[R-G] Immortal Technique Interview, Part 1

Anthony Fenton fentona at shaw.ca
Sat Jul 5 20:03:31 MDT 2008

Immortal Technique Interview, Part 1
Published June 16, 2008 by Actual , genres , interview , music , music  

Immortal Technique has been on the scene, steadily gaining in  
influence and word of mouth for several years now. His first two  
albums, Revolutionary Vol. 1 and Revolutionary Vol. 2 redefined what  
rap music could be by not just mentioning public and political issues,  
but by intelligently, eloquently and powerfully incorporating them  
into a coherent message meant to spur action in the listener.

On this blog, we’ve previously reviewed an Immortal Technique show, as  
well as given many readers a first glimpse of Tech’s highly  
anticipated new album with DJ Green Lantern, The 3rd World. Last week  
I had the opportunity to speak with Immortal Technique and ask him a  
few questions. Due to the length of the conversation, and in  
preparation for the June 24th release of The 3rd World, I’ll be  
posting this interview in 3 parts, because how else can you tackle  
posting an interview where you talk about everything from writing rap  
lyrics to local politics in over 9 pages? Check back later this week  
for parts 2 and 3 of the interview with Immortal Technique.

AC: I want to start first by talking about your music in general, then  
I want to talk about The 3rd World release and the recording industry  
specifically, and then I’m going to ask you a few questions about your  
ideologies, political philosophies and views on some of the current  
global issues.

One of the strongest things about your music is that you remain  
independent, and you’re honest and unfiltered. On your first two  
albums, you incorporated a wide variety of styles from songs like  
“Caught in the Hustle,” which has a very South American sound to  
“Freedom of Speech” that borrows from Pinocchio. You also routinely  
include lyrics in Spanish. On The 3rd World track that I’ve heard,  
“Golpe de Estado,” has Spanish lyrics over a Godfather song. What’s  
your process in terms of writing your lyrics, and finding the music  
for them when it comes to your Peruvian birth, Harlem upbringing, and  
subsequent global experiences?

IT: I think that all of these things bring themselves together in a  
crux of cultural diversity. I’m from New York City, which is very  
different from the rest of America I must say. Anyone who is reading  
this who is in New York, or anyone who is reading this from a place in  
San Francisco or a place in LA, they have to realize that these large  
cities are very different than what the rest of America looks like.

Due to the fact that we have so much influence from other places that  
even Hip-Hop itself comes from the fact that Kool Herc brought all  
these records back from Jamaica and started spinning different things,  
and the African drum influence comes from so many different cultures  
and we have so many different people to thank for the advancement of  
this type of music. And I think that that being the case, it’s just  
another example of diversity for me about the music that I make.

AC: In your online postings and your blogs and song lyrics, you have a  
vast knowledge of social, economic and political issues and you cover  
a lot of topics almost all at once. Then at other times, the battle  
aspect of your rapping background comes out more. When you’re writing  
your lyrics, how do you approach dissecting a topic that you want to  
talk about and forming the structure of the message that you’re trying  
to get out?

IT: It really depends. There are some songs that have taken me, for  
example, two or three years to write. Something like “Dance with the  
Devil.” Then there’s a song like “Bin Laden” that took me one night to  
write. I wrote “Point of No Return” in a week, I wrote “Caught in the  
Hustle” in an afternoon. So I think that it just depends on how  
inspired I am. And not just how inspired I am by a track or if one  
takes longer to write, it doesn’t mean I’m less inspired by the  
subject matter or by the effect it’s had on my life, but more in how  
I’m inspired about conveying that message. Because something may be a  
little more delicate in terms of the way I want to analyze it in my  
mind, say, listen, this is surgical precision that I need in order to  
get this subject across because it deals with something so serious.  
Not that stuff that I write very quickly doesn’t deal with something  
serious, but maybe it’s a more natural flow and it’s more like,  
alright, I just feel this right now, so worse comes to worse, I come  
and edit the lyrics later. Sometimes I edit them, sometimes I don’t.  
So it depends a lot on the conceptuality of the record, that’s usually  
what it starts with.

