November 17, 2005

Hell hath no fury like a rapper scorned
By Canyon Cody
Originally published in The Heights

After Immortal Technique released Revolutionary Warfare, Vol.1 in August 2001, the United States government responded by passing The Patriot Act just two months later. If you thought The Patriot Act and the war in Iraq was about fighting terrorism, then let Immortal Technique drop some gnawledge for you:

"A fake church called the prophet Muhammad a terrorist / Forgetting God is not a religion, but a spiritual bond / And Jesus is the most quoted prophet in the Qu'ran / They bombed innocent people, tryin' to murder Saddam / When you gave him those chemical weapons to go to war with Iran," he raps on "The 4th Branch."

Tech isn't your typical "socially-conscious" rapper with polite rhymes about peace and love. His style is belligerent, his verses are vulgar, and his gnawledge is raw, the sort of stuff you need to chew on a minute. For fans of intelligent, revolutionary, hardcore hip-hop, there hasn't been a better rapper since 2Pac went to Cuba.

Immortal Technique will be performing at the Middle East on Sunday and granted a rare interview with The Heights to talk about his history, his upcoming album, and his controversial political views.

They say hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but Tech raps with the fury of five centuries of women, men, and children scorned by colonialism and capitalism.

Born in a military hospital in Peru, raised in Harlem, and imprisoned in Pennsylvania before emerging as the most feared battle rapper in New York, Immortal Technique has some serious grievances with the American government.

Kanye recently caused a media frenzy by saying, "Bush doesn't care about black people." Tech's been screaming that for years, with a much more articulate voice and a lot more supporting evidence.

Though he's often compared to rappers like Chuck D, dead prez, and KRS-One, Tech said his real influences are W.E.B. Du Bois, Jose Carlos Mariategui, Malcolm X, Che Guevara, Augusto Sandino, Harriet Tubman, and Marcus Garvey.

Like Ras Kass before him, Immortal Technique doesn't just rap about living in the hood - he understands the larger historic and economic forces that perpetuate poverty and racism. As a result, Tech doesn't peddle petty beefs with other rappers. Eminem raps about having "so much anger aimed in no particular direction," while Immortal Technique points the crosshairs of his scope directly at the heart of the beast: the U.S. government and the corporations that he says control it.

"You might have some house n- fooled, but I understand / Colonialism is sponsored by corporations / That's why Halliburton gets paid to rebuild nations," he raps on "Cause of Death."

But Tech's anger wasn't always focused in the right direction. "In high school I was always doing stupid shit snatchin' nigga's chains, gettin' into fights. I look back and I wonder how I could even live like that, but I brought that attitude with me from the streets to Penn State," he said.

While still in college, he was involved in an altercation sparked by a racist comment that led to a broken jaw for a white student and a year in prison for Immortal Technique.

"When I came home from prison, I was living with my parents. I was on parole and I couldn't get a job. It's a very humbling experience getting out of jail," he said.

Tech started going to battles to earn some money, but ended up also earning a reputation for being a ruthless MC. "I wanted to make sure that people knew that I wasn't just one of these little backpacking fucks who rhymed in a circle," he said in a previous interview. "I never got destroyed or roasted by anyone, period. Anyone who says different is getting their father slapped up and their mother thrown down a flight of fucking stairs just for lying."

"Finally I decided to take all the songs I wrote in prison, with that young angry pissed off voice and release an album. Because even if I sold five a day, that's $50, I could buy groceries with that, you know, I could eat," he said.

The result was Revolutionary Warfare, Vol. 1, which eventually earned him a place in The Source's "Unsigned Hype" column in November 2003. He started getting offers from major labels, but decided to remain independent after reading up on the exploitation of artists in the music business. As a result, he released Vol. 2 independently, which means he owns all of his own masters and pocketed all the profits from the 75,000 copies sold.

Tech's career has been the ideal model for the do-it-yourself underground hip-hop MC. Tech decided against signing to a label because they wanted him to change his style, to downplay his politics, and ignore his black and hispanic heritage.

"That's the difference between the Civil Rights movement and the Black Panther / Hip-hop Generation. In the beginning we wanted to be down with America, not as second class citizens, but really to become full American citizens. We wanted to be down with America so bad that we were willing to fight and die in America's wars. And when we got back, we still weren't allowed to be full American citizens.

"America told us that we were basically here to work and die, kinda like how America treats Mexicans today. We tried that. So now then the hip-hop generation is sayin, 'Fuck waiting for America to accept us. We'll build our own America inside of you.'"

Two years ago, he bragged that, "My grind right now is unsurpassed. I have no booking agent. I have no manager, so it all relies on me. My manager is my voicemail, cell phone, and my e-mail."

He's now vice president of his own label, Viper Records, with plans to release his next album The Middle Passage, in mid-2006. By now I figured he would have hired a publicist who would reply to my interview request, but to my surprise an unknown number from a 212-area code popped up on my cell phone:

"What up nigga? This is Immortal Technique!"