Immortal Technique [Interview]
New York, NY – I knew I was in for a barrage of insightful dialogue but my phone call with revolutionary MC and political activist Immortal Technique would prove to be one of the more enlightening interviews I had ever done.
Born in Peru and raised in West Harlem, the teenage Afro-Peruvian who was incarcerated after a string of run-ins with the law, hit parole at the turn of the century and almost immediately made an impact on the New York hip-hop scene as both a song writer and battle MC. “Dance with the Devil”, his first recognizable single, would propel him on to the radar of fans around the world hungry for a return to gritty political and social consciousness in hip-hop. His Revolutionary Volume 1 album debut would soon follow and he’s been on an uphill path to success ever since.
He is involved in countless socially uplifting projects from supporting orphanage developments in war torn countries like Afghanistan to building sustainable farms in South America, and he is constantly speaking out against the injustices faced by society in the form of police abuse and corruption or racial profiling, to name a few.
To accurately summarize Immortal Technique, it is safe to label him as a moral man, a man of honor and a man of many strong beliefs for which he fights adamantly day in, day out. My interview with Immortal Technique touches on many of the aforementioned topics listed above and also focuses on the release of his new album, The 3rd World, his first release in four years.
The US Presidential race, the New World Order, the North American Union, the New York superiority complex, the murder of Sean Bell, and Immortal Technique’s inability to enter Canada are just a few of the different things discussed within the interview.
Here’s how it went down:
HipHopCanada: IT, many thanks for taking the time to speak with HipHopCanada. We’re obviously coming together to talk about your record but let’s start with some questions I’ve been dying to ask you. First things first, the big Democratic primary race in the States came to an end recently with Obama confirming his place as the nominee. The primaries alone had been going on for approximately 17 months and that’s not even the big race? What is your view of the continuous commercialization and commodification of something as important as being the leader of what is considered the most powerful country in the world?
Immortal Technique: Unfortunately, as inspiring as people find Barack Obama, change can be interpreted in so many different ways. I think he might do a great deal of good things for social programs here in America and as well, as much as people want to characterize anybody who’s a leader and try and sell that, and market it and characterize them in a good way or a bad way, I think it’s very telling about the system that we have when we come to the realization that the war is not going to end. We’ve invested trillions of dollars in there. You know, World War 2 has been over for 60 years and we still have thousands of troops in Germany that the German government pays us a billion dollars to keep there. Matter fact, we have more troops in Korea than we do in Afghanistan where supposedly Bin Laden still is. We have more troops in Kuwait than we have there. I don’t think the war is going to end, but the war is just going to change. So we talk about change all the time, well that’s what’s going to change. You know, we tried having an idiot try and justify the war and give us these rationales and now we’re going to have a very articulate and capable black man say it. But, you know the first place he goes for a blessing is not to the black community, it’s to the Israeli lobby. So that’s not going to change. It’s not like America’s view of the Israeli-Palestinian struggle is going to change. There are some things that are going to change and some things that are not going to change. And I think that as much as any leader is marketed we have to learn that unless we inject ourselves specifically and link our revolution to the economic struggle of our people and address those specific issues then we’re never really going to have control of what happens.
HipHopCanada: One of the biggest things you’ve really been outspoken about is the Sean Bell shooting whose case had a shocking end with the exoneration of the police officers involved in the incident, both plainclothes and undercover NYPD officers. Sean Bell was unarmed. There have been public protests, there have been demonstrations and outcry to the unjust nature of this situation but it doesn’t seem to make any real difference. Amadou Diallo was shot at 41 times in 1999, unarmed. Sean Bell was shot at 50 times in 2006, unarmed. You’ve recently described New York taking on the form of a police state and that really makes people concerned for New Yorkers. Short of marching on City Hall, what is the average person to do to make a difference? How can people stand together to change the state of the New York PD?
