Respect the Technique

Anna Grace Schneider

Immortal Technique rocks a crowd in Chicago.

Crit­ics fre­quent­ly trash hip hop because com­mer­cial­ism dom­i­nates the genre. But, as Bakari Kit­wana notes in his new book Why White Kids Love Hip Hop, the music serves a high­er pur­pose as a voice for the voice­less” and a bridge across America’s racial divide. Artists like New York-based rap­per Immor­tal Tech­nique pro­vide that voice, height­en­ing aware­ness with­in a com­mu­ni­ty des­per­ate for change.

For both jad­ed hip hop heads and polit­i­cal activists, Immor­tal Technique’s music is refresh­ing. At a sold-out venue, teenagers fall silent as Immor­tal Tech­nique – also known as Tech – kills the beat and reminds them: Blacks and Lati­nos get the worst education/​ while dev­ils run Amer­i­ca like Birth of a Nation/ affir­ma­tive action and reversed discrimination/​ that shit is a pathet­ic excuse for reparations.”

On a recent trip to Chica­go, Tech toured Rober­to Clemente High School in Hum­boldt Park and then attend­ed a hip hop open mic night down the street at the Batey Urbano, a youth cen­ter in the heart of this slow­ly gen­tri­fy­ing Puer­to Rican neighborhood. 

Tech encour­aged the kids to be rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies by work­ing togeth­er and con­tribut­ing to their com­mu­ni­ty. He explained that the only way for black and Lati­no peo­ple to find a way out of pover­ty is to own, pro­duce and main­tain con­trol over their resources. By empow­er­ing them­selves, he says, these kids can over­come the racism that he argues is a dis­trac­tion, a side effect, of our society’s cor­ro­sive inequal­i­ty. Amer­i­ca speaks one lan­guage: mon­ey. America’s reli­gion is cap­i­tal­ism, ever so much more than Chris­tian­i­ty,” he said. But believe me, the white left is still racist.”

Tech’s activism and authen­tic­i­ty derives from hard life expe­ri­ence. He was born in Peru 27 years ago and his fam­i­ly left when he was 4, flee­ing an esca­lat­ing civ­il war. They land­ed in Harlem and, while not delv­ing into his child­hood, he admits it was rough. I tried to go to [col­lege] but I end­ed up going to prison,” he says.

His epiphany occurred as he rode the cor­rec­tions bus upstate. Prison is not the rite of pas­sage that makes you a man. All that hus­tlin’, rob­bin’, stealin’, that didn’t make me a real nig­ga at all,” he says. When I came home from that and I put mon­ey in my mother’s pock­et to help sup­port my fam­i­ly, that made me a real nigga.”

Dur­ing his time behind bars, Tech devoured books about his­to­ry, reli­gion and civ­il rights. He wrote often in jail and when he got out, he took that mate­r­i­al and even­tu­al­ly pro­duced two albums, Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Vol:I and last year’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Vol:II. Ambi­tious titles, but the man has big goals, and with his mul­ti-faceted appeal and a new album, The Mid­dle Pas­sage, sched­uled to drop in ear­ly fall, he is poised for bat­tle. Vol:II sold 45,000 copies on Immor­tal Technique’s own label, Viper Records. Mov­ing that many units is an impres­sive feat in today’s music indus­try, in which five com­pa­nies con­trol 90 per­cent of the music dis­tri­b­u­tion. He and a few oth­er rap­pers, includ­ing M‑1 of Dead Prez, orga­nized a hip hop union last fall called G.A.ME. (Grass­roots Artist MovE­ment), whose mem­bers receive free health­care in New York and Philadel­phia. You make more of a polit­i­cal state­ment by own­ing a record label than any­thing you could pos­si­bly say on a record,” Tech says. 

Despite his pro­gres­sive polit­i­cal mes­sage, sen­si­tive ears will be offend­ed when Tech raps graph­i­cal­ly about abor­tions or what he would do to the moth­ers and girl­friends of his ene­mies. But get­ting caught up in the lan­guage miss­es the point. Tech’s grit­ty irrev­er­ence is pre­cise­ly what lends him cred­i­bil­i­ty among wary, young hip hop fans. As one aspir­ing emcee at the Batey told Tech, I don’t usu­al­ly like under­ground hip hop or Lati­no rap­pers, but your shit is raw, I love it.”

Anna Schnei­der is a for­mer asso­ciate pub­lish­er of In These Times, in which capac­i­ty she man­aged fundrais­ing and circulation.
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