“F– the cops!” Immortal Technique yelled. “F– the cops!” the Toad’s concert crowd yelled back. As this call and response continued during Wednesday night’s concert, it became apparent that this intelligent, politically conscious Afro-Peruvian rapper from Harlem not only has the power to excite people, but the power to incite riots.
If you’ve heard Immortal Technique, you know where this power is derived. As he combines hard-core battle rhymes with radical social commentary — juxtaposing the use of “motherf–as” with nuanced political analysis — it is his vulgar yet articulate diction that makes him either your favorite rapper or the best rapper you have never heard of. The New York City underground he has dominated is a dynamic, innovative world of true hip-hop skill, one in which artists care about their craft, not how others will receive it.
As we sat down with “Tech” to discuss his music, politics and the state of hip-hop, we didn’t see an unstable man hellbent on revolutionary violence, but one who cared so greatly about justice that apathy and ignorance were insufferable.
scene: First of all, what do you think about getting interviewed by Yale guys?
Tech: I don’t give a f– who interviews me. I do the smallest station, the largest station, the biggest publication or just some newsletter. Doesn’t matter, as long as it gets to somebody.
scene: When did you start rapping?
Tech: When I was about nine years old I started rhyming, listening to break beats on the radio. I heard people rhyming, and I was like, “You know what, I can do that shit too.” Eventually my skills developed, but I never really took it seriously until I got out of prison in 1999. Then I really began to focus, ’cause while I was in there I was fighting a lot and battling mu’f–as, so when I came out, I had a whole different drive and determination, coupled by the fact that I couldn’t get no damn regular job ’cause of my criminal record — which pushed me more and more to look at the business of hip-hop, rappin’ and just the art.
scene: Who would you say your major influences are?
Tech: Malcolm X, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Muhammad Ali, Che Guevara, people like that.
scene: In one of your songs you say that you identify more with a poor white person than you might with a rich black or Latino person. What role does class play in your music and identity?
Tech: I mean, I can identify with a particular situation, but at the same time, poor white people are kept ignorant for a specific purpose, you know what I mean? They watch the news and see, oh, all the immigrants are taking the jobs, and a stupid white person that watches CNN or something else, all he’s gonna see is Lou Dobbs ranting on there. He’s not going to go out and do research to actually doing the jobs nobody wants to do. How many fat white middle-age Americans are lining up to mow lawns? How many of them are lining up to work sanitation at four o’clock in the morning, you know what I mean? That’s a job that we do, ’cause we the slave caste of America, and we been that way for years. So for that reason, when dealing with working-class white people, you gotta think about the classism that racism hides. It’s not as much about race as it is about class. And that’s what I like to expose on niggas, try to show how the government works and how they been maneuvering niggas for years.
scene: You talk about a lot of things that schools never teach and most newspapers try to hide. What do you read?
Tech: I read the shit that’s not from the left wing. I read the shit written by conservative assholes who hate people, because I think that’s the way you start a dialogue. I think Republican strategists are interesting in that they hire the best Democratic debate teams to come and debate their squads so they can learn what finer points on issues and deconstruct them. I tell people all the time, you gotta read the history of something to understand it, so I read the history of everything I want to understand.
scene: Taking it back to hip-hop: You start the song “Industrial Revolution” with, “The bling-bling era was cute, but it’s about to be done.” How long do you think it will take for superficial, mainstream hip-hop to change and for the underground to play a more prominent role? Are people realizing that a lot of radio hip-hop is fake?
Tech: I think they take the fake shit in a different light, but they’re aware of it. Like when you hear somebody spitting gangsta shit on the radio — yo, that’s not real, ’cause if it’s real, then that nigga’s really stupid … No one’s stupid, they just say stupid shit, ’cause in our culture it’s cool to be stupid, to not have the answers to the questions. To me ain’t nothing gangsta about being stupid, ’cause we were kept stupid. But if you hear some nigga talking about how much of a murderer he is, or that he’s a crack dealer, I know that’s not true, but it just sounds cool and the beats are hot. I’m not mad at anybody, though; that’s their life. That’s your bed; sleep in it, nigga. ‘Cause like I said, you make a record, you made a myth. You talk about being a gangsta, somebody gon’ wanna know how gangsta you really are. If you’re such a gangsta, how come you don’t control the shit around you? You talk about being a pimp, somebody gon’ wanna know where the hoes at when they see you. You talk about being a hustler, 5-0’s gon’ be sniffing around you and all your peoples. You a crack dealer? A’ight then, that means you got money. You gon’ deal with that for the rest of your life. Does it make you tough ’cause you live in the projects? Nah, nigga, it just means that your mother’s poor, that she can’t get a loan from the bank to move out.
scene: Is revolutionary hip-hop here to stay?
Tech: The reason why revolutionary music is harder to absorb is because when you hear about a nigga talking about some gangsta shit, you try to take it tongue-in-cheek. Because whether they believe in it or not, a person who’s a skeptic has to know that revolution is real, they can’t deny that revolution is real. You can’t deny the Cuban revolution. You can’t deny the Haitian revolution. You can’t deny the uprisings of black slaves. You can’t deny the uprisings of Latin America. We’ve been let down by our leaders so many times. But in terms of revolutionary hip-hop, supporters don’t just support you, they support the movement. If I stopped talking ’bout that, there’d be nobody here right now. If my next album is on some ignorant bullshit, niggas will stop buying my shit. That’s what I love about my people; they serve me because I serve them. I feel blessed to be one of the underground niggas that has a diverse following, but I’d rather have people hate me for the person I am than like me for the person I’m not.
The opinions expressed in this interview do not represent those of the Yale Daily News.