Commonline Interview: Hip-Hop Artist & Activist Immortal Technique

-- Stephen C. Webster

DALLAS, TX - America is in a state of revolution. There's a whiff of change in the air, subtly affecting every institution, every industry, and every ideology. Ours is a revolution of ideas and technology. Ours is a further human evolution, strengthening by the moment. It's as though we're all just waiting for the ball to drop.

The business of rap and hip-hop – capitalism with a beat – has not been unaffected by this rising tide. The rap demographic, once a prime and lucrative market for sensationalism, sexism, and violence, isn't buying it anymore.

According to Billboard Magazine, since 2000, sales in the rap genre have dropped by 44 percent, representing 10 percent of music sales. More and more, youths are rejecting the popular rap philosophy and moving on.

In a track called "The Message and The Money" on his first full album, Revolutionary Vol. 1, underground New York City hip-hop artist Immortal Technique decries this fading industry and pronounces its impending death.

"There is a market for everything, man," he says. "That they keep recycling marketing schemes and imagery. C'mon. There is a market for pet psychologists, nigga. There is a market for twisted, shit-fetish videos. For nipple rings, for river dancing, for chocolate cupboard roaches, but you can't find one for cultured hardcore reality and hip-hop?

Immortal Technique — known to his parents as Felipe Coronel – was born in a military hospital in Peru. As a youth, he spent his hours on the hard streets of New York City, following the well-worn path of drugs and violence.

When he was 16, Technique visited his place of birth, and even as a poor kid from the streets of the World's Capitol, his mind reeled at the universal poverty. His experiences in South America combined with his arrest and incarceration for assault as a young adult lit some sort of fuse.
His revolution came quickly pouring from him in the form of the predominant spoken art of the streets, causing a wide ripple across the industry. After refusing numerous record contracts in order to preserve his message, Technique found success in bootlegging his own albums and selling them on the streets and over the Internet. On one of his tracks in particular, he encourages people to pirate his albums and "pump it outside."

This unconventional business model has carried him into the upper-echelons of modern hip-hop, rapidly expanding a previously 'niche' market occupied by artists such as Public Enemy and underground political rapper Paris. Now leading the tide of informed beats, Technique's music is becoming a brute force in the industry, and the shake-up is increasingly visible.

He is a revolutionary icon in hip-hop by virtue of his lyrical content. Perhaps his most popular work, "Bin Laden Remix" featuring artist-turned-actor Mos Def (who co-starred with Bruce Willis in last year's crime-thriller 16 Blocks), has become a leading theme of the 9/11 Truth Movement.

Viper Records, his label, is sponsoring an increasing number of political hip-hop artists. One such up-and-coming star is Akir, who visited Crawford, Texas with the Hip Hop Caucus to put on a show over 2007's Easter weekend. The Hip Hop Caucus has become a staple at peace movement events across the country, and though Immortal Technique may not tour with them, he's one of several giants behind the curtain.


Your material is unlike anything else out there right now, and you're not only becoming a revolutionary icon in hip hop, you're becoming a revolutionary icon in America. People learn things from your tracks, and both your music and your revolutionary ideas seem to be spreading quickly. I'm curious: What set you down the revolutionary path? Was it something you read? Something that happened to you? What lit that fuse?

I don't think there was necessarily one point that we can exemplify and say, 'Alright, that was my epiphany.' There's more of a series of events that happened to me in my life, such as my incarceration, my return as a young adult, when I was 16, back to South America to survey and finally understand the poverty dynamic that exists in South America and the third world.

Pretty much, that line of thinking led me to question why the world was structured in a certain way. It lead me to question why, when a capitalist regime fails, they always blame the regime and not the economic system. And why, when a socialist regime fails, its the regime, but its also the economic system that's specifically blamed for it.

It led me to question racism and how it came to exist. What standards were used to judge people before racism was created in the way we know it right now? What role did religion play in the enslavement of Africans? All the black people that live in this hemisphere, whether they live in North America or South America – what role does religion play in subjugating the people of Latin America? What role does it play in attempting to liberate them?