In the past, when I was in prison, I just wrote lyrics that were based  
on what I felt and what I was seeing around me and what I was seeing  
going on in the world even though I wasn’t there, and how I felt about  
that. And how I felt about being a slave. The reality about me being  
released and saying to myself, “Hey, I’m actually free,” and all the  
different levels of freedom I felt. Because when I was incarcerated, I  
felt like I was trapped. Then, when the CO’s threw me in the hole and  
23/1 where I’m in a restricted housing unit and I only get to leave my  
cell for half an hour a day, you know then I think I’m even more  
trapped. I get out of that and think I’m free, then I get out of  
prison and I think I’m free but I’m still on parole, then I get off  
parole and think I’m free, but I still can’t get a regular paying job  
because of my criminal record, and I can’t get into Canada because  
they won’t let me in there because of my criminal record.

So there are lots of degrees to the way I perceive things, and I guess  
the change in my life and the way that I conduct myself, and my  
maturing process, not just my voice getting a little deeper and  
raspier because of the 100-150 shows I do a year, but all these  
factors coupled with the evolution of my flow and how I decided to  
make music has definitely changed the way I do songs now. Whereas in  
the past, I might have wrote verses first and then found a beat, now  
it’s more about constructing a concept, then maybe getting a hook  
together, and then structuring lyrics that really cement the subject  
matter into one perfect unison.

AC: It’s one thing to be on an independent label, and then it’s  
another thing, like you, to have complete control over your lyrics,  
your music and your message. Could you talk a bit about the beginning  
to end process that you have to personally go through to create an  
album where everything on it is yours?

IT: (long sigh) Ya, that’s the process. That’s the process right  
there. Work, work, work. Like you just said, you summed it up, I have  
to do pretty much everything myself. I’m learning to delegate  
responsibility a lot more, but most of it still falls on my shoulders.  
And while I have people that help me out like the people at Viper  
Records, and people that help with the visuals, and then I have people  
who are constantly trying to come in and contribute whatever they can,  
I appreciate all of that. I don’t ever look down on anybody just based  
upon what their particular position is, because I started out not  
being very well known, just selling my records around the hood, and  
then when I was finally able to expand my fan base, I never ignored  
the people that originally bought my records. I never changed my style  
up to suit other people and make them feel better about themselves. I  
still wanted us to be able to talk about the problems that we have,  
but not just in a complaining manner, but also how to fix them, how to  
take personal responsibility for some of our issues, or I should say  
for all of our issues, because we’re the only ones who are going to  
fix them, not somebody else.

It’s definitely an incredibly huge process from the conceptualizing of  
all the records like I just said, to writing all the lyrics, cause  
don’t nobody else write music for me. Sometimes I bring samples to  
people because I want to use these specific samples, or I’ll come into  
the studio with a melody in my head and be like, “Can we play this  
out,” and people will say alright. When I have to meet up with other  
MCs, or I have to get to someone else’s studio, I’m driving up there  
myself. A lot of do it yourself stuff, of course, that’s why I get the  
lion’s share of the paper.

AC: That provides a perfect segway, as the next couple questions I  
wanted to ask are dealing specifically with The 3rd World. This album  
has been highly anticipated and the collaboration with DJ Green  
Lantern is kind of a new direction for you. How did the idea for this  
collaboration come about?

IT: Well, it’s a new direction in the fact that I’m doing an album  
with him, but I’ve done plenty of songs with him in the past. I did  
the “Bin Laden” remix and the original “Bin Laden” back in 2004, and I  
did the “Impeach the President” in 2006, and I just recently was  
featured on the Grand Theft Auto 4 soundtrack that he was on. So I’ve  
always worked with Green Lantern, it’s just that I had originally come  
to him telling him I wanted to do a mixtape, and he had come to me  
telling me, “I don’t want to do a mixtape, I want to do an album, I  
want to have an album in stores,” and I was like, “Alright, we’ll make  
that happen.” And he was telling me, “Whatever I need to do to help  
you with that, let me get you some instrumentals,” so he gave me some  
instrumentals, and we basically started out doing stuff for The Middle  
Passage and Revolutionary Vol. 3, but eventually, it became such an  
overwhelming display of music. Not that it didn’t match the  
conceptuality of The Middle Passage, although some of the songs  
didn’t, it was more of the fact that it was its own project as soon as  
I stepped back from it. I was like, “Wow, I have like 19 songs here.  
What the fuck? I’m sitting here with 20 songs, I’m sitting here with  
25 songs.”

