Immortal Technique is a man who needs no introduction to fans of real Hip Hop. That being said, I’m not going to waste any time romanticizing the impact Tech has had on the Hip Hop world and counterculture at large but rather get right down to the interview and let the man himself drop knowledge in a way that only he can.
The following interview was conducted on 3/18/12 in New Haven, CT at Toads Place. My thanks to Cara Webber and Jason Dolloway for their help.
The Immortal Technique Interview
TIS: So I saw you at Rock The Bells in Jones Beach back in 2008 and after finishing your set, you told the audience you’d be hanging out at your booth and to come chill because you’re not some star who thinks you’re above your fans. You then jumped into the crowd and walked right through them up to your booth. That being said, you obviously have a strong connection with your fans and don’t see yourself as separate or better than. What do you attribute that too?
IT: I think the times have changed. You can’t play Louis XIV anymore, you know? At the same time, you walk a thin line. Your fans can’t just pop in whenever they want. I’m not gonna allow someone to just drop over my house whenever they want like, “Hey what’s up? I bought your album so what’s for dinner?” Yeah you bought my album, but that doesn’t entitle you to shit in my life homey. That doesn’t entitle to you to have a say in every single thing I do. I gave you an autograph, so what. What does that entitle me to do in your life? I’m not entitled to make personal criticisms about you as an individual. You listen to my music and you happen to be a woman, that doesn’t give me the right to fuck you, you know what I mean? Some artists have it twisted. They think every woman is a groupie, and that every dude is a sucker, and I never looked at people like that. I try to take people at face value and then beyond, taking them out of face value and out of the category of being Black, Latino, Asian, White, Jewish, fucking Muslim or Christian or Atheist, none of that matters to me. I want the content of somebody’s character to reflect what they mean to me and I think that’s been one of the biggest connections, realizing that Hip Hop transcends these things. The fact that I’ve had an opportunity to meet so many people from different parts of the world and hear their stories. It helps me to grow and it gives my music perspective as well. It also adds to the humility that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for all the fans and supporters who I feel are more than just fans. I think fans are some clowns who just like whatever the fuck is on the radio, I’m sick of fans. I’d rather it be somebody who says they’re supporting the movement with or without you. That, I can appreciate.
TIS: Right, definitely, and speaking on Hip Hop culture, you became attracted to it at an early age growing up in Harlem in the 80’s and I was wonderings what aspects specifically resonated with you?
IT: Well unlike rock music, you don’t need a drum set or a guitar. People just beat boxed and everyone was rapping. You had to prove your skills and it wasn’t just being tough enough to back up what you said, but you had to make what you said clever enough that it wowed people, so they recognized it was really their mind. When you talk about people who have respect in the hood and the people who are most loved in the ghetto, their lyrics are not foolish. The greatest rappers of all time, no matter who you think that is, those top slots, Biggie, 2Pac, Jay-Z, Eminem, Big Pun, they all have the ability to manipulate the English language in such a way with a metaphorical sense and an intelligence that reflects something way beyond what you would meet in a “normal Individual.” So I saw that as an open door that basically said it doesn’t matter who you are, if you can rhyme, you can rhyme and if you can’t, well you can’t. What I think made the star differentiation, which is also why some people think the golden era completely ended in Hip Hop and died, was that it didn’t matter if you could rhyme anymore. It became based on marketing strategy and what other industry people thought about you, instead of real supporters of music who don’t have a say about what’s on the radio or anything else, because they’re not the ones in charge of the payola. So it is what it is.
TIS: Sure, so taking that into consideration, aside from record sales and the industry in general, what does success mean for you and your music?
IT: I think taking the money I make from this and reinvesting it into humanitarian projects is a huge part of it. So it isn’t me making money as much as it is me spending my money in a way that I feel is effective. My methodology is to say I’m not just going to throw money at a problem but rather personally invest myself in it. So I’ll personally go down to Haiti and make sure we build these shelters for people because them living in a tent with eleven people is insane or going to Afghanistan and building beds for children that will be staying in that orphanage I helped build myself. I think being personally involved in these things instead of making money and wearing my wealth is the way that I choose to define myself as an individual. I don’t need to put jewels on to make myself feel important. I’d rather drop them for the benefit of less fortunate people. I don’t need to put gold on my body, and I’m not criticizing people who do, but for me, I’d rather be around my family and see them be happy because that’s worth more to me than gold.
TIS: That’s inspiring and commendable to say the very least. You mentioned the orphanages in Afghanistan you were a part of building through Omeid International. Is that something you’re still involved with?
IT: Yes, they’re about to expand and I’m looking forward to doing another benefit show this year so we can continue that expansion. Every year we get more and more kids and every year the project grows stronger. No matter what the difficulties are between the occupation and the people themselves, the people have been very receptive to this because they know there’s no political agenda here. There’s no political or religious indoctrination to this. It’s just children that would normally be dead in the street if it wasn’t for a program like this.
TIS: Yeah, that’s obviously some extremely important work you’re doing. So switching gears, can you tell me about your experience working with Brother Ali, Chuck D & Killer Mike on the track Civil War from The Martyr album?
