By Zoneil Maharaj
Oct 8, 2006 - 12:00 AM
An interview with Immortal Technique
Immortal Technique and the Brown Berets, a Chicano activist organization formed in the 1960s to combat police brutality and push for equality in education, are in a portable office behind the Sleep Train Pavillion while De La Soul is rocking the stage at the Rock the Bells Festival IV in Concord, CA. They’re discussing the founder of the vigilante Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, Chris Simcox, and his announcement to turn to education reform. Moments before, Immortal Technique and Akir took the stage with the Brown Berets, who were draped in militant garb and black sunglasses. Together, they looked like Public Enemy and the S1Ws.
The half-black, half-Peruvian Harlem native encapsulates the same radical voice as the political pioneers of hip hop within his stout and stocky frame. Hip hop, as he says later, is not the end-all agenda for Immortal Technique. He aims to educate and inform listeners about the issues that mainstream media are afraid to address, and hopes his message gets to the public by any means. “If you don’t have the album, go steal my music. Download it, burn it for your friends. Bump that shit in front of 5-0, bump that shit in front of your racist principal,” he exclaims during his performance.
We were blessed with the opportunity to chop it up with the revolutionary emcee. Originally, the interview was for the Rock the Bells multimedia review, but we ended up delving into a wide range of topics. Rather than break him into sound bites, we give you the full interview with links to the issues he addresses, the issues mainstream media neglects. Or, if you’re too lazy, you can click on the links next to each question to hear his answers. Radical voices like Immortal Tech’s are rare in hip hop, so read on (or listen) and let him school you.
OH DANG!: What was it like performing today with all these different cats? We got old school, new school, east coast, west coast, underground, mainstream – all different types of hip hop…
I’m prided on being one of those artists that has a diverse fan base. You know what I mean? Who made Snoop and Dre go platinum? White people, right. Who makes Jay-Z go platinum? White people. I’m not one of them artists that has just white fans. I’m an artist that has a lot of love in the Latino community, not because I play “I wanna be down with ya’ll” but because my interests coincide with their interests. I’m an individual that gets a lot of love in the Muslim community...a lot of rappers used to shout out Allah’s name in the 90s when it was cool to be Muslim. They used to scream Allah’s name like he was hosting their mixtape. After 9/11, a lot of rappers tucked their dicks between their legs and started talking like bitches because they decided they weren’t Muslim no more, that it wasn’t cool, that the demonization of Islam isn’t something that was happening. I thought that was fraudulent. I thought that was disrespectful, and I’m not even of that religion.
I was out there talking about what was really occurring in terms of the historical perspective on how we have intervened in the Middle East and given Saddam Hussein weapons, how we supported the Shah (the King), how we secretly gave the Ayatollah Khomeini weapons. How if we talk about building democracy in the Middle East, how come all the allies that aren’t Israel are military dictatorships in Pakistan and princes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Jordan. That’s so democratic, right? The King of Jordan, when the fuck is he gonna hold an election? Why don’t you ask him, son of a bitch. That’s what I talk about, and I feel across the board. I feel like I don’t have fans, I have supporters. It’s not about just me, ‘cause if I was rhymin’ about some different shit, they wouldn’t like me no more. But I rhyme about what I want to. Not because of their pressure, fuck that, it’s because it’s what I want to do.
To me, it’s not important who I was on stage with. I have a lot of respect for all these acts, whether people wanna call them old school or new school. To me, they’re just true school because they represent themselves. There’s no one out there acting like, “I’m a criminal or gangster,” they’re just who they are. That’s why I like this festival, ‘cause people come out and be who they are. And I am who I am. There’s no frontin’ in what I do. This isn’t a marketing scheme. If I wanted to, I could have sold a lot more records by selling out, but I would have no control over the content of my work. I would have no economic control based on the units that I move. I move less units now as opposed to being on a major, but I get a larger percent of the profit.
OD!: Last year, the nor-Cal Rock the Bells was held on a street in San Francisco, this year it’s bigger but it’s in the middle of nowhere in Concord. Are you seeing hip hop being pushed out of urban communities?
No. It’s the same people that were here last year. I don’t rhyme about what these other niggas rhyme about…but there’s a diversity here that belongs in hip hop. I think that if Chang (Weisberg, founder of Rock the Bells and Guerilla Union) were to lose that, he would lose the core as to what people come to Rock the Bells for. He’ll have Wu-Tang and then he’ll have someone like Aesop Rock. He’ll have Living Legends, and he’ll have Immortal Technique. They’re all being who they want to be, but they all represent a different aspect of hip hop. I think that in itself is a positive example of it and I haven’t seen that change from last year to this year. If it gets bigger and promoted more, it gives me the opportunity to come out and put a message out there about what’s really goin’ on in my people’s hood, and it gives other people the opportunity to rhyme about whatever the fuck they want to. That’s fine. I turn everything into my personal political agenda.
OD!: What was the difference between last year’s Rock the Bells and this year’s?
Last year I just did a guest spot in L.A., I didn’t come to open because I do everything on my own terms. I was on tour and we had passed by all these areas and we did something that fit, so that’s why we were there. This time, I just came to do these two shows and then leave. And then I did a fundraiser in East L.A. for a school called Academia Semillas del Pueblo, which I thought was very important because this was a specialized school for children from kindergarten to the eighth grade that was given bomb threats because of conservative talk show hosts and their ramblings and rantings about the school.
