we are completely committed to carrying that out until the bitter end.


    What is the recording process routine for you?

    I don’t like a big procession of niggas in the studio with me when I work. It’s usually just me and one of my peoples or me and the producer or engineer. A lot of people like bringing beer and liquor and smoke weed, and that’s fine for them if that’s the way they work better. I find it to be more efficient to focus on the music and what I need to get done and then keep it moving. I have a real busy life where everything else is happening at a million miles a minute.


    Is there any specific kind of production that you favor?

    The beautiful thing about the music I’m involved in making now is that very little of it is sampled. We take samples but we recreate them. People will be like “Yo, is that a sample?” and it’s funny because I’m always like “Nah, you wanna see the pro tools file?” It’s been a test for us musically, because there is so much that is involved with that but at the same time, I’m not really in favor of one over the other. I’m in favor of whatever type of music really fits the concept of what we’re doing. If it has a sample or it sounds like a Down South beat, I don’t care as long as it fits the concept of the record.


    Do you dig a lot of musical inspiration from your work outside of rap?

    My biggest inspiration for music is the life that I live. It’s real life. It’s not like I’m sitting here fabricating the struggle of me and my people. We legitimately have grievances. We’re not sitting here claiming to be the most persecuted people in the world, but we want recognition for how we’ve been wronged in our community and also want ways to enable ourselves to correct that wrong. Because the people that destroy our community, the traditional powers that have kept us oppressed, those people are not the ones we can rely on to free ourselves. I’m all for being self-determined and being more responsible, not just throwing the blame on other people. But if there is something to be said about the people’s involvement in our struggle, then why run away from that? It’s not shifting blame on them but rather showing specific roles in the issues that surround our community.


    I’ll give you a brief example:


    When the U.S. pours $1.8 billion into a civil war struggle and that money goes directly to paramilitary death squads, it doesn’t give us the standing to step away from that and claim that we have no responsibility. Let’s say you are locked in a room with someone and have a dispute that gets violent, and I come inside the room and hand you a set of kitchen knives then leave the room and lock the door. Just because I’m not physically in the room doesn’t relieve me from the moral responsibility that I have for the final outcome. If you decide to stab his wife and kid that are right there in the corner of the room, I bear some of that responsibility.


    What did your success in the New York City battling circuit teach you in life?

    I think it taught me that I can’t spend my career as a battle rapper; otherwise I wouldn’t be anywhere. I think there are some people who have taken their career as a battle rapper and have used it to help them in what they wanted to do. Everybody takes something different from it. I think it’s great when you see somebody who takes his experiences and works with them. I use the music to express my personal political platform, and at the same time battling has taught me how to maneuver the crowd. Any anxieties you have about being onstage are dissipated when compared to the overwhelming pressure of going to a battle and having people rooting against you. It taught me a lot, and I’m very grateful for that chapter in my life. 


    How did the collabo with Green Lantern come about for the album?

    I’ve been friends with him for a few years now. I wanted him to do a mixtape, and he wanted me to do an album with just my lyrics on his tracks because he’s dissatisfied with the commercial world and he thinks we need more substance. Other rappers will make a political statement or they’ll have some sort of visual expression, but when you ask them to articulate their points, they’re incapable of doing so or they don’t have any facts at their disposal or they just don’t really know shit but it sounds good on the record. He found that when I was approached by the media to give a description of what I was talking about, I was perfectly capable of articulating myself. I was very good at planning the way that I would discuss a topic or present an issue to people. I don’t act like I’m the smartest nigga in the world. I don’t know everything. I can learn from anybody, and because I am willing to learn it advances the progress that I make personally.


    That’s what enabled us to work together. He learned from me and I learned from him. We’ve been able to grow as friends and as partners together over the course of these past few years. When I was working on The Middle Passage, he presented some music to me and I was like, “You know what, I need to work on these right now and I need to put these out immediately.”


    You’ve mentioned the album being in the format of a mixtape.

    An album is a concept in itself, so I wanted to keep it moving as a concept but also keep it moving musically. A lot of times when an album starts and stops, it loses its momentum, whereas this one never does. On a few occasions, the DJ will bring it back for a party but at the same time, it’s a revolutionary expression. We wanted to showcase the DJ skills, how he cuts things up sometimes or blend one track into another. It’s incredibly important because it showcases how hip-hop was born. The DJ came before anything else.


    Tell us about the high school writing contest you launched.

    I’m a writer. I write all the time, so I wanted to let kids know that I make money off of writing. And you can make money off of your writing, off of your skill at articulating a point. We need to let children understand about the wild and original concept of writing the truth as opposed to being involved in corporate media, which, as we see, has no allegiance to its people.


    You’ve mentioned in your personal entry of the accounts you are collecting for the Police State Chronicles that you have a strong memory. Does writing feed your memory?

    Yes. And I think reading a lot feeds my memory more so than writing. I think the writing helps express my thoughts and enables me to articulate a lot more. It helps me collect my thoughts and examine the analogies that I give to people. But overall, I think that when I read something, it allows me to absorb a lot more about what I want to put into my work and what I keep fresh in my memory is used for being introduced into discussions I have with people and to create analogies that help people understand where I’m coming from a bit better.


    What would you say is your most memorable live experience?

    Rock Steady in 2003. The first time I ever performed for that many people — it was like 14,000 people out on a pier going nuts. I had all my peoples there backing me up. After that, things started to move at a thousand miles per second. Two years later, I found myself in Venezuela in front of a crowd of 40,000 people being the delegate from the U.S. at a revolutionary youth conference with a timeslot after China and before North Korea. The first time I ever performed in L.A. was also a great success for me. We had ten days to promote and no one knew what the crowd was gonna be like. We ended up selling out.  


    What is your dream destination?

    Australia and South Africa. I really want to make it out there. I’ve also been invited to Palestine and Lebanon, but that was during the time of the war between Hezbollah and Israel so we had to cancel.


    What do you hope will be your musical legacy?

    That I injected truth into the words I spit. That it was more about principle than about paper and that we created a foundation for a revolutionary artist to grow and to continue carrying on the tradition of resistance to commercial enterprise. Some of these subject matters about having a great time and partying, these are things that I look down upon. I like to have a good time, but I believe in getting work done before that. Hip-hop came out of an era where the ghetto was a very terrible, harsh place for black and Latino people, so they wanted the music to remind them that another life was possible in the same way that slaves sang in the plantations because they wanted to envision a better life and a better world. That’s also why rappers rhyme about shit that they don’t have. But there were soldiers that were dedicated to our people back then, and that’s what corporations took out of hip-hop when they bastardized our culture. I’m just bringing that shit back, motherfucker.