Socialist View, No. 15, Spring 2006
Revolutionary Volume I & II, by Immortal Technique
Reviewed by Olivia O'Neill
THE COMMERCIALISATION of Hip-Hop and Rap music, originally a class-conscious music bred in US ghettos, is one of the biggest tragedies to hit music and contemporary culture. Now one of the most popular and widely acclaimed forms of music amongst working-class youth globally, it has abandoned its original community consciousness and sense of grievances by tumbling into the hands of sleazy money-makers, glorifying equally squalid gang-violence, misogyny and drug-dealing. Music is a reflection of the conditions and experiences of everyday life. In this regard we value musicians that have kept close-ties to their community roots and whose ideas are based on the everyday experiences of working people. Unfortunately the bulk of these musicians remain underground for that very reason. Rapper Immortal Technique who lived most of his life on the streets of Harlem is one example of an artist that has kept these close ties. He displays a great strength and skill in attacking the system under which we live as well as lamenting the grievances faced by black people in ghetto America.
Immortal Technique was born in Peru, South America. His family fled from Peru as civil war broke out in the early 1980s and moved to the streets of Harlem. Yet far from believing this was an escape, Immortal Technique instead exposes the ghettos are the United States' own third world, a theme that towers over the various journeys and inroads his lyrics explore on a social level.
Living in the poverty, unemployment, drug and gang problems in Harlem and being aware of the crisis in Latin America has shaped his anger and radicalism. His two albums of the past four years Revolutionary Volume I and II are dominated by political anger and radicalism but also a sad reflection on the harrowing experiences of crime-ridden unemployment and drug dealing.
One of his most famous releases "Dance with the Devil" (Revolutionary Vol I) reminisces on a single night in the life of a young gang-member who is coerced into raping a woman of the neighbourhood. The purpose of the song is to show the horrific self-destructiveness of capitalist society in one youth's quest to gain power through desperate measures, someone "who's primary concern was making a million…the product of a ghetto-bred capitalistic mental". Throughout the song the phrase "there's no diversity because we're burning in the melting pot" is repeated, effectively creating the sense that society is doomed under these conditions.
The attack on mainstream rappers who've abandoned their communities and preach backward and harmful ideas to young people is epitomised in the song "Jedi Mind Tricks". "Your mind is empty and spacious like the part of the brain that appreciates culture in a racist. Face it, you're too basic, you're never going to make it." Perhaps the most glaring statement in his lyrics is the one that says that successful rappers should be ashamed of their lack of politics and apathy in the current political situation.
This rapper's radical politics and aggressive protest formulated in his songs, are not something seen commonly in music. Even the political folk-songs that are of course valuable, are dated and irrelevant to many young people. Virtually no other contemporary genre has put forward political views in such a straightforward way since punk. In the song "Freedom", the rapper refers to his difficulty in finding a record deal that would take his music out of the underground clubs of Harlem and Brooklyn and publicise it all over the world. The song is an angry rejection of the control massive US corporations have over Hip-Hop artists that were effectively forced to diminish any loaded political statements. Even rapper Eminem's most political songs were banned by MTV and radio so he retreated to the more radio-friendly sexism and poor humour.
Immortal Technique attacks the entire political and media establishment in "Freedom" (Vol II) revealing the exact nature of how music and its messages are controlled. The more controversial "Bin Laden" (Vol II) is more developed, making genuine political statements about the occupation of Iraq and particularly the resistance movement.
"They say the rebels in the rags still fight for Saddam …
but I'll show you why that's totally wrong
Because if another country invaded the hood tonight
There'd be warfare through Harlem and Washington Heights
I wouldn't be fighting for Bush or White America's Dream
I'd be fighting for my people survival and self-esteem
I wouldn't be fighting for racist churches from the South
I'd be fighting to keep the occupation out"
Immortal Technique and his music portray the radicalisation that is spreading amongst working-class youth throughout the USA. It is a refreshing light shed amidst the apathetic mainstream that dominates the media today. Yet additionally, throughout the catalogue of his music there are tones of provocation in demanding a need to get organised. His music offers a positive and pro-active answer to the harsh realities of capitalism.
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