What role was played by the Catholic Church at different intervals throughout history? All of these questions, little by little, helped me understand where I was. I lived in the hood, in Harlem, for my whole life, except for when I was born. I was always surrounded by the reality of New York City, but when you leave that, and you don't just stand in a square, it opens your mind to other forms of thinking, other perspectives. You can't be so closed minded.

On one of your tracks, you state that you want to see the third-world nations united through socialism. As many of us know, American intervention since World War II has frustrated the efforts of prior revolutions, and the economic imperialism of the United States has kept the economies of South America depressed, creating a vacuum that feeds the immigration problem, generating hatred from resident Americans who are too dense to realize what is really going on. It creates a cycle of self-destruction. How will a unity of socialist democracies help solve this?

When people talk about socialism and communism and Marxism, a lot of people don't understand what they are. They don't understand how they function – or the loss of personal property that's associated with some. Not all of them are traditional or functioning ideas of what Marx or Lenin would think of as communism or socialism.

Certainly we could take the example of China. Its communist model introverted on itself, which then projects capitalism everywhere else in the world. When you talk about socialism, I think that just like any other example of an economic system, the way that it has existed throughout the 20th century is not viable to bring misery out of Latin America. It is not the answer alone. It needs to evolve in the way capitalism has evolved.

Well, maybe not the way capitalism evolved, but evolve on its own toward the ends it was created to fulfill. Capitalism has seen lots of evolution. We used to have everything backed by gold. We used to have a little writing under the $20 bill that said that whatever note it represented was backed by gold by the U.S. Treasury. It was called the bread and wood system, and when that was dissolved, there were lots of people who had questions as to what the significance behind that was, and what the reason was for the Federal Reserve.

There's a lot of things – like the buying of 15,000 banks by an unnamed group of 15 bankers during the Woodrow Wilson era ... We're talking about lots of things that have evolved since then. But it seems like, with socialism, communism, and Marxism, people are reading the same books from ages ago, without having the tenacity, some people would say – or as I like to think about it, the testicular fortitude – to say, you know, you were right about some things, but you were wrong about others. This is what you were right about, and this is what you were wrong about, and I don't think its disrespectful to question that.

If the founding fathers of America saw the way that some people have taken things that were wrong that they wrote into the Constitution and amended them, the way they see the world now, it would be understandable. That's the promise of America. If the promise of socialism is equality and freedom for people, but its not economically viable the way it is structured, then obviously we have to change it somehow.

What you said about the Federal Reserve – that's a cornerstone of the communist system, a central bank. And in America, there's really nothing federal about the Federal Reserve ...

(laughs) "Hell no."

Aaron Russo's film America: Freedom to Fascism deals a lot with the banking systems and the federal reserve. How they caused the depression, the buying of the 15,000 banks, removal of the gold standard, Congress ceding its right to print the nation's currency ... His death is a terrible loss. That film gets passed out with a lot of other others at peace movement events, like the 9/11 documentaries.

Recently, Zogby released a poll that showed some 51 percent of Americans want Congress to probe Bush and Cheney on the lingering 9/11 questions. A lot of respondents were also upset with the 9/11 Commission for not investigating the collapse of World Trade Center 7 ...

Well, a lot of people discount the theories about 9/11 as conspiracy theories, or the work of socially or mentally unstable people or ... You know, whatever insult they want to throw at people for having a different perspective on something than the government. But, I think just the point that, if you don't want to subscribe to one theory or another, just that reality that a huge percent of Americans don't believe the government's official story is very telling of the sentiment we have in America. Its a reaction to the vast amounts of provable and obvious corruption that we've seen over the recent years of the Bush Administration.

There's been like, a scandal every other week or something. If it's not somebody touching a little kid, its some joker embezzling money, or another motherfucker going into a men's bathroom ... Its just open hypocrisy. Its the same thing happening over in the Middle East, which is what creates this sort of radical Islamic thinking ...

