In a recent interview with the British music press, Chuck D of Public Enemy courageously split with the conventional wisdom concerning the quality of hip-hop produced by Kanye West and Jay-Z. The Ventura-based musician claims he doesn’t get Watch the Throne. “Hip-hop celebrates those who wanna make a killing instead of a living. I like those guys [West and –Z], but they make me laugh sometimes because I don’t get who they’re here for other than themselves.”
Which brings us to the presence of Immortal Technique.
Peruvian by way of Harlem, hip-hop artist Felipe Coronel graduated from that proverbial school of hard knocks (as opposed to other, more materialistic rappers who, judging from their videos, graduated from the School of Hard Knockers), committing various crimes and finding his way to state prison, in which he honed skills both lyrical and survival. Voyaging from the brutal, vanity-crushing New York battle circuit, he moved quickly to producing and recording a series of records. 2001’s Revolutionary Vol. 1 (coincidentally released just three days after 9/11) led to two subsequent Revolutionary volumes before his latest, last October’s compilation, The Martyr.
They were recordings entirely self-financed and self-released, fueled by an enthusiastic fan response, propelling him into the troposphere of underground hip-hop. Even across a decade of rhyme-slaying and globetrotting — and all the wealth and debauchery that that implies — he’s found more satisfying work not in words but in deeds. In 2009, he partnered with the charity Omeid International, which looks after the welfare of 1.5 million orphans in Afghanistan, to create the Amin Institute, which most recently built an orphanage in that war-torn powderkeg of a country. It was an orphanage not built with corporate hand-holding but instead with the proceeds culled from album sales, ticket sales and merchandise sales.
Such good works do not go unnoticed. Last month marked the DVD release of the documentary The (R)evolution of Immortal Technique, which starred everyone from Dr. Cornel West to Ice-T and Woody Harrelson (and the aforementioned Mr. D). The film (the streaming version of which contains two fewer hours of footage than the DVD) covers more than a decade of original footage as well as images of Immortal Technique from his youth and troubled adolescence to the rap battles that boosted his confidence and skills — a byproduct of which is the thoughtful and articulate manner with which he discusses such wide-ranging topics as the global prison-industrial complex, hemp law reform and just why the Illuminati are in reality only a disproportionate distraction.
Up next is his fifth album, The Middle Passage, selections from which will likely appear throughout his most recent tour, which includes his traditional appearance at the Rock the Bells Festival in San Bernardino.
Socially conscious hip-hop is rather like the Frosted Mini-Wheats of the genre: you know you should eat it, and supposedly it’s good for you, but there’s this nagging feeling that it’s a bit dry and dull. The taste is often slightly off. Immortal Technique, however, presents an activist and involved vision of hip-hop; one that isn’t obsessed with chastising or criticizing you because you have stepped out of line with the party line. Immortal Technique is not a scold. He is hip-hop’s antidote to cynicism and nihilism — selfishness metastasized within the musical body politic. There is an atmosphere of envy that permeates much of hip-hop: the suspicion of wealth destined only for self-gratification, of good money after bad.
Aren’t you the least bit curious about where your money goes when you pay to be entertained? To realize what it does and what it’s for? Immortal Technique has the bottom line. It’s about awareness. You can keep the change. F
Numbskull Productions presents Immortal Technique at the Ventura Theater on Sunday, Aug. 19, 8 p.m., $20-$22 with support from Akir, Diabolic, Swave Sevah, and DJ GI Joe. Go to www.venturatheater.net.