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Gibson writes: "Mainstream hip-hop music is regularly criticized for being overly consumerist and turning more toward glorifying brands, designer clothes, and excessive wealth as opposed to its origins as a revolutionary form of music that began as a creative outlet for young people growing up in impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhoods."

Carl Gibson and Immortal Technique. (photo: Carl Gibson)
Carl Gibson and Immortal Technique. (photo: Carl Gibson)

Interview With Immortal Technique

By Carl Gibson, Reader Supported News

25 September 13


ith the shortage of good-paying jobs and the explosion of student debt, it's becoming even more apparent that the millennial generation – those who came of age in the turn of the millennium – is the first generation of Americans to be less well off than their parents. The millennial generation is also one of the first generations of Americans who grew up in the age of hip-hop. Mainstream hip-hop music is regularly criticized for being overly consumerist and turning more toward glorifying brands, designer clothes, and excessive wealth as opposed to its origins as a revolutionary form of music that began as a creative outlet for young people growing up in impoverished, crime-ridden neighborhoods.

Peruvian-born Felipe Andres Coronel, known by his stage name of Immortal Technique, is an avid supporter of the Occupy movement and is one of the more successful hip-hop artists leading the charge to take hip-hop away from the vapid music industry, using his music as a way to convey revolutionary messages to his listeners. His third album, The Third World, was released for free online, peaked at #99 on the Billboard 200, and has since been downloaded 1.2 million times, the equivalent of a platinum record in the days of the music industry before the internet. Immortal Technique and Brother Ali, another independent hip-hop artist who has been arrested at Occupy Homes actions, performed in Madison, Wisconsin, on Saturday, September 21. I spoke with Immortal Technique about how he uses his music to inspire action, and about the future of revolutionary hip-hop. Watch a full video of the interview here.

Carl Gibson: Tech, thanks a lot for sitting down with us. I appreciate this.

Immortal Technique: Thanks for having me.

CG: You're doing a lot of great work, not just in the movement, but in the music scene in general. You're starting to become more of a big name in hip-hop. And I've noticed this is a really revolutionary crowd here in Madison. Talk a little bit about how you use your music to inspire revolution in young people.

IT: I think for me, when you talk about revolution, it's very easy to romanticize picking up a gun or marching in the street, but I think before we take any of those actions, violence of course being the last one, we first have to have a revolution of the mind, to have that sort of realization and understanding that you're dealing not with America, but the mythology of America. You're not just dealing with colonialism, but the mythology of colonialism. Not just white supremacy, but the mythology of white supremacy. Not communism, but the mythology of communism. Not just capitalism, but the mythology of capitalism, et cetera. I think that, if people can get to the historical understanding of these things, it makes the direction we're heading in society a lot clearer. I think when you realize that, for example, something like democracy has been on the opposite side of capitalism in the history of America, going back to the robber barons, I think that tells a lot of stories, and also explains how there was always a buffer of working-class white Americans that were pitted against other working-class Americans. And it really has a lot in common with the struggle against the people that were keeping their wages low, depriving them of having health care benefits for as long as we can remember in society. I think when we get to those interpersonal stories, it helps to build that camaraderie between people and understanding them. And even maybe the people at the top, the rich kids, are saying, "Hey man, I don't want to be a scumbag, that's the legacy. I don't want to just take take, I want to be able to give something back. Obviously I can't be responsible for the actions of my forefathers. But if I do nothing to correct that, if I continue to benefit from it, if I live in denial of what it is, aren't I just a continuation of that legacy, and can I break away?" And the answer is yes. It doesn't matter what race you are. It doesn't matter what religion you are. I always tell people: If you want to be a part of hip-hop, you just need to have a heart. You need to have the courage to tell the truth.