Immortal Technique: Well one, they can learn the laws that govern them. They can learn to work around those certain situations. They can learn to educate themselves about how those laws are interpreted. You know… rich people, they stay out of jail not just because they have more money but because they grew up in a culture where they’re educated by people to say, “I don’t have to talk to the cops. If I get arrested, I’m not going to say a word to them. I’m just going to wait until my family lawyer gets here”. People are educated into the fact that as a people we stand a better chance of knowing how to work the law if we know the history of the law and the history of our people’s relationship with it. I think the Sean Bell case had a lot more to do with the government’s ability to renege on its accountability and it has a lot more to do with their ability to deprive a person of due process and life, rather than just a racial issue. This isn’t just about race. This is about the government’s role in our lives, in our society. Traditionally people are on the side of the government all the time. You know, people are saying that we need to look at what’s going on and not allow the federal government to have too much control. And in this case we’re saying to ourselves, “Ok, well what about the State government? What about the local government? Are we to give them a free license to run our lives and do whatever they want with us?” You know, we have to take more control of our own communities now and that’s the big response. And we have to create the ability to police our own communities instead of leaving it in the hands of a system that has never understood us, tried to marginalize and politically assassinate all of our leaders whenever they came to challenge the status quo.
HipHopCanada: Can you tell me about the Police State Chronicles?
Immortal Technique: Well the Police State Chronicles is something I had created as response to all that had been done. I knew that I wanted to put a thorn in the government`s side and to take stories, and we got about 800 of them, of people who have had specific issues with the police department. I wanted to do that because I wanted to show that this wasn`t an isolated incident. This doesn`t just happen in New York, this happens in Jersey all the time, this happens in Connecticut, this happens in Rhode Island, this happens in Atlanta, this happens in California, in Texas… all over the States. And quite frankly, what happens in the States is probably really nice in comparison to how police treat people in Palestine when the IDF comes through and arrests people… or how the police treat people in Iraq which is unfortunately a colonial government policing itself directed by the Empire. So how do you think people resent that? How do you think policing is in places like China, or North Korea? Whatever we experience, in terms of our policing, I also wanted to make known that the rest of the world suffers ten times more because of that power dynamic; because of the fact that there is no Posse Comitatus in other places which is what prevents in our country, or what is supposed to prevent the military from taking on a policing role of its own people. But since the police department is becoming more and more militarized we’re stuck in a position where we’re reverting to that sort of behaviour that other places still suffer from because they’re kept in that post-colonial state of development indefinitely so we can reap the benefits of taking whatever natural resources they have. But I mean, that’s the whole point of The 3rd World, to let niggas know, yo, as bad you think you have it in this country, as fucked up as Amadou Diallo or Sean Bell is… that’s repeated a thousand times over in the third world and no one makes a big fucking deal out of it, you know? That’s just life out there. It’s such a tragedy out here and out there it is life… what are you going to do? Either you’re going to rebel or you’re going to go on with life.
HipHopCanada: I’d like to discuss the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America. As a Canadian, I must say I hear more and more about this through independent news and activists but very little from the mainstream media, minus Lou Dobbs on CNN. People in support of this partnership say it’s strictly to form a tighter net of security within North America. Critics say it’s creating a North American Union that will sacrifice Canada, US and Mexican sovereignty for the sake of Bildaberg plans for “New World Order” or similar types of organizations. Is it a threat to the average citizen of North American and if so how does it differ (if at all) from the European Union?
