Review Summary: I wrote this one for Mumia, stuck in the beast
For people who, march in the streets, and struggle for peace
What is a “ghetto”? Well, it depends on who you ask. If you ask the largest demographic of US rap sales: a (fat) twelve year old girl who listens to Kanye West, you will get an answer like “The Ghetto is where George Bush puts all the black people so they don’t beat him up.” Then if you ask the second largest demographic of rap record sales: a teenage - early 20 year old male who likes ASAP Rocky, he’ll say “yo son, I ain’t fin to go back to the hood-k’naw mean? but when I visit with my G-ma for two weeks in Compton ova spring break, I be runnin dem ghetto streets playa.” This type of nonsense will continue until you get down to the 99th largest demographic of rap record sales: “Revolutionaries”. If you ask the ugliest, most angry looking, ignorant revolutionary what a “ghetto” is, after they get done scowling at you, they will say:
“Contrary to modern misconceptions that the word ‘ghetto’ is synonymous with ‘slum’, a slum is actually only a possible outcome of a ghetto. The term ghetto finds its first known use in English in the early 17th century, from the society which the term was coined into English: Venice, Italy. In the Venetian Dialect of Italian, the word ‘getto’ meant ‘foundry’. This was the first ghetto, a foundry on an island where Jews were forced to live and abide by a curfew. The term “Ghetto” became commonly used in English in the early 1940’s when Jews in Nazi Germany were put into walled cities with curfews. Therefore a ghetto is an area that minorities have been cast to live, that will likely deliberately be turned into to a slum.”
In the end you come to the upsetting conclusion that, besides the revolutionary, the twelve year old girl was closer to being right than anyone you asked. So then it should be shocking, but not surprising, that the only solutions offered by 99% of rappers to the situation of ghettos is the banal ‘get rich or die trying’ mantra that hasn’t worked for anyone but sell-out rappers since the introduction of the World Wide Web.
On the other hand, there are extremely rare, independent, rappers like Immortal Technique who know about the history of the Jewish slums in Germany, and also know about the long and continuing history of genocide, slavery, serfdom, racism, eugenics, perpetual war and the glorification of violence in… the United States of America. Indeed, a significant focus of this album is likening the United States of America to the Third Reich; Nazi Germany; headed by one of the most notoriously evil men in history: Adolf Hitler. A comparison that you may not agree with, but will at least gain an entirely different, well-informed, and brilliantly argued perspective on after hearing out this album.
The main thing you need in order to enjoy Immortal Technique's music is trying to take everything he says seriously; suspend your disbelief until you have heard the album out. Realize that even the most ridiculous things he says are at least possible, and are only melodramatic on the opening track “Point of No Return”. Most of this album actually does deal with widely known and accepted fact that may seem conspiratorial to the listener not informed in “politics”. For example on “Harlem Streets”
And you wonder why the people don’t own their homes? cus the racist ***in banks wouldn’t mortgage a loan
This, along with many other obscure facts IT discovered while studying the Political Science of colonialism, is indeed factual: in the 1930’s President FDR only granted federal loans during the New Deal for areas that were racially segregated and all white, accounting for much of, if not all, poor and racially mixed cities in the US today. The main message of this album is essentially to paint a picture of the United States of America as a plutocracy (a society controlled by the rich) practicing crony-capitalism and using the media to indoctrinate the population. He uses history as a horror movie, where at the end of the movie the viewer walks out of the theatre to find himself in the sequel of the movie that he thought was over. In other words he brilliantly paints a picture of modern reality, which is hidden from most people, using historical allusions and examples. Such as in the song “Internally Bleeding”:
The genesis of genocide is like a Pagan Religion
Carefully hidden, woven into the holidays of a Christian
Here IT paints a picture of the extent of America’s ignorance by using the fact that most Americans do not realize that Christmas almost surely comes from a Pagan holiday that had nothing to do with Jesus’ Birthday. He uses this image to portray how the genocide of the government’s enemies could be partaken secretly, thanks to the amount of misinformation spread by the "Fourth Branch” of the government: the media.