OD!: I noticed when you got on stage and started rapping, some cops started to line up on the side…
Who cares? Fuck ‘em. Of course they’re interested. I know they started coming on the side because I said, “Fuck 5-0!” If someone said, “hey, fuck Immortal Technique,” I’m sure I’d come on the side and go, “Who the fuck is this nigga?” They didn’t like what I had to say, and I didn’t like what they’ve had to say to me in the past. Look, they wear riot gear, they have guns. If they’re offended and intimidated by my words, maybe you shouldn’t have that job, bitch.
OD!: Most rappers talk about making a change and a difference, yet few act on it. What motivates you to work with the Brown Berets and other community organizations?
Hip hop is not the end-all answer to what we’re doing here. There’s not one channel that we need to deal with, ‘cause we’ve been colonized on so many different levels: religiously, economically, culturally— everything. Who we identify with, who we don’t identify with politically. We can’t just attack one of those venues, we have to form different institutions within our people that support the fight on every level. We need people to be educators to talk about the real history of America, no matter if it makes certain people feel uncomfortable or not.
Why isn’t America proud of its past? Didn’t it applaud itself as a conqueror of all the “mud races?” You’ll find it in all these old documents. And we’re not talking about the 1600s; we’re talking 80 years ago, 70 years ago. We conquered these people. We are America the great conqueror. Now you wanna be America the peacemaker. You can’t rub that tattoo off, that’s who you are. Wear that. You can’t front like you didn’t do that. It’s not to say that other people haven’t suffered too, of course there have been lots of people who’ve had a holocaust happen. Jews have had a holocaust, Armenian people have had a holocaust. We never talk about how our indigenous people had a holocaust. We don’t like to talk about the African holocaust – we’re talking about 100 million people who died. But because we’re viewed as lesser people because we died in slavery, they seem to think that, “Oh, now that you’ve been integrated into society and there are a few black rappers who are wearing some stones and metal on their neck, that makes up for it.” Because Will Smith starred in a movie, doesn’t mean that the per capita income of black people goes up. Just ‘cause Carlos Mencia’s on TV doesn’t mean our struggle has turned into some big joke and we can laugh about it.
It’s not funny to me when I see our people being attacked, when I see them telling lies about our people when we have a school like Semillas del Pueblo that teaches English, Spanish, Nahuatl (the indigenous language of Mexico), Mandarin, Chinese, and teaches the children a self-sufficient idea and personal responsibility rather than blaming white people for all their problems. They tell them, “Listen, you take it upon yourself to be successful,” and then to have them attacked? So that’s why we’re here. That’s why the Brown Berets are here, that’s why Immortal Technique is here. That’s why a lot of people are here. And I work with any organization that’s out there and committed to more than just rhetoric.
OD!: You were also out in L.A. doing work with the South Central Farms…
Until they tore it down. It was a beautiful place. It was a place in South Central L.A. and they were 350 families that found sustenance off this plot of land where they planted all sorts of fruits, vegetables, plants in the middle of one of the most polluted areas in L.A. And they provided goods for an entire community, cheaper than they would have over at the Food Bank or anywhere else. Then a land developer and a corrupt councilwoman by the name of Jan Perry – that’s right, I named you by name you little house negro – she decided she was gonna lose money in some land deal, so that’s how real estate plays. And they decided they were gonna move these people out.
They came in one night and attacked these people. The city had given the land to these people through eminent domain (in the 1980s). They (the former property owners) bought the land in some backroom deal from the city for 6 million dollars. Then a few years later, they decided they wanted 15 million dollars for the land. The people came up with 11 million. The story gets crazy from there. Basically, they had double the money that they had originally bought the land for and the guy (property owner Ralph Horowitz) said, no, we’re gonna turn this place into a warehouse or a trash-burning factory or whatever it is now, anything, but for you people. We’d rather burn trash, than see you spics have anything is the underlying message. And I got your message bitch, and I’m a give you one of mine real soon. (Educate yourself about the whole ordeal here.)
OD!: So what’s next?
I’m working on a mixtape with DJ Green Lantern. I’m also doing an album called “The Middle Passage.” It’s titled that because I feel like the rap game is like slavery when rappers go up to a label and they ask to be signed. It’s like them being on an auction block, like “Yes suh, I’s sells some records for ya, I’ms the best nigga hea.” They go up in there with that attitude and that’s how it’s been. That’s not me, that’s not how I do. I work on a completely different level…
We don’t say that nobody can’t have a disagreeing opinion from us. It’s the people that are extremists and racists, those are the people that don’t want to have the discussion. I believe that a white person can firmly have problems with illegal immigration, gangs, and the economics in their own neighborhood without being racist. I believe there are people out there that have serious questions about the domestic and foreign policy of Israel and they don’t have to be Anti-Semitic to do that. But the fact is that people wanna label certain things certain ways.
We’re not here to say stop the discussion, we’re hear to say let’s have the discussion, because you’re the one who’s afraid to have the discussion. You’re the one who’s afraid to bring up the historical facts. You’re the one who’s afraid to bring up the land rights that our people own. You’re the one who’s afraid to talk about the water being monopolized, the substandard schooling and housing that our people receive, so let’s not stop the argument. We’re not afraid to confront any facts. You’re afraid to confront the facts. So let’s put it on the table and let’s have it out. That’s who I am. That’s Immortal Technique, and if you don’t like it, well, then leave the country.
For more info on Immortal Technique, visit www.viperrecords.com.
Zoneil Maharaj is the editor-in-chief of OH DANG! Magazine. He is a afraid of heights, so he may never climb off his high horse. Send him love letters at firstname.lastname@example.org