Some of these are definitely for The Middle Passage, some of these,  
like the song “The 3rd World” talks about the correlation between  
poverty here in America and police corruption here in America, and  
those same issues being mirrored in the Third world. To me, it was  
incredibly important to make those subjects known, especially now  
since we’re going into a different political climate. It’s important  
not to lose sight of that, because I feel like certain demographics of  
people in this country benefit from their relationship with the places  
they come from, and why shouldn’t Black and Latino people have the  
same? Why shouldn’t we be able to express ourselves on a national  
platform? I think the fact that Latino people have allowed immigrants  
to be demonized so much, that’s not all on the White media, that’s on  
us, because we’re living with that, it shows us how weak and pathetic  
our community leaders are in the face of all this stuff, because they  
put up the most minimal struggle. I really think that there has been a  
complete under representation of the struggle against this. One march  
on May Day is the culmination of all this? It’s an ongoing fight  
that’s never going to end, and yet we’re not unified about this, and  
that’s why they’re capable of demonizing us and vilifying us, and I  
believe it’s a disgrace to our people to allow something like that. So  
it’s a personal responsibility of our people to get it together.

On Monday I posted part 1 of my interview from last week with Immortal  
Technique. In it, he touched on his method of writing music and  
creating albums, his inspiration, his time in prison and his previous  
work with DJ Green Lantern. In part 2 of this interview, Tech talks  
more about his upcoming release The 3rd World (due out June 24th),  
capitalism, the foreign policies of the US and perception of Third  
World countries. Check back Friday for the third and final installment  
of this interview.

AC: It’s my understanding that the title of this album, The 3rd World,  
is also a metaphor that looks at the recording industry as being  
almost US Imperialistic-like, and the underground scene being more of  
a 3rd world country, is that correct?

IT: Absolutely. And even in the way we’re presented, they present the  
underground as some little backwards ass place where nothing really  
gets done, the same way they say, “the only way that some of these 3rd  
world countries can be efficient, the only way you dark people can  
have any sort of success is to privatize everything. Privatize your  
water, your communications, your transportation industries, sell us  
your diamonds, sell us the rights to your oil.” And that’s what the  
industry does when it comes in to deal with another artist. “In order  
for you to get on, what you have to do is change your image, take the  
political content out of your music, change the way we market you,  
sell us your masters, sell us your publishing, sign a 360 deal where  
we get a huge percentage of your merch and your fucking shows.” And  
I’ve always looked at that as utter ridiculousness, and I can’t accept  
stuff like that.

In the same way that that’s done to our people overseas, that’s done  
to us here. And we’re not any more efficient than anyone else. We  
think that because of the technological advances of our society that  
that makes us morally superior and more civilized than anybody else?  
America still has election fraud just like West Africa; we just had  
that in 2000. We still assassinate our own presidents; we just did  
that what, 35, 40 years ago? And after that, Bobby Kennedy? And we’ve  
had political assassinations after that. We have a high murder rate,  
we’re a gun culture, we’re no better than anybody else. We’ve  
definitely funded horribly authoritarian regimes, and then we sort of  
step away from that.

I look at the example of El Salvador, where we put 1.8 billion dollars  
a year into a Civil War to fund paramilitary death squads. And because  
we’re not physically on the ground doing it, we step away from that as  
if we had nothing to do with the repercussions of it and the horrible  
human rights abuses, the torture, rape and murder that even ended up  
claiming the life of an Archbishop of the Catholic church simply  
because he was telling the troops that were funded by American money  
and the CIA that it was un-Christian to oppress their own people. And  
it was un-Christian to commit political genocide against people who  
thought differently from them. And that it was the will of God and  
Jesus Christ to show mercy to the poor and to realize how corporations  
were exploiting people. That’s not Christian Socialism, fucking idiot,  
that’s Christianity, that’s the spirit of Jesus Christ.