Immortal Technique: You know it’s funny when I hear people talk about this stuff because the people that fear it the most are people who are not revolutionaries in a leftist sense, but revolutionaries in a rightwing sense; people who have a conservative viewpoint both religiously and politically and they fear that the world is going to be thrown into perpetual communism. The interesting thing about that is one of the greatest critics of socialism and leftwing writings was Robert Michels who wrote a series of essays called “The Iron Law of Oligarchy” and in these essays he discusses how no matter what sorts of freedoms are advertised or put into a society structure, that all societies, all form of governments – whether they be a Roman republic, whether they be a democracy, whether they be a Russian communist system, whatever, a tribe… a tribal council – all of the continuously, throughout the ages, have all converted back into an oligarchy. In other words, power always becomes consolidated back into the hands of very few people… whether they be an economic aristocracy, a royalty, a monarchy which is the most concentrated form of oligarchy where it depends on one King who is ordained supposedly by God to rule. And know with the European Union coming together and every single one of those presidents having a vote to elect the leader of the European Union? Now we have one man speaking for Europe as a whole? A proconsul? I mean, when we look at these types of things it echoes to lessons we haven’t learned from the past. We still don’t see Rome as a negative thing; we glorify the Roman Empire. It was a fascist state under the control of an incredibly authoritarian militant pre-emptive striking genocidal regime… you know? And we still haven’t gotten the message; we still don’t see that it’s bad. And then we copy everything about their structure. I mean Paul Bremer was the proconsul of Iraq. We’re still using ancient terminology, we still have Senators and we have an Emperor, almost. And because I know that the early Greeks and Romans and the early Europeans at that age did not see racism as we see it now – because racism was created to justify slavery to build the capital for capitalism – and back in the day they respected talent over race. We had an African Pope in the late 5th century, we had an African Emperor of Rome, and early church Fathers were black. I’ve had lots of discussions with my Muslim brothers and sisters who have said to me, “Christianity is a white man’s religion” But I’m like, “how is that possible when Christianity went into Africa before it ever went into central Europe?” Even the first people to become a Christian nation were not Romans, they weren’t the Byzantines either, they weren’t the Greeks… the first people to claim a Christian empire were the Armenians. And I think that when you look at history and when you look at these facts that shape nations and shape countries and give us present examples of how we’re supposed to live, we find more and more often that we’re not paying attention to what’s actually happening. That as much as we’re afraid of New World Order coming and of Canada and America joining together, that if we don’t learn the lessons from the past then it doesn’t matter what you want to call it: the North American Union or the South American Union, or the European Union, or the African Union… it doesn’t matter what you call it as long as the arrangement remains the same. Because there are a lot of countries – and this is another topic we covered in The 3rd World – that will receive their freedom, or that received their freedom in Latin America and Africa, and yet the economic relationship that they retained with their old colonial master remained the same. They had a black President but all of their money was still stored in European banks! All of their industry was still owned by other people; nothing that they had led back to their country. Everything was exploited the fuck out.
HipHopCanada: That’s depressing to even think about…
Immortal Technique: It’s not that it’s sad in its existence, it’s sad that it’s always existed. I mean, he’s afraid of a New World Order? Really? Why don’t you tell the African slaves about a New World Order? We know what a New World Order is homie. We know all about that. Someone is taking your culture? Destroying your religion? Okay, why don’t you tell Native American people about that? Or why don’t you tell everybody in South America and Central America about that? We’re more Christian than the Pope. And, I mean, that’s not our religion. We pray to the Gods of our conquerors… all black and brown people. And he’s scared because he’s going to have a Mexican living next to him… or a Canadian? Get the fuck out of here.
HipHopCanada: No doubt.
Immortal Technique: Other than the fact that I can’t understand what you’re saying when you talk about something being “a-boot” and some other shit [Laughing]. I got no problem with no Canadian niggas… as long as y’all niggas know how to barbeque I got no problem with you being my neighbours. I mean, Canadian beer sucks but you know…
HipHopCanada: Ha! Well I guess that’s a matter of opinion… [Both laughing] Let’s talk about the album, The 3rd World. I took in the sampler and I’ve got to say the project is on my list for this summer. First question regarding that is why the four year gap between official projects?
Immortal Technique: Well I was working on The Middle Passage initially and then Revolutionary Volume 3. Like I said before, I got involved with a gang of organizations whether it was to support immigrant rights or to fund children’s hospitals in Palestine… working on an orphanage project in Afghanistan. But the farm in South America took a lot of time and working on reconstructing my studio took a lot of time. We left our previous distributor and now we go directly through Koch. Also it seemed like I never stopped touring, you know? Like I’m still touring all around the world just off an underground album like Revolutionary Volume 2 and I can draw a crowd of almost 2,000 people in some markets where platinum acts have to be coupled together and then promoted on a radio station with payola just to get 800 people to show.
HipHopCanada: You connected with Green Lantern for this project; he did half the production and mixed the entire record. I wanted to put that out there since some people seem to be confused as to whether it’s a mixtape or album… so how did you connect with Green Lantern?