CG: That's one of the things that really got to me about 2Pac's music. I remember as a young white kid growing up in Kentucky, I couldn't directly relate to it. But when I got older and listened to it again, I noticed that 2Pac spoke directly to young people by relating their situations through his lyrics. Like in "Keep Ya Head Up," "You know it's funny when it rains it pours, they got money for wars, but can't feed the poor." And that's just as true today as it was back when he wrote those lyrics. Do you think the lyrics that you're spitting and Brother Ali is writing, do you think you're starting to break through the noise of the consumerist mainstream hip-hop machine a little bit?

IT: Well, it's hard to do that without having access to the same sort of gigantic corporate machine that they have, but at the same time, we're definitely making inroads. If we can sell out a venue that's just as big as this in Omaha, if we can sell out DePaul in Chicago tomorrow, which looks like it's going to happen for 1100 or 1200 people, then obviously everyone will know that we can affect between 700 to 1000 people at a time in damn near every city in America, then I think that's a good start. It also tells people, and gives them an example, how independent hip-hop is able to do this without gigantic corporate support. We don't have Pepsi sponsoring the tour, we don't have Monster Energy Drink sponsoring the tour. Probably because I don't drink that shit. What I'm trying to say is that if we can rely on the power of the audience, and if we can pick and choose the sponsors, and say, hey, can we just be sponsored by some shit that doesn't kill people, know what I mean? Something that doesn't fill their body with toxic carcinogens, something that doesn't fill their body with chemical poisons that people spray on your food to make it feel like it tastes good when really it tastes like shit. If I can do that, then we send a message to people that it's not question of either being the most radical individual in the world, and fuck conformity on every single level, and it's not about being an über-sellout, like I'm going to start prostituting myself and selling Doritos on TV or some shit. You have to find a medium to advance your career at some point, and then you have to make that decision. What's it gonna be? Are you gonna continue down the independent path, or did you just build this business up so you could sell it someday? Let's say you have a car repair shop, things are going really well, you got like two or three of them, you say hey, if you want your car fixed, people start associating that with you. They say, "Man, this guy has really cheap deals, great service. Fuck it, man!" One day you say to yourself, some people want to invest billions of dollars and go national. But I don't want to lose control of this ship. Someone else is going to take over for me. Or I can stay with this kind of mom-and-pop thing. And I'm still making a million dollars a year." What are you gonna do?

CG: Speaking about the state of young people today, certainly it's different than in 2Pac's heyday, where you know ... now we've got a trillion dollars in student loan debt that's accumulated, young people are living with their parents when they graduate from college and it's really hard to find good-paying jobs these days. Given the state of young people today, especially this generation that your music speaks to the most, do you feel that this sort of mainstream corporate music is becoming less relevant and music like yours is becoming more relevant to our situation?

IT: I mean, I think that's obviously something that only clairvoyance or the future can tell, but I definitely see a trend in people paying more attention to what I do. Not necessarily do I think that's a correlation of them paying less attention to everything else, it may just be a conscious expanding of more young people who have never heard of me going out and wanting to learn more. That's one thing I'll say about myself, I definitely do attract a very diverse crowd. I've had people come up to me and be like, "Yo, I just like hardcore metal bands, and I really don't like hip-hop, but I liked your shit because it was violent and violence has a purpose." You know, similar to a way that a lot of really, those gory, like, scary rock n' roll bands had all the devilish imagery. But at the same time, it's not because they were devil worshippers, they were saying that society is run by devils. It was human society that created these things, they become the devils. This is what you worship. This money is what you worship. This idea is what you worship. Now, most of those guys went on to like the living in a castle in England type of shit, selling their merchandise like fifty bucks a shirt. So, at some point, art has to be, you know, trade itself, conform to the old strict guidelines set forth by how it was going to act in the future. But I think for me, one of the best things that I've been able to do is to present people with the idea that you don't have to either choose to save the world or become a sellout. I say to people, "Listen dude, how can you save the world if you can't even save yourself? Why don't you try to affect one person's life who's in your life, and that would be historic." I went to Afghanistan to open up a school and an orphanage. If I can succeed in those conditions, what's to stop anybody here in Madison, Wisconsin, from succeeding in changing their community here? I'm not trying to sell pipe dreams to people. I'm not giving them some fake utopia. I'm not telling them it's easy. If it was easy, everyone would do it. But you don't fight the fights you can win, you fight the fights that need fighting, you know? That's the most important part.