If I come into a room and you’re having a debate with somebody, and I  
give you a set of kitchen knives, or I give you a gun, and I leave the  
room and I say, “Handle your business,” and lock the door behind me,  
just because I’m not in the same room as you when you do what you need  
to do, or when you do what I put you up to do so I can gain the  
benefit of you controlling that room economically, that doesn’t  
alleviate me from the moral responsibility of what has happened there.  
And I think that that’s something that the American empire will have  
to admit or it will destroy it in the long run, because truth crushed  
will always come to light. I’m afraid that Leo Strauss, father of  
Neoconservatism, was deathly wrong. It wasn’t that Liberalism failed.  
It was that America became schizophrenic, because on the one hand it  
claimed to be the bastion of freedom and democracy, and on the other  
hand, it was a racist police state for Black people and it was  
spreading its own brand of Imperialism to the rest of the world, just  
like Russia was. What Russia did to Eastern Europe and Asia was the  
same thing that America was doing to West African and all of Latin  
America and the Caribbean. So where’s our moral high ground? Didn’t we  
do deals with the Taliban before? You want to find excuses for all of  
this, that’s fine, but you’re just lying to yourself. These aren’t  
conspiracy theories, these are real life issues. We created the Saddam  
Husseins, we created Manuel Noriega, because we needed people like that.

AC: Now tying that back into the labels of the underground, what do  
you think the underground labels need to do, both separately and  
together, need to do in order to create the kind of backlash needed to  
change the current industry structure?

IT: Really just make music that has soul. Make music that you want to.  
I know that there is a trend to just make music that’s radio friendly,  
this one’s for the radio, this one’s for the bitches, quote unquote. I  
just make music and then after the album is done, I say to myself,  
“ok, what can I see playing on the radio? What is more for the  
streets?” Whereas other people tailor their music for this or that, or  
they’re like, “Oh, yo, this isn’t a really dope song, these aren’t  
really great lyrics, but this would probably make a really hot  
ringtone.” Like, at that point, what the fuck are you really doing?

AC: That leads me to an interesting question. Lately, I don’t know if  
you’ve been reading about it, but there’s been a few really well  
publicized stabs at independently releasing albums for free on the  
internet by Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. Do you think those releases  
were an important step in the way the industry is changing, or does  
the fact that both of these groups were already well established and  
wealthy enough to release an album for free make it more of a  
publicity stunt than anything else?

IT: That’s an interesting argument. I mean, can you have Capitalism  
without capital? That’s essentially what the argument is. Could  
America have had an Industrial Revolution without the capital it built  
up from slavery? Probably not. The reason that we abolished slavery  
was not because we had some sort of guilty conscience. Even in the  
beginning of the 1900s, they kept African people in the Bronx Zoo as  
proof that they were the link between man and monkey. They used to  
keep Pygmy Africans there. I mean, this is reality. Racism was backed  
up by Eugenicists, by racial science, by the church even, in order to  
justify continuing the profit margins of slave traders and one  
subsection of the country. Whereas the other side realized, “You know  
what? It’s much more efficient for us to be able to have free men do  
their labor. They work much more efficiently than slaves, and we don’t  
have to pay for anything. They have to pay for their own things.” The  
money that they get is regenerated and recycled into the economy  
itself, it creates a stronger economy.

In the same respect, I have to say that that’s a beautiful concept,  
and if someone blew up just doing that and giving away their music for  
free, then obviously they had some other job, but I guess these cats  
have the benefit of already having a multi-million dollar success. But  
I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it as publicity stunt or something  
that was done with some sort of two-faced attempt at garnering even  
more of a fan base. I mean, it seems like they were just honestly  
putting their reputation to the test with their fans. They could have  
miserably failed, and it could have done nothing, and it could have  
been broke, but they gambled the right way. Obviously they have a very  
loyal fan base. It’s something that I guess, you’re right, can only be  
done with a fan base that’s committed to the artist.

