Immortal Technique on Obama’s Second Term; Role of Hip-Hop [Interview]
During the Great Depression, folk singers like Woody Guthrie gave voice to the voiceless and used music as an appeal for social justice. In today's music scene, the closest thing to a champion for the common man may very well be rapper Felipe Andres Coronel, a.k.a. Immortal Technique.
Immortal Technique came to America to escape a violent civil war in his native Peru, rising to prominence in the underground hip-hop scene through rap battles and connecting with inner-city frustrations about the presidency of George W. Bush. His brand of conscious hip-hop, less like the bombastic manifestos of Public Enemy or the stylish anthems of dead prez, uses cultivated word play to take an introspective, haunting journey into the underside of America.
With a new DVD out about a life that has taken him from state prison to opening an orphanage in Afghanistan, and his fifth album The Middle Passage due out over the summer, this seemed the perfect time to catch up with him about the issues of the day.
What’s been firing you up lately?
The second inauguration of President Obama has caused the nation to glaze over a few things that have been happening. I think that we shouldn’t forget that just because we elected a progressive individual, we can’t hold him to a standard.
I saw that you paid attention to the Senate confirmation hearing with Chuck Hagel, where there seemed to be revisionist history from some of the senators regarding the Iraq War. What was your reaction to that version of events in Iraq?
When I saw him being talked to about the surge…it wasn’t just the mass mobilization of troops, but the amount of funding we had to provide for mercenary groups and militias. But we don’t like to talk about that because it sounds like bribery. We figured out which of the terrorists were the worst, and which were the best, and then made a deal with the people we could make a deal with.
On tour you visited Occupy camps across the country; what happened to that movement?
Occupy didn’t disappear, it fractured. There are splinter cells everywhere. I did an event with Occupy Sandy to raise money for victims of Hurricane Sandy. These were people from Zuccotti Park, now on the ground in Queens trying to help people who were destitute, living in Third World conditions. This was not in Haiti, this was in Rockaway.
Will a piece of legislation be enough to take down gun violence?
You’re not going to get rid of guns in this country. It makes people feel safe. We’re still a young race of people. Since 1776, our country has only known about 25 years of real peace, all those other times we’ve been at war somewhere. The mythology has been built up that we’re Camelot, that we’re the good guys. That’s why it’s so shocking when we torture individuals, or was so shocking to limousine liberals—who are as removed from reality as racist conservatives—when they saw the Rodney King video.
When we look back at this moment in history, the presidency of Barack Obama during an economic crisis and time of great inequality, will it be looked at as a period of hard-fought victories like healthcare reform, or a tragic missed opportunity for structural reform?
I’m not sure. There will be elements of both.
A lot was made of Beyonce’s lip-sync at the inauguration, but Lupe Fiasco had his own moment that same week...
Someone who was just not a very well educated individual about hip-hop booked him because he’s a black guy who argued with Bill O’Reilly, so let’s have him on stage. They didn’t take the time to realize that Mr. Fiasco has a lot of issues with the foreign and domestic polices of this country. And he articulates them very well. He had the balls to speak his mind.
Can hip-hop still be a powerful outlet for progressive change?
It can and it is, it’s like lightning. You can’t hold on to it for very long. You can try to control the economics of it, which people do, but you can’t own the culture.
How is The Middle Passage looking?
It’s coming. I’ve got production from Southpaw, from DJ Premier, and Ali Shaheed Muhammad from A Tribe Called Quest, and it’s shaping up to be a ruthless and brutal album. But there’s also a few songs that are self-reflective and very personal. We’re telling real stories.
Michael Cooper Jr. is a reporter for Campus Progress.