Immortal Technique: Well he blended the record together. The record was mixed at my studio by Southpaw and then Green Lantern put them all together and blended it together like an actual mixtape. So we had the album version for sale in iTunes individually for the specific tracks. So you could buy the whole thing there but then for the actual physical record we have all the tracks blended together and cut together like a traditional mixtape. Green Lantern and Southpaw both did about half of the production for the record and then I have other people like Scram Jones and Buckwild of D.I.T.C. on there as well. But the great thing is, if you buy the actual album itself there are a whole bunch of tracks you’re going to have to find including the one with…
HipHopCanada: Pharoahe Monch?
Immortal Technique: Pharoahe Monch… good luck finding that shit. We’ll leak it a couple of days before the album drops. Pharoahe Monch is a long time supporter of my music and I’m a long time supporter of his music so when we met each other it was almost like a natural occurrence, you know? I met him before a few years earlier and we were just politicking with each other and we had a conversation about possibly doing something but our schedules have always been in conflict. Kind of like the same way it’s been with Dead Prez but now we’ve finally got in the studio and that song got done. We’re going to get ready for the release of Revolutionary Volume 3 and The Middle Passage, after all this.
HipHopCanada: You’ve got a lot of West coast guest appearances on there and of course your Stronghold family from NYC. Are you a big fan of the West or did it just work out that way?
Immortal Technique: I mean I spend a lot of time out there. I’ve got a lot of family that lives in Inglewood and surrounding areas. So I’m right in the hood, every time I go there I go see my peoples. I rep real hard for the people that I see that are the counterparts of what I’m trying to do out here, out there. And representing it by the struggle that speaks to the soul of the music in terms of the lyricism, then people like Crooked I would be people that represent that. People like Chino XL, and Ras Kass and individuals I see with such an overwhelmingly powerful street movement, individuals that make good music and have real live stage shows… people like Psycho Realm that can do what I do out here on the East and on the West… that can do that out there on themselves and don’t need to pay radio stations to play their music… they’re on top of shit and have constructed their own fan bases over the years, that’s how I connect with people like that. So it was only a matter of time before I linked up with them to work on something.
HipHopCanada: Can you describe the concept for the album. The 3rd World of the music industry is the underground. The global superpowers are the major labels… am I on to it?
Immortal Technique: That is part of it, yes. And I would say that everyone that you see who is successful in the mainstream, at the top of Billboard, who has a Top 40 hit… at some point, unless they’re a complete fabrication of the industry with no identity of their own and a carbon copy clone of someone else, they in themselves started out being underground. And they had to make certain concessions to find a certain success. But it’s a marginal success because then they turn around and pimp other artists to stay relevant themselves. See, this is the same thing that goes on in the so-called third world or developing countries. Because they come here – and by they I mean the superpowers like America or Europe – come there and they say, “Hey, the only way you people can be perceived as being civilized by privatizing your water, privatize your communications, to privatize your transportation… everything about your country has to be sold out. So it’s the same thing: sell us your masters, sell us your publishing, and give us all this. And then at the end of the day, when they’ve extracted the diamonds or sold the oil… or whenever the natural resources are gone and soaked up, well then it’s almost like “Thanks, now let’s get the fuck out of here”. Same thing over here, people are good for a few hits… they don’t even have health care at the labels. That’s another thing; I work with Kick G.A.M.E., the grassroots artist movement (http://www.kickgame.com). Not to tell people we have the best union plan in the world, but to show people that if some activists, if some revolutionaries, if some street organizers from the hood can come together and put together a preliminary program to give health care to independent artists, then there is no excuse for a billion dollar industry to have somebody who’s pushing papers on an administrative level – which is still very important in terms of getting projects done – it’s imbalanced and completely illogical and example of how badly this art form has been rapped… for them niggas to have health care benefits but for themselves to share in no part to that? It’s very telling about the climate of the music industry.
HipHopCanada: I hear that. It says a lot about the value of the artist. In terms of the album material, what’s your favourite song and why?