CG: In terms of the next, say, 4 to 6 years, there seems to be a growing number of young people who are taking an interest in directly affecting the political system. Not just through organizing movements, but through independent runs against the two-party duopoly. I know in your song "Leaving the Past," you had a lyric, "Humanity's gone, smoked up in a gravity bong, by a Democrat/Republican Cheech— "

IT: "Cheech and Chong."

CG: And, you know, there seems to be a growing movement, and growing desire, for independent political forces. Do you think people who listen to your music, or people in this generation ... do you think there's a future for that? Can we take over this political system in a nonviolent manner through methods like that?

IT: I think that's one option. I don't think we should exhaust any options. I think all of them should be on the table in dealing with a corrupt system. Dealing with people that support fascism, even in a passive-aggressive way. If you're afraid of me speaking my mind because it somehow threatens your belief system, that's the welcome mat to fascism. It's like, when I deal with people that are fanatically religious, I tell them, "I can't believe that your faith in your God is so weak, that the fact that I don't believe what you believe in makes you ultimately threatened by my beliefs." You know? If a person is Muslim, if a person is Jewish, if a person is Christian, if a person is atheist, Buddhist, you're Hindu, dude, as long as that makes you a better person, if it makes you see people as human beings and treat them better, then I think that's a positive thing in life. But if makes you more pious, if it makes you more judgmental, if it makes you more holier-than-thou, if it makes you think that somehow God created you better than anybody else, then not only have you failed that religion, that religion has failed you. Not only has that religion failed you, but you have failed as a human being.

CG: Now, in terms of social movements here, you mentioned if people are threatened by you speaking your mind, then that's the welcome mat to fascism?

IT: Mm-hmm.

CG: Have you heard about the crackdown on the daily singalongs at the Wisconsin State Capitol? Basically, what's happened in the last two years since the uprising at the capitol, a group of people have started getting—

IT: Oh, I saw this! When they arrested like, a war veteran, and they stomped on his American flag and shit. What the hell was that, yo? I was furious about that. My brother was in the Marine Corps, and he was fuckin' angry as hell. He was like, "Yo dude, here's a dude who risked his life for his country, and he's getting his flag stomped on by a mall cop?" Dude, I don't even know who that guy is. But that's just crazy to me. You can't even sing? You can't even petition your government in some way, shape or form? That's not the welcome mat to fascism. That's when you leave your boots at the door when you walk in the house. That's just ridiculous. I think that if Mr. Walker wants to set up a totalitarian regime, he should move to South Carolina with the rest of the fanatics. But I'll be there too, to wipe you out at some point. But the point I'm trying to make is not to divide it among demographics, or to show people that if you're willing to shame the devil, if you're willing to shame the government, and to say, "Look what you're doing. You're arresting people, they're singing. You're arresting peacefully demonstrating people who aren't trying to burn anything down, you know? So how would you react if you did have that? Is that what you prefer? Would you prefer us to have a riot, so you could justify an over-inflated police budget? So you could increase that buffer zone in between the one percent and everybody else?" At that particular point is where you see how racism defends classism, because you do have a situation where you'll take a working-class white population, and say, "Oh, you need a police force." Why? Because originally after reconstruction in the South, the rich white landowners didn't want to pull down their own plantation, they said, "No, we're gonna hire some of these poor people." They called the poor people rednecks. You know why? Because when they worked out in the sun all day, they busted their ass. Then when they came home, they took their shirt off, and they didn't tan too well, so they had a white back