The few college students who don’t watch The Daily Show get their news from Immortal Technique. An unfounded assertion, sure, but for budding activists from campuses to ghettos worldwide, the Harlem revolutionary hip-hop Goliath is the proven militant alternative to pacifist patchouli rap and lightweight political satire. Technique is more Stewie Griffin than Jon Stewart, a vehement opponent of hypocrisy who’s content with deploying shock-and-awe attacks, shoulder-loaded rockets, or whatever else it takes to mangle adversaries. He doesn’t joke about world hunger, irresponsible globalization, or Christian conservatives — and as it turns out, his approach is precisely what discouraged hip-hop fans and disenchanted liberals were waiting for.
“Hip-hop doesn’t have to be one extreme or another,” says Technique, who comes to the UnderGroundHipHop.com store on Friday for a free performance. “It doesn’t have to be socially conscious, non-threatening, crying on records, smelling like incense, and wearing African clothing that you don’t even understand the significance of. That’s just as fake to me as people who rap about being gangsters and who aren’t really gangsters. On the other extreme, it doesn’t have to be hardcore and ignorant to the point that we water down the lyrics like idiots and animals for the amusement of the public on some minstrel-show shit. That’s what hip-hop is suffering from.”
Technique owns his masters — and his publishing rights. He has for years been hip-hop’s most vocal and loco opponent of major record labels, at least four of which he’s told to go screw. With his own imprint, Viper Records, and through distribution deals with other labels including Babygrande, he’s sold hundreds of thousands of copies of his 2001 Revolutionary Vol. 1 debut and his 2003 Revolutionary Vol. 2 follow-up. Since he’s slung more than a few units out of his trunk and doesn’t trust Nielsen SoundScan for shit, he has no definitive sales numbers, but his resonance with everyone from pimps and players to professors and professionals attests to his widespread notoriety.
“I’ve always had respect in my own community, and I’ve always had a very large Latino fan base, but now I have the most diverse fan base in all of the underground,” Technique declares. “I have a large Middle Eastern fan base thanks to all of the support that I’ve given over there, and now I have a lot more Asians, too. I welcome all of that, and I think that it’s a positive thing to stretch out to so many demographics. Unlike some other people, I’ve never resented the fact that I have a gang of white fans.”
Technique’s staying power has been as impressive as his rise through the underground in the politically rattled climate following 9/11. Especially when you consider that it’s been five years since he’s dropped a full album — other than sporadic guest appearances on some affiliates’ projects, he’s surfaced only for the 2004 single “Bin Laden.” This EP, which featured versions with hooks from both Chuck D and Mos Def, charges that America “is run by fake Christians, and fake politicians,” and it tells us: “Look at their mansions, then look at the conditions you live in.” Trite stuff, maybe, but when Technique exhales over morbid piano loops and atomic bass lines, his radical banter eclipses generic rhetorical anti-establishmentarianism.
“My message is popular because of the honesty behind it — plain and simple. You have to ask yourself at what point does it stop being rhetoric and become truth? Is every Obama speech rhetoric just because it goes on for 45 minutes? Were Martin Luther King’s speeches rhetoric? I’m not comparing myself to these people in any way, but I am saying that the message I have relies heavily on historical facts and truth.”
Short of the Marines invading Harlem, no political or brute force is going to stop or censor Technique. Despite his half-decade disc hiatus, his new mixtape, The Third World, is subterranean hip-hop’s most eagerly awaited product so far this year. Mixed and largely produced by Eminem and Nas affiliate Green Lantern, the release is poised to inspire both existing diehards and anyone else who loathes Lil Jon and John McCain in equal measure. It’s a ludicrous speed leap to suggest that The Third World and Technique’s upcoming Middle Passage will check gentrification, resurrect Paul Wellstone, free Mumia, or turn tides in hip-hop. But should that last actually happen, major-label mules know where not to turn.
“People want to forget that hip-hop was born in that militant era. The artists themselves are brainwashed into thinking that’s not a viable solution — until they wake up and realize that they’ve been fucked and left by the industry too. Only then do they get it into their head that this is fucked up. Too little, too late, homes. You should have come and helped us out when it was obvious to everyone but you, but you were blinded by your own selfishness and greed. That’s a by-product of being successful and thinking that nobody is responsible for your success but yourself. I owe everything that I have to my supporters, my discipline, and the team that helped me complete this vision.”
IMMORTAL TECHNIQUE | UnderGroundHiphop.com store, 234 Huntington Ave, Boston | June 27 at 6pm | free | 617.262.0200