Immortal Technique: Too many, I’m sorry. I have favourite songs for different things. The diversity of it is the strength. People always have these debates about who their favourite rapper is. And I think it’s based upon what mood that particular person is in. If someone’s favourite rapper is a lyricist then they’re focused on rhymes or substance. If someone’s favourite rapper is a party rapper, you know, someone who makes music about the clubs… “Oh, he’s my favourite rapper”. No, his subject matter is your favourite. Which is why he takes that spot in your mind about being the most relevant to your life because that’s what you aspire to have. You don’t want to think about how you’re going home to your baby mom who is screaming at you and some bills to pay and a fucked up job that you don’t like. You’re living in some cough syrup induced ecstasy land where you’re some kind of baller. I mean, I’m not mad at niggas for that but at the same time, people like what they like all the time because of the mood that they’re in. Not everybody wants to bang out to some crazy ass shit all the time. Some times people just want to sit at home and listen to something that’s deep and introspective of their life. And other times, when people are at a party, clubbing, they don’t want to hear something that’s saturated with politics. And when you want to hear a lyricist and you put on some commercial plump shit people are going to be like, “the beat is hot but this nigga ain’t saying shit!” Plastic metaphors and carbon copy similes that aren’t going to do anything for anybody and it doesn’t showcase creativity; it showcases the fact that the soul of the music has been compromised to control the industry.
HipHopCanada: There was a listening party for your album taking place in Toronto on June 21st and you were not able to be in attendance. I understand this is due to the fact that you currently aren’t allowed into Canada. Can you speak on that?
Immortal Technique: Well, I tried to get in there on two occasions. The first time I found out I wasn’t allowed I was attempting to get into Vancouver in the end of… I think 2003… Basically they told me, “No”. One of the agents there was a little bit cooler than everybody else. He was saying you, “You know what, if you fax me proof that says you haven’t been arrested in that past four years since you’ve been on parole then we can work on making sure you’re getting in provided that you pay for what they call a minister’s permit. We can apply for you to pay for one, if you pay for it right here, right now, I will let you in” So I said, “Okay, I’m going to do it.” So I guess a superior or somebody else came in and said, “No, I’m sorry, you can’t come in”. And ever since then, every time we’ve applied it’s been “No, no, no, no, sorry”. I mean, I understand. I wasn’t always a revolutionary, I used to live life like a criminal even though I was going through high school or college, or the fact that I was smart, had no bearing on that. People can have intelligence all the way but have no direction. You know, not all criminals are idiots. I try to go a decent school and better myself definitely put me on a road to trying to be a better person but I guess at the time I was immature and I used to take a lot of shit the wrong way. So if people came at me with even some off-handed disrespect, instead of just chalking it up as their personal issue, I made it my personal issue. And I was like, “Yo, you know what? If you talk to me funny and I don’t like the way you come at me, I’m going to fuck you up.” And that basically was the fate of a lot of people that I ran across. Them trying to give me a little attitude and them getting a real fucking rude awakening and that came in terms of a beat down. But now, I look at it like, you know, I’m a business man and I’m a grown man. I spend a lot of time thinking about how to restructure my life, support my family with this music… I don’t have time to deal with the repercussions of breaking somebody’s jaw or breaking their nose. You know, I’ve had some confrontations after I got out of prison and I’m proud of the fact that I dealt with them differently. And the only time I’ve really had to handle somebody is the few times when people have approached me and taken the first swing. And now – in the past I felt a lot more comfortable in dusting someone out and laying them out in the first place – now, I’m a lot more confident in myself in that I’ll give you the first shot but that’s the only shot you’re going to get because… it’s over for you. You know, I have a strong army I keep with me and we don’t go out there looking for problems. A lot of people have this perception… but I don’t have a superiority complex about me because I’m from New York or because I’m Peruvian/Black. I think some people get caught up in that stuff, you know? And I think that some people from other regions expect us to be like that so I think they overcompensate for that sometimes and they’re victims to their own insecurity. Anytime I’ve ever met a rapper from another country that’s doing their thing, I can definitely give them props. I never take that superiority complex to another level which is why I have such a strong basis for support in places that might not necessarily get along with New York all the time. Some spots in the South, or mid-Atlantic, or in the West coast where some of them are like “New York niggas are stuck up.” I’m like, “Well, that ain’t me motherfucker. A lot of people in your neighbourhood are on crack. Does that mean you’re on crack?” I mean, I don’t want to approach people with that type of attitude and I’m down to build with anybody who I feel is on some real shit. I met some brothers out from Canada recently who are real cool people, B. They have a group called Point Blank.