I think, what people need to know about the Middle East, what we know as the left wing, or the Democratic Party – which, in America, doesn't really represent the 'left' in the way the rest of the world sees left wing politics – there's no equivalent to that over there.

They have a Constitutional monarchy. The Constitution would imply that it's bound by those particular rules, but those rules are always being changed by the king, the monarch. They have a monarchy that has a fancier name so they can barter for better human rights records from the U.N., and to get more funding from them, and from the United States. Everybody wants a slice of American pie. But I think that the reality of the situation is that those people live in a similar fashion. The ultimate concentrated form of an oligarchy, like what we have in America, is a monarchy.

So, these people are living in a situation where the people who claim to be related to the prophet Mohamed, or the people who claim to be the most holy and guard over the cities that are significant to the Muslim religion, are they themselves the most corrupted by the money they've been able to get out of it, or what they've been able to do by pitting one person against another.

Shia and Sunni have nothing to do with preserving the law of Islam as much as they have to do with a group of people who want to see their influence above another. It's one person who says, 'No, only the children of the prophets should be allowed to rule.' And another person says, 'No, it should be anybody who preserves the law correctly.' I mean, they're just doing it because the other people are getting shut out, and they want to consolidate power.

Its a very simple dynamic. It is not something even a child would have trouble understanding, but over the years, it stopped being about that. It's the same thing that happened when we landed in Iraq. But then, over the years, it's become about something else. Now we're staying there because we can't leave. We can't leave, but we can't stay.

Just like Vietnam.

(laughs) And now Bush comes out saying our big mistake was to leave Vietnam!" I don't know ... Out here, nobody gets it.

Many of your tracks contain violent language, though I ...

Yeah, well, the world's a pretty violent place, homie.

... I do interpret at least some of it to be metaphorical. But even the T-shirts you sell at your concerts have an AK-47 on them. Should your fans take this to mean you are not a believer in the peaceful revolutions encouraged by men like Ghandi and Dr. King? What are your thoughts on pacifism and civil resistance versus a violent uprising? Is it really necessary to become your enemy in order to defeat them?

(sighs) Well ... If we look at India as an example and their fight with Pakistan and their neighbors, most certainly they have behaved as the British Empire behaved toward them. If we look at the situation in Israel, where they are throwing people into camps and stamping them with numbers ... That sounds a lot like something else. Its not anti-semitic to point things like that out, just like I don't assume someone is a racist for questioning somebody's legality as a citizen.

I think we're capable of having these different perspectives based on your experience. They say history is the best teacher. When I examine these specific occurrences throughout history, I ask that question. Take the issue of Gandhi. First: he believed in preserving rights for Indian people, but at the same time, if you point toward his policy on Africa and India's colonization of Africa, he had no problem with keeping them subjugated. To him, they were less than people. He didn't have a problem with taking something of theirs. It's always until the foot is in the other shoe that people have trouble walking.

I think that, in this specific case, and in cases all over the world, you can point to specific cases where, uh, pacifism just doesn't work. If the Palestinians went on a hunger strike, I don't think that would affect world opinion – well, it would somewhere, probably in the Middle East – but I don't think that Americans would give a fuck, and Israel would just bulldoze their bodies into the sea. It just is what it is.

Peaceful revolution works in some cases, but I think more often than not, armed struggle is just a necessity. It is born of necessity. I don't think it should be a first option; it should be the last option. Some people think it is something you should jump into, but I rather hesitate to do that.

Conditions in other places of the world are quite a bit different than here in America. That's why we're a little bit spoiled when it comes to the peace movement. You can have a whole bunch of peaceful people, but if this were El Salvador, and they were out there protesting, they'd just all be murdered. And then where's the peace movement?

There was a man called Martinez Hernandez, a general in El Salvador. He led a brigade during the Civil War, during the 1980s when the U.S. Spent $1.8 billion a year funding their government actions, especially their paramilitary, which committed some of the worst human rights abuses in Central America.

