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Wearing radical politics on his sleeve, Immortal Technique has managed to rouse some interesting controversy throughout his rap career. Unafraid to express any of his socialist opinions, he gets a lot of hate from conservatives and unknowingly conservative pseudo-liberal “coffee shop revolutionaries” to quote the MC himself. As a willing martyr for freedom and equality, his music reflects his views as strongly as the fervent speeches he likes to include in his live shows. Born in Peru and raised in Harlem, he’s no stranger to the turbulent street lifestyle that helped forge his fierce battle-rap method, which can be heard quite influentially in his studio recordings, including this one. “Revolutionary Volume 2” is a big step-up from the first Volume which, while a good album in its own right, seems amateur compared to this contentious epic. The songs range from blood-thirsty anthems to potent conceptual pieces, and while they are heavily biased, moderates never got anywhere fast; mixing witty street-smarts with his collegiate political science knowledge, Immortal Technique has become hip-hop’s underground herald. Corruption is the enemy and the hero holds his flag to the left.
As a self-professed “lyrical rapper”, his passion is poetry. Sometimes he relies on direct references to infamous conspiracy theories for lyrical content, for example The Point of No Return
, the first song on this album and also one of its most well-known is littered with punch-lines about secretive discoveries of the Knights Templar, the children of Jesus Christ, and even a theory that a secret base on the dark side of our moon is receiving signals from extra-terrestrial species. Unfortunately, many critics believe that these allusions are his only talent, or lack thereof. If he believes in these things I wouldn’t say that’s a reason to hate him – some of the greatest artists in history were firm believers in mythology. I won’t try to discredit any of these unproven theories (because you can’t prove them wrong either), I want to concentrate on the tangible messages of “Revolutionary Volume 2”. I’ll start with the boldness of Obnoxious
, a tribute to Technique’s brazen attitude. It embodies his fearless style and is a testament to protest, the principles of which code Technique’s music and mind. As the title suggests the song could be construed as offensive but ultimately harmless, shedding some light on the ridiculousness of censorship. The first amendment: is it dead? No, but speech is useless in a country that doesn’t listen. Thus, Immortal Technique learned how to turn heads.
He grew up in a Harlem ghetto, self-admittedly (and regrettably) falling into the crime wave. Harlem Streets
details hood life with a cynical outlook, bringing up such touchy subjects as gentrification (buying and re-building parts of low-income neighborhoods, which screws over mom and pop businesses and many poor families, often making them homeless), drug dealing, police corruption, and especially the sick mentality of gangsters who kill and beat on their own people to try and remedy an endless poverty. Living in financial distress is one of the most difficult things anybody will ever do, and that single hardship combined with every other aspect of the slum lifestyle is plenty enough to break a person. I, like you, would do anything to get out of that situation, whether it be dealing, stealing, groveling or simply running away. With a strong head, Immortal Technique got away from all that and searched for a higher education – despite being jailed during his early college years, it’s obvious that both the degrading Harlem circumstance and university teaching molded him into a hardened shell of ethics and awareness. Harlem Streets
is a wake-up call to those abused by life and abusing it in turn; the song absorbed me with grief, both the lonely guitar riff and Tech’s lyrics: “You can’t read history at an illiterate stage, and you can’t raise a family on minimum wage.” Damn right.
“Revolutionary Volume 2” is (so far) Technique’s most thematic work, and I don’t just mean lyrically. Tension and depression are common motifs, made vivid by colorful orchestration. This record contains the best instrumentals on any of his albums without a doubt. A lot of Latin-style guitar playing is sampled and while the riffs don’t progress very much at all, the variety between them from song to song is totally original. Tech has loads of respect for his musical roots – throughout his discography you’ll notice that his music borrows much influence from South American music culture, reflecting Tech’s Peruvian ancestry and giving this album a unique alluring intensity. Speaking of Peru, the story told over a deftly re-worked Scarface sample in Peruvian Cocaine
shines bright as one of this album’s gems. Seven different rappers narrate the planting, processing, shipping and dealing of the drug in a theatre-like style, performing as a cast of characters in “this tragic comedy”. The song implies covert government involvement, “of course this country’s runnin’ coke” – namely the Central Intelligence Agency which actually has employed drug smugglers before, despite their infinite denying that the C.I.A.’s most powerful authority knew anything about it. The black-market alone produces multi-billion dollar figures in the name of coke, wasting the valuable time of investigators and giving jobs to heartless bums. A vicious cycle indeed, and so long as the world stays the way it is, it won’t go away. American industry invites corruption with open arms, from sneaky fast-food employees covering up petty cash-register robberies to Big Pharmaceuticals dumping dangerous materials to avoid the cost of making a mistake.