HipHopCanada: No doubt, Point Blank from Regent Park.
Immortal Technique: Yeah! They were cool. They came off like real brothers when I met them and I was like “Yeah, we’ll build on some shit”. So I told them, “If I ever get into the country I’ll come look y’all niggas up.” I know these cats who make Spanish-language music called Cold Blue and I met then at a Lat-Rap conference and they seem like real good peoples from Central America… and that’s what it is. It’s just based on mutual respect. So when I meet people like that I’m like, “if y’all going to be real with me, I’m going to be real with y’all” and that’s all it takes. So I look forward to one day being able to make it out there and to network with the people I mentioned and a few other cats who I know are very very about what they say they are.
HipHopCanada: How familiar are you with the Canadian scene? Do you have a favourite Canadian artist? Producer?
Immortal Technique: I mean I’ve definitely met people over the years… like I mentioned Point Blank, Code Blue, this cat named Bishop who seemed like good peoples… good brother when I met him… a lot of individuals I’ve met that I’ve done a song or two with. But to be honest I’m not incredibly familiar with the scene. I mean, I’m more familiar with people coming from other countries like Latin-American MCs and African rappers… that type of stuff I’m really starting to get a hold on. I met a cat who was from [Thinking]… Somalia… who was actually out in Canada…
Immortal Technique: Yeah, K’naan was a real good brother when I met him. And we even did a song together when we were out in Venezuela. And I don’t even know what ever happened to that song but I definitely would like to learn more about the local scene. And if I ever made it up there, not only to perform and participate, but also to hear what else is going on. Maybe to go to some shows and check out some other artists and see how they move and shit like that.
HipHopCanada: You might not like this last question based on a reply to one of my previous answers but I’m going to go ahead and ask it anyways for purely selfish reasons since I’m interested in knowing the answer. If you were being introduced to a new listener for the very first time and could only choose one song to let them hear that would ultimately play the role of “first impression” which would it be and why?
Immortal Technique: [Thinking] You know what? I’m not sure what the answer would be now since I have so many songs from The Middle Passage and from Revolutionary Volume 3 that you and everybody else, except me and two other people have never heard. So maybe one of those songs. But my answer from two or three years ago would always be “Dance with the Devil” because it interested people so much in what kind of other songs I’ve made. Even though in that song, obviously I sound a lot younger then I do now… I mean, I was a kid when I made the record…
HipHopCanada: How old were you when the made the record? That was the first song I heard from you which I guess is the same for a lot of your fans…
Immortal Technique: I was like fucking 20 years old or some shit like that… I put it out when I was 21. I was a young dude putting music out trying to get everything together, fresh on parole, saying to myself, “Yo, you know what? I’ve got to record something. I’ve got to make some shit pop-off.” It was like in 2000 that I recorded that… God damn that was a long time ago. I got out prison in 1999 and I’m already working on a record in 2000 so I was real eager to get everything moving and real motivated to make shit happen. It interested people in wanting to hear my music. People were like, “Someone who made a song like this, there has to be more to them. I’m interested in hearing how they would describe something else.” So my flow has matured, my voice has matured, the content has gotten more descriptive but at the same time we still talk about a violent reality that exists in the world which is why this is a supplement to the Revolutionary series and it’s not a part of it but it’s the same Immortal Technique. We’re rhyming; we’re carrying the banner representing hardcore hip-hop to the death.
HipHopCanada: Any final comments before we wrap this up?
Immortal Technique: I’m also working on a documentary project that I’ve been working on for the past four or five years and I’m also presently holding the… [Laughing] presently holding the hope that I can make it into Canada to finally see all the people that are so supportive of the music that I have out there.
Written by Jesse “Dutchy” Plunkett for HipHopCanada