The man he was originally named after was a general from earlier in the 20th century who pretty much wrote the book on counter-terrorism for the Central Americas. What he did was essentially go after the people. He said, 'You're fighting the wrong people. The guerrillas are essentially a manifestation of the resentment of the people. When you fight an army, since these people aren't a conventional army, you have to cut off its supply lines. The guerrillas are the people. The only way to win is to destroy the people.

So, one by one after the election, all the areas that had voted primarily and heavily toward the left, he simply had them liquidated. He went in there and wiped out their infrastructure, killed women, children, old, young men. We overlook these types of things because it doesn't fit the mold. It doesn't fit the beautiful idea that we think that love can conquer all, or that the whole world would be so shocked by the innocent murder of somebody that stood for peace that they'll automatically change their minds and it'll automatically fix the situation.

All right, this is a big question, almost more a question of philosophy ... At the root of many problems in America is the military industrial complex. Never before World War II had this nation been home to a permanent military industry that thrives on war. President Eisenhower warned us of the dangers, but we seem to have not heeded his advice. The military complex chews through hundreds of billions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives every year, seemingly undeterred by the large and growing peace movement. They control our presidency, some would say, and always get what they want. What's it going to take to counter-balance that hidden branch of government? A Department of Peace? Take me into the toolbox ...

That's a very, very large question, homie. Obviously the answer we have right now is not the correct one. It will take a long time, or at least longer, for me to make some kind of calculation. I think there is absolutely no accountability for those corporations in America. If there is, they just move to other parts of the world.

There is going to come a time when, if you want to go to war with somebody, you'll just hire an army and go. You just have to have enough money to support it. I don't see that wave of military industry getting smaller. It's getting larger. It's now a part of almost every major police department. The Pentagon wholesales weapons. If you're a land-locked county, why do you have an aquatic vehicle? (laughs) Why do you have an amphibious tank machine? With gun turrets? It doesn't make any sense.

In the age of, 'Oh, the terrorists could be anywhere!', it's justified by city councils being scared. It's an economic problem, and it will continue to be, because it makes money for people. And it's legal. It's totally legal. It's like having crack be legal on the streets and asking me, 'How are we going to get these dealers to stop selling crack?' They're not going to stop, until its illegal. And even then, some are still going to do it.

First, you've got to make it illegal, and then you've got to find a way to control it. That's a large process, and then you've got to find a way to successfully conquer that mentality. Society as a whole would have to change for that to change.

China recently threatened to pull their funds and call in debts from the United States, possibly triggering the collapse of the dollar. Do you believe this is one of the key linchpins that will propel us toward a single-currency continent and the North American Union? And going further, do you believe that master-plan theory about the unionization of the continents under a single controlling body, better known on the Internet as the 'New World Order'? What hope would there be for the poor in the Americas if that were to happen?
You wanna go into a hypothetical situation ... All, Wolf Blitzer and shit. All right. China ... The same thing happened when George Bush the first threatened Japan by telling them they needed to buy more American cars. Their simple response to him was, you know, we've bought however many millions of dollars in bonds from you. If you wanna screw us, we can just sell them right now and let the market do essentially what China just threatened to do.

I think China has much more money invested in America than the Japanese had invested in America at the time. We can't run into China like the British did and force them to sell opium. We're not dealing with the same China. The same way that during all of its conflicts with Japan, before the Soviet Union was restructured and strengthened, it took a series of L's. This is a different China. Its a much more powerful China, militarily, technologically ...

I think that if anybody is going to suffer from this deal, it would definitely be people on the bottom, people who work jobs. Some people think that if manufacturing stopped coming over from China, it would open up manufacturing jobs in America. But those that did open up would pay so low. I don't think people in America would live with that. I think that, in terms of China, a lot of people have an issue with them because of what they believe is an unprecedented amount of control over their economic relations.

They have a different capitalism that exists between them and the United States as opposed to Liberia, or some country that we exploit for diamonds, like Sierra Leone. A country whose natural resources we're used to pimping. China is just one of those countries that has been playing political chess for well over 3,000 years. To them, they're like, 'All right. We're back in the game. And if your poor people suffer, fuck it. Our poor people suffer.' You're not going to find them too sympathetic after all the shit they've been through.