The Message and the Money
finally addresses problems in the hip-hop
industry. Most music promoters wouldn’t take part in the community if it weren’t for a paycheck; a dilemma will arise anytime people try to sell culture. Selfish and uninventive marketing is a plague, especially in rap music where it’s acceptable to market ignorance to young people. Tech’s allegations against concert organizer’s in this speech is an issue befitting someone more familiar with the rap world, but anyone and their mom can agree to the degeneration of hip-hop in the mainstream media. Mindless lust infects the music, appealing to people of a similar description. I’ve heard some argue that, well, “you can’t blame them for taking advantage when there’s big money involved.” That’s foolish, an example of our primal instinct taken way too far. Did these record execs even go to school for advertising? Creativity is not redundant, last I checked. As Tech says, “there’s a market for chocolate covered roaches, but you can’t find one for cultured, hardcore reality in hip-hop?” He preaches that everyone involved in rap needs to realize the endless possibilities of their roles; the DJs, the rappers, the labels, and even the fans. Be open-minded, clever, cool, and innovative. When this concept hits home, the industry will change. Passivity is not admissible; the power of music has so much potential. Sure, it can
be lucrative, but for all the wrong reasons. But big-time media folks will never tell you that. “If you go platinum it’s got nothin’ to do with luck, it just means that a million people are stupid as ***.”
In the eyes of Immortal Technique and likeminded individuals, The 4th Branch
of American government is the media, filtering news of events and advocating inane self-indulgence to allow the conspirator’s façade to continue. The 4th Branch
describes how corporate-sponsored widely broadcast interests can gradually but effectively alter a person’s mindset. If you reiterate the same warnings and the same blessings for a long time despite how untruthful they might be, weak minds, a.k.a. the majority, begin to believe in them. They grow used to the comfortable repetition in the media, and I’m not just referring to television. Books, magazines, advertisements, the radio, movies…everything is the same, subjectivity masquerading as fact. Tech referenced many events that supposedly occurred but were never reported or adapted into mainstream knowledge. You know, without a good grasp on history, it’s simply bound to repeat itself. So what if an opinion is controversial, or shocking or “offensive”, whatever that means…everything
deserves a fair trial. “Corporate America, dancin’ off-beat to the rhythm…you really think this country never sponsored terrorism?”
Mumia Abu-Jamal is an American prisoner on death-row, convicted of killing a police officer. There has been a lot of heated debate about whether or not his conviction is valid. He is also a pop-culture icon in the political music realm, and he recorded a brief but interesting speech for “Revolutionary Volume 2”, and it’s called Homeland and Hip-Hop
. His words accuse his country of insecurity and blind faith in things that have little to no relevance in reality. Mass wealth has made Americans shaky about where to keep it all, if it will be safe, and who’s trying to steal it. He vaguely references “jingoism”, a policy supporting a threatening national demeanor in order to frighten the country’s enemies, thus keeping their affluence intact. This paranoid world is the opposite of the hip-hop culture; Mumia’s point is that angry, poverty-stricken hip-hop and the wealthy represent such a mammoth ideological difference that, as a result, the financial gap between the poor and the rich in America must be unnaturally huge. Mumia mentions that what passes for the middle class in America would be considered upper class in many other decent nations. I’m sure you’ve heard rap music that tells sad tales about trying to break free from being broke and battered. I’m also sure that you’ve seen gated communities, armed bank guards, and televised bombings…politicians getting multi-million dollar fund-raising contributions from Wall Street fat-cats, and the poor getting welfare and food-stamps. One of Immortal Technique’s best lyrics is “capitalism and democracy are not synonymous”; the endless thirst for money and possessions taking America by storm contradicts the principle that these borders were founded on.
What is life
founded on? I say the passion of desire. You Never Know
is a story of lost-love – a love that could have been, one he so passionately desired, but it ended before it should have. I know the motions: anger, regret, and sad dreams that’ll never go away. But the wisdom she left behind won’t either; a constant reminder existing in spirit or memory. Every ecstatic moment of life reminds you of her, and so do the rainy days. Just thinking about her smile makes you smile too, and you would do anything to be at her side, even die, because paradise can’t be without her. To fall in love with people, politics, or anything at all is a pleasure and a duty, the good complements the evil. Maybe our natural inclination towards conflict will never stop, but it will always inspire good art.