However, this album (unlike most other Immortal Technique albums) goes far past the subject of connecting American’s abstract notion of “politics” to every day suffering. There are many personal stories that are more easily relate-able to the listener. (With the comedic exceptions of “Obnoxious” and “Freedom of Speech”) All the stories are extremely emotional, from a story about the only woman he ever loved, to his faith in God being killed by his mother developing cancer. This is the only music I would ever seriously warn
people about listening to, because after you hear it, there is no forgetting it. It’s like taking the red or blue pill from the Matrix. The candid, brutal, and personal reality he brings to life with his lyrics helps the listener relate to the pain of the oppressed people in the world. One example is “Peruvian Cocaine” a song that uses multiple features and is written from the point of view of the victims and criminals who make it possible to bring Cocaine to the USA. Tech raps:
I’m on the border of Bolivia, working for pennies
Treated like a slave, the coca fields have to be ready
The spirit of my people is starving, broken and sweaty,
Dreaming about revolution (REVOLUCION!) looking at my machete
But the workload is too heavy to rise up in arms
And if I ran away, I know they’d probably murder my moms.
If you can appreciate the ugliness for what it is (Truth), this music becomes a disgusting type of enjoyable, like watching a gruesome horror scene from Game of Thrones. Then, some of the most enjoyable times I've ever experienced while listening to music come when these horrors are contrasted with descriptions of the beauty of reality- being alive and being knowledgeable - something all immortal technique critics conveniently overlook or don’t understand. After hearing tales of torture for most the CD, songs like “You Never Know” are such touching and poetic love songs that your significant other will begin looking as beautiful as the earth from outer space.The mental imagery one gets when focusing close on the lyrics is the true genius of his music. This music is actually meant to make you depressed a significant amount of the time so you can not only feel his pain, but also feel the euphoria of triumphing over oppressors. He doesn't bother with multi-syllable rhymes often, preferring not to sacrifice his message. Instead, he uses an old Boom Bap style from the School of KRS-One of a more predictable rhyming scheme. In other words, this is notable for the exact opposite of what modern rap is notable for. Old school Boom Bap (think, for example: A Tribe Called Quest) rhymes predictably and rather simply, so that the lyrics are impressive for the foreseeable rhyme-structure they were written in. New school’s innovation mainly rhymes with more syllables, and stanzas that rhyme more often.
Old or newschool, Immortal Technique is as on point with metaphors and wordplays as anyone:
The bling-bling era was cute but it’s about to be done
I leave ya full of clips like the moon blockin’ the sun
My metaphors are dirty like herpes but harder to catch
Like an escape tunnel in prison I started from scratch
- “Industrial Revolution”
In fact, there are so many witty gems on this album it’s hard to pick between them without filling up pages of the review with just QUOTES! This album has the strongest combination of the best crafted and most meaningful lyrics on any rap album I have ever heard! The only ‘problem’ is I generally don’t listen to Immortal Technique in front of other people. Because he is so topical and lyrical, he does not fulfill the expectations of many rap listeners who are just looking for an enjoyable beat, a flow that doesn't get old, and some lyrics about having fun. The beats are pretty repetitive, and some of them come across as slightly corny (“Point of No Return”) if left on their own without the lyrics. Quite simply anyone who enjoys modern mainstream rap over old school or underground rap is not going to like the sound on here. He doesn't ever rely on the beat to entertain on its own as an instrumental. However, the beats help the atmosphere enormously, and only a few eventually get dull (IE “Harlem Streets”). In many ways the production on this album is similar to GZA’s Pro Tools
which favors repetitive, catchy and simple beats, so that the focus is primarily on GZA’s mind-blowing lyrics. If you have respect for what it takes to make music using a beat boxer or a couple turn tables rather than help from a rich record executive who then owns your music (check out Immortal Techniques tragically humorous rant on “The Message and the Money”), you will realize that the beats aren't worth criticizing, but instead, add to the character of the lyrics.
The listener who manages to sit through the entire album begins to really respect an artist that they once wrote off as obnoxious. Believe me, as a libertarian I never thought I would enjoy listening to communist revolutionary music, but this is just so well argued, poetic and in touch with reality. The ideas Immortal Technique supports become contagious when you realize the way he arrives at his morals. Tech constantly sticks up for people, even though it keeps his albums on the shelves and he gets dissed for sticking up for them (IE Muslim/Arabs after 9/11). He always speaks the truth, not a rap labels edited version of it. If you are looking for more in rap than saying what has already been said over a new high-tech digital beat, there is no better place to start than this CD. Immortal Technique’s lyrical skill has been fine tuned in Harlem for decades and is indisputably brilliant to the point that he makes most all rappers look like illiterate hypocrites. Obviously this album isn't for all situations (play “Internally Bleeding” if you are on a bad first date and want it to end), but I think it really comes down to whether or not you are open to new kinds of music, and are not simply listening in hopes that someone fulfills your expectations you had before you heard the album.
Thank you for listening, and thank you for supporting independent Hip-Hop. The heart and soul of our culture – keeping the Truth alive. Unite my people… Unite!