IT: Well Chuck D was a last minute addition to it (laughing). We had him come on maybe like a week before the project was due. Brother Ali I’d talked to for a while about doing it, as well as with Killer Mike. I went down to Atlanta to work on some music and had known Killer Mike for a while so when we linked up it was just a natural occurrence. His flow was perfect for the beat. I rhymed about the industry and the way they see us, how they want us to be a caricature of ourselves because that’s what appeals to them. I said the civil war isn’t between a region but instead about people who are willing to play into that corporate minstrel shit. Imagine any other group of people being always stereotyped for being themselves, they’d honestly feel hurt by that. So how do you think we feel when we see ourselves being nothing but villains, criminals and stupid people in all the movies and music we feed to our children. Killer Mike took it as the Civil War is the fact that we have all of these street organizations that started out as being revolutionary but now are gangs that prey upon each other, willing to fight to the death against people who are not the enemy. Then Ali of course comes and closes the show by saying these are civil rights we are taking from people based upon our perception of what their religion is and what happens if we do that again. Let us not forget what the happened last time we did that, which was World War 2. So using some economic issues to make one group of people, regardless of race or religion, the scapegoat for all the problems of the country is just the stupidest, and yet, the most creative propaganda scheme that you can come up with. The Government covers their own ass from things they fail to do to protect its own people from corporations that now control the government, which is the reason we don’t have checks and balances in this country. They checked how much balance they needed to influence congress and all the other branches of government in some way, shape, or form, and cash is king.
TIS: Unfortunately, you couldn’t be more correct. So in your opinion then, what can one person do to start making an effective difference in the world?
IT: I think that a person should realize that if they have a day job or they’re locked into a responsibility that supersede’s other things, like being a father, mother or single parent, then finding one thing that is a revolutionary act is the way to go. Find one organization and work with that. Don’t blindly think that you can run off on some idealistic crusade in which you can save the world. You change the world by changing it for the people around you. The first person you’re supposed to be a hero for is the people that are directly around you. Don’t stand on the street waiting for someone to get robbed so you can be some fucking superhero who gets his brains blown out. So I think if you want to make a difference, you do it by doing that hard, tedious work that isn’t glamorous. Revolution isn’t a glamorous thing. It requires losing sleep, handing out flyers and things of that nature but it also a lot of creativeness and I would say that is what I’m looking for in 2012. I’m looking for people who are asking how can we be more creative with revolution? Shouldn’t we stop just having Hip Hop shows and bake sales for this? What if we had a company that provided a real service for people, something that was necessary and instead of becoming a predatory corporation, we used that company and its money to support positive cause to destabilize the system and work within it to a point where we don’t need them to facilitate our lives anymore. A point where we can facilitate them ourselves.
TIS: Absolutey. So in close, what would you like to be remembered as when future generations look back at your work? A revolutionary? An MC? A Poet? All of the above and/or anything else?
IT: I just want to be remembered as someone who wanted people to think free and wanted people to be free, whether it’s at the end of the day, or at the end of the mortal coil. I think obviously that history is written by the winners and whatever the political climate of the future will be will define how people perceive me. For example, there’s a man called Vlad Tepes, Vlad Dracul, he was a mass murderer, a psychopath, a killer. The man that they designed Dracula to represent, Vlad the Impaler he was called. He impaled all of his enemies and while we see that as horrific, there are people in Eastern Europe who see him as a hero, as a savior of Christianity who fought against the Ottoman Turks. Of course, they leave out the historical context that the reason they had to deal with the Ottoman Turks was because during the fourth crusade in 1204, being the morons they were, and instead of fighting anybody of Islamic background, they attacked Zura, in modern day Slovenia, and then destroyed the Visintine Empire, which was the buffer state to the Turks and every other Islamic entity that would rise after that. So in doing that, they created those issues in Eastern Europe. And of course, they only remember 1453 when Mehmed II finally took the city of Constantinople. They don’t remember before how it was was split into the Empire of Trebizond, the Empire of Nicaea, the Duchy of Acheae and Despotate of Epirus. I think that what’s important in that story is to show people that I can’t necessarily control the specifics of how people see me. So I’ll just tell them that I put the truth out there, I put the historical facts into Hip Hop to show us how much history repeats itself and that if we truly want to evolve as a human race, we need to stop sticking each other in these ridiculous categories. Maybe that’s what is going to be the ultimate outcome of this cataclysm that everyone says is coming. Maybe we’ll stop training our kids to stop looking at someone and automatically seeing them as Black or White or of this religion or that one etc, and instead, as a human being. Maybe we can stop forcing our ideas like, “I don’t want them to marry this person because they are of this religion or this color” on them. I personally want my daughter to marry the strongest man in this fucking room, the smartest man in this room, because everybody else is probably going to die. That’s the sickest and saddest thing in this world but if anything comes of the terrible reality that could potentially befall mankind of this worst case scenario that everyone keeps talking about, hopefully it’s unity and it’s that people are willing to not fall into the same trap that we’ve been plagued in the past few centuries. It’s time for us to accept our humanity and begin to evolve as people.
TIS: And that’s knowledge. Thanks so much for your time.
IT: No problem. Thank you for the support.