It seems as though the common attitude in China is that America's 200 years are over and in this century the center of the world will shift, making them the new superpower. Now, if that were to happen, economic interdependence will become increasingly crucial, perhaps another reason for the Americas to unionize much in the way Europe has. You've mentioned key components of this 'New World Order' in some of your tracks. Are you a subscriber to that line of thought?

People talk about the whole North American Union and the New World Order ... To be quite honest, when I look at stuff like that, I approach it from a black and Latino perspective. If you want to talk about a New World Order, we could talk about 1492. We could talk about the slave trade. That's a New World Order.

Like, if another country came to American and by force, physical force, by execution, enslavement, mass rape, and torture, made them believe that Jesus Christ wasn't real, just a myth. We're talking about a nation where the vast majority, 90 percent of the people, believe in God. A big population here is obviously of a Judeo-Christian line. That's the equivalent of what happened to my people. Our culture, our customs, destroyed. Our religion, turned into modern day mythology – the same way the religion we have here and now might be one day.

I think that, if we look at who will suffer the most, or who will gain the most our of a North American Union, or out of America staying the way it is, it's still the same people. There was a big story about how a man in Mexico became the richest man in the world over Bill Gates. That's the future. He's in Mexico. He's in a country where poverty is redefined according to American standards.

You walk around there and it'll open your eyes. It'll scare the shit out of most people in this country. Living there for a week ... Your system might not be able to take it, physically. And yet, this is home to the richest man in the world. That's the future. Whether we choose to accept that or not ... If we do, maybe we can still do something about it. If we don't, well, it'll play out as it was meant to.

At the beginning of your set in Dallas, you mentioned GOP Presidential Candidate Ron Paul, and the censorship the networks have imposed on him — things like resetting their on-line polls, deleting comments from the public, not giving him much time to respond to questions, etc. What is your opinion of Ron Paul?

I saw him arguing a long time ago on the Morton Downey, Jr. show, as a libertarian. I think there's a lot of things that are good about him. I think there are a lot of things that are interesting about a libertarian point of view. But the legalization of drugs, for example, we're talking about a white leftist perspective, or a libertarian perspective. Idealistically, it sounds great. But to people who are living in the misery of a ghetto, legalizing drugs is like putting a gun in the hand of everybody around your kid.

People look at his ideas and look at his perspective as being rational, but the majority of individuals I know wonder if he were electable, how would the nation respond to something like that? It would be so radically different from how people are used to looking at themselves and how the country's economic system functions. He said he would abolish the income tax; that's interesting. Abolish federal programs? All right, so we know who is gonna be hit first: the poorest and the darkest.

Now, he did say he would leave Iraq immediately. Okay. Then what? Who is gonna be in charge over there? What are we going to do to take care of our veterans? What are we going to do in terms of immigration? There's some things that I don't know where he stands. It's specifically because a lot of people have pigeon-holed his position. I would like to talk to him a lot more about that.

When you said that legalizing drugs would be like putting guns in the hands of everyone around your children ...

If you are growing up in the hood and everyone around you is a junkie ... Goddamn, yo. That's like a death sentence. I don't want my kids growing up in that. This shit isn't weed or nothin'. Talking about stuff like crystal meth and crack. I've been around enough people that use drugs like that, and they aren't chill. These drugs are engineered now-a-day's that are a lab technician's wet dream. You don't need poppy fields or peasants to make coca. They can just be made in someone's garage to have an incredible return rate and gigantic percentage of profits.

A lot of the pro-legalization arguments are along the lines of, 'Legalize so that the government or private clinics funded by the government can control the substances and destroy the market by giving it out for free in measured doses in a clinical environment where information on rehabilitation programs is made available along with the drugs.' Treat it like a sickness, basically, and fight the crime generated by the black market.

If they view the legalization of drugs as a way to phase out those drugs, then that would be something to think about. But it would have to be thought so ahead of time, or so, 10-steps ahead of the actual plan that people would have to be made aware of it. Say like, 'We're legalizing drugs and giving them out for free so you don't have to steal to get them, and every time you get them you will get less and less and less.' So, people who show up to get them would be put into clinics to help stop them from taking the drugs.

But a libertarian position doesn't support that. It's not approaching the subject with the goal of eventually abolishing drugs. They basically say you can live your life however you want to. But the reality is that when you use drugs like that, it alters your mind and you feel entitled to do other things. You're not yourself, and you eventually are going to hurt somebody else.

The sad thing is, that's just drugs. You want to talk about something that has destroyed way more lives, alcohol is perfectly legal. It has destroyed more people than AIDS, than crack, than heroine over the years. Babies with fetal alcohol syndrome are worse off medically than crack babies.

I read an article that was talking about the significant differences between the two, and it astounded me to realize that crack has this nostalgic, evil demeanor from the 80s. We bring it up and its like, 'Oh, crack. That's terrible. Marrion Berry was fucking with that. But then, when you think about it, you can walk into a corner store and get something more destructive for your life than that, and it's completely legal. Legalizing it didn't help anybody not beat their wife as much as they could, or not drive drunk.

These are philosophical arguments and we could go on all day, but you make a good point that there definitely could be some sort of law utilized to aid a population of individuals who are suffering from drug addiction, if we legalized it. But, that's definitely not a libertarian position."

One of your most well-known tracks deals with the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, a day that changed the lives of millions around the world. You are more up-front about your views of what really happened that day than even some of the Truth crowd. Some people just say, 'I just have questions,' or 'I don't want to point fingers' ...

Well, I've got that skepticism, too. I said on one of my tracks that I don't necessarily think Bush did it, 'cause he isn't that smart. That remains my position. I'm not of the school that believes Bush is this incredibly genius mastermind who, with the help of his Straussian philosophers, decided to divide this plan and sat back acting like a moron on TV doing the Keyser Söze thing. But I definitely think there are interests behind that we have never examined. I think there are very critical questions the government has never asked of itself.

Whenever anybody gets murdered in any neighborhood, police look for a motive. If we're looking for a motive, and we realize that in order to penetrate the system it would have had to have been an inside job, then we have to ask ourselves, 'What's the motive of the individuals on the outside?'

All right, well, radical, Islamic terrorists want to send a message to the heart of infidel America. Or, they hate our freedom or blah-de-blah. But what is the motivation of individuals to allow something like that to happen? What would someone have to gain with that? Who gained the most from 9/11?

Was it the Taliban? They certainly didn't gain shit. Between them and the Northern Alliance, they were systematically murdered and had their human rights taken away from them quicker than lightning. But when we talk about the events after Sept. 11 and what it was used to justify and what could not have happened without that, I think that calls into question a lot of things for people."

If there is something that everyone who reads this interview could do, today, to make their world a better place, what would that be?

Jump up and down at the same time. (laughs) But seriously, I think I would ask people just to realize that they have a responsibility when they have a belief. With belief, not just with actions but with belief, comes a responsibility. If you call yourself a Christian, you have a responsibility to know the history of that religion. If you call yourself a Muslim, you have a responsibility to know not just the doctrine, but the actual historical process of how your religion got to be where it is, whatever it is.

If you're American, and that's what you claim to be, then you should understand the history of America, the light side and the dark side. You shouldn't shy away from it. Whatever influence it has permeated throughout the world is what made it what it is now. And the only way you can change something is if you understand the dynamic of how it became what it is.

So, when is the new album coming out?
I'm trying for beginning of next year. When it hits, we should do another interview. But, about music this time. (laughs)

I'm sure there are a lot of people looking forward to it. Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.
My pleasure, homie.

Stephen C. Webster is a Freelance Writer and Photographer.


(***A version of this interview first appeared in The LoneStar Iconoclast in September of 2007. Reproduced with author premission).