Behold! My interview with Immortal technique for The Quietus!
Rapper Immortal Technique Swaps The Mean Streats Of Harlem For Afghanistan
Adam Narkiewicz, August 20th, 2008 18:21
We live in an atmosphere of unprecedented mistrust. Prize winning sportsmen take performance enhancing drugs. Politicians launch wars based on proven fabrication. Your favourite rappers keep getting outed as frauds. Even your mother's nails are fake. Times like this, we start to lose hope. Times like this, we need a politically aware, righteously angry emcee who walks it like he talks it.
Step up New York's Immortal Technique. The heir to Dead Prez and Public Enemy's revolutionary legacy, dude bust onto the scene with the Green Lantern-helmed 'Bin Laden' four years ago and hasn't let up since. With the critically lauded The 3rd World mixtape just out, most artists would be touring TV stations. Immortal Technique, by contrast, is off to Afghanistan to build an orphanage.
"It’s a medical clinic and an orphanage for children that have been involved, and whose parents have been involved in the violence in Afghanistan," says a weary sounding Tech down the phone from his native Harlem. "For those that have been orphaned by a conflict that's lasted for... God knows how many years. I'm going out there. I'm obviously not gonna be able to administer the entire project, but I feel like it’s essential to be involved. The aspect of media coverage is essential. I joined with the human rights organisation Omeid International to facilitate this. I get lots of programmes shown to me. I could choose to do this, or choose to do that, and this particular time around I wanted to do this. The need came from the same place that all my music came from. It ain't like I decided to reach into another part of myself, it’s just a natural progression. It’s a little bit of weight on the shoulders, but it’s something that I welcome because it’s something I know needs to be done."
If The 3rd World has a central message, it’s one of a global struggle. "I wanted to wake up people in the States and let 'em know, no matter what you think poverty is out here homie, you can't even possibly begin to fathom what we facing out in the third world," says Tech. "I wanted to make it clear and present for them."
He audibly bristles at the suggestion that the average American's unlikelihood to travel contributes to a lack of understanding when it comes to foreign affairs.
I'm never of the assuming mind that Americans are more ignorant than any other part of the world
"Very few people have a passport," he admits. "But that's not very fair to say, as I don't know how many people in London have the opportunity to go to a place like Chechnya or Bosnia. I'm never of the assuming mind that Americans are more ignorant than any other part of the world. I think that's unfair to say. I think we're more visibly ignorant than anybody else, because this country's so much more in control of things. In places like France and England that used to be the capital of the world they're a little bit upset about that so they proliferate that sort of ridiculousness. But someone who's in a small village somewhere else isn’t gonna be more adept to understanding everything..."
"Let me give you a simple analogy," he continues. "Two people who are alcoholics. One of them is a bum on the street, and the other one drives a school bus full of school children. The alcoholism of the bum on the street affects nobody, in other words, the ignorance of somebody who doesn't live in a place that controls things doesn't affect anybody. But the ignorance, the alcoholism of the man driving the school bus full of kids, his drunken state, an’ his inebriated recklessness affects many more people's lives than his own. In other words the people here who have control of the stuff, their ignorance, their lack of culture their lack of historical knowledge, their lust for power... that affects millions of people."
Tech's understanding comes from a life spent living on both sides of the global divide. Born in a military hospital in South America, he moved to Harlem when he was two years old.
"I went back a couple a years later," he says. "I went to visit my relatives. When I came back I was five, six something like that. It was strange, because at that point I was able to begin to digest what I saw around me. When you're a little kid you have flashing images, and you can see and remember little things... but I can clearly, distinctly remember a completely different world than the one I was used to, that I left behind in Harlem. The poverty level was a lot different. The fact that there was a guerrilla struggle going on at the time definitely illuminated a lot of things for me, and was incredibly powerful to see. Everywhere you went there were people with machine guns, Uzis, blocking all public entrances, searching people at random... kind of like we've got here in the States now."
"Bin Laden didn't blow up the projects," rapped Tech on his breakthrough hit, and while his focus is global now, he's still deeply concerned with matters closer to home.
If you wanna ride the train you got a motherfucking dude with a damn M16 gonna search through your bag
"You know, if you wanna ride the train you got a motherfucking dude with a damn M16 gonna search through your bag," spits Tech. "It’s gotten ridiculous. When the Sean Bell thing happened, I put out something called the Police State Chronicles, I'm trying to get a thousand stories... signed affidavits of police brutality, so that I can finally put this out there, and hopefully publish it, so that other people can see. So that they realise when this keeps happening these aren't random incidents. There is a pattern of violent abuse that happens on a regular basis. Cos, to keep it really real, NYPD is the biggest gang in New York. They don't fuck around yo! If you fuck up one of the, they're gonna fuck up ALL of you. If you screw with one of their family, they definitely gonna come get you. Your car gets stolen, they be like, alright, I'll be there, you ring them say my neighbour's a cop and their car's been stolen, cops'll be there in like, three and a half seconds."
It's that kind of attitude that's kept Tech off of a major label, despite strong sales ("we spoke, yeah, but they were very non-receptive to what I wanted to do and what I wanted to accomplish," he says, with some amusement). Not that he's mad at anybody making music that falls outside of his own revolutionary remit.
"Hip-hop started with both of these things," he notes, with a scholarly air. "We have to remember that hip-hop had a side of it that was just about partying, enjoying life... and we shouldn't look down upon that ‘cos at the same time, every single time that people have been put in a terrible position of bondage they sang songs that didn't have anything to with their condition. You know? Slaves sang songs on the plantation, don't mean they enjoyed being there. But that's how I look at this. There are people who sings songs of joy, and people who sing songs about things that they're not experiencing and things they don't have, because they wish they did have it. They see that as success. Whereas I would argue there's different levels of success.
Having chains, cars, having lots of women, that's not success...
You know, having chains, cars, having lots of women, that's not success... not as successful, I'd say, as having one woman that really loves you and cares. Physical property that makes you look good isn't as wealthy as being good, as being in a righteous position in terms of owning property, owning your own home, owning a business, which you also use for tax purposes, so you’re not just getting raped by Government every year. I think just because people run on that level doesn't necessarily take away from very single aspect of their manhood, nahmean? People try to talk about all those people like they're all puppets... the sad part is the industry has specifically targeted the other side of hip-hop."
Things may be dark at home, but Tech is hopeful for the future.
"I think even in the bible when we talk about judgement day, apocalypse, I think its miss-translated," he says, reaffirming, "I know its miss-translated. It’s not the end of the world, is the end of the age. I think a certain age is gonna come to an end, it doesn't necessarily mean the entire world as we know it is gonna come to an end. But there are gonna be significant changes. In terms of making preparations for that I think, you know, the fact that I'm buying land in South America, that I'm making myself more self sustainable. I think that's a whole part of it. I'm not a prophet brother. I'm not a fortune teller. I don't know what's gonna happen, I just know there's gonna be some significant change. It'll probably have a lot to do with the environment though."
Asked what the best thing about his experience of hip-hop has been, Tech says simply, "being able to support my family and spreading truth to the people."
And his hopes for the future?
"Turn up the volume," he intones, darkly. "Turn up the volume on what I've already been doing. Do it even louder. Make it even harder for people to marginalise the message, and make it obvious to anybody that sees it that this is something real that we're dealing with, This isn't just music, this isn't just entertainment. This is a lot more serious to me than that."