AC: Now going off on fan bases, you tour and you make a point of  
spreading your music outside of the US. What have you seen as the  
state of record industries in other countries, and how has going  
abroad helped you spread your message and build your base?

IT: Well I can spit in English and Spanish, so definitely anytime I’m  
in front of a Latin American audience, or a Spanish speaking audience  
in Spain, we’ve been able to look at that and think to ourselves, or I  
think to myself, how far this hip-hop culture has actually come. In  
other ways though, I look at it and think that in Africa and Latin  
America, when I’ve been there, people don’t buy anything but bootleg  
albums. No one goes to the store to pay the equivalent of 10 dollars  
for a CD because that’s literally like a week’s wage.

AC: The word of mouth surrounding you obviously has been increasing  
greatly in the last few years, and you’ve done this all without the  
major labels’ help. For someone like you who was told that the  
marketing of your music would be difficult, and your content would be  
difficult to sell, how have you attacked self-marketing, and what has  
the growing success meant in terms of changing your strategy now?

IT: Lots of people, not just the record labels, told me that this  
wasn’t going to be lucrative or that no one was going to care, but I  
was fortunate enough to believe in myself and say, listen, I’m going  
to do whatever I want, with or without the express permission of other  
people. There’s no gatekeeper for me. I don’t need somebody to co-sign  
me to put me on.

Anyone who has supported me has never been because I twisted their  
arm, it’s been out of the goodness of their own heart because they  
felt the truth in the music. So I think in terms of marketing myself,  
I don’t need to create a rap persona, or a different personality in  
order to sell records. For me, it’s just as simple as getting the word  
out and getting the music to people. The music sells itself, and the  
message sells itself. It creates an even stronger support base because  
we’re drawing in from lots of people who don’t get their struggle  
talked about, lots of people who never really had the benefit of Hip- 
Hop addressing some of the issues that they’re dealing with.

For example, I have a song called “Harlem Renaissance” on The 3rd  
World, wherein we take the struggles like what goes on in Bosnia or  
Kurdistan, where people are being ethnically cleansed, and struggles  
in Palestine where people are losing their land to a foreign  
government’s occupation, and we relate that directly to what goes on  
in the inner city communities where we’re being ethnically cleansed  
economically. Where gentrification is changing the face of the  
neighborhood, but not for us, because the only reason they’re making  
the neighborhood better is so we can get the fuck out so they can  
raise the rent or create condominiums that go for 1.5 million dollars,  
and in the hood, you know people don’t have that type of money. So  
essentially what you’re saying is “Get the fuck out.” Like one of  
those rich country clubs, where it’s like, “You know what, it’s not  
that we don’t want Black and Latino people here, it’s just that it  
costs $150,000 to be here, so we know who’s going to be here, we know  
who’s not going to be here.”

In the same way that in the future, there will be a racism based on  
the reality that there will be different races. There will be a race  
of people who can afford to be genetically modified and say, “I don’t  
get AIDS like the rest of you fucking people. I don’t get cancer like  
you. I was fixed from the point that I was conceived and had different  
genes added to me to where I’m not as susceptible to levels of cold  
and heat the way you are, my skin doesn’t develop cancer the way yours  
does when exposed to this climate.” There will be people who are  
specifically tailored that way, and that’s going to be based on money  
as well. All of these things, whether or not we know it, are creating  
even more divisions in our society, so we know who’s going to be able  
to afford that sort of modification, and it damn sure ain’t gonna be  
the majority of the people in Africa or Latin America or Southeast  
Asia. It’s going to be rich people living in the 1st world. And those  
of us that look like our people, that will be able to afford that, are  
only that because they’ve been working for people who have been  
exploiting our land, and those traditionally are the people who  
control this country. (Editor’s Note: For an interesting fictional  
representation of the type of expensive genetic modifications Tech  
envisions here, check out Gattaca.)

Check back here on Friday for the third and final installment of the  
interview where Tech talks about the current music industry, remix  
work, internet piracy and the upcoming Presidential election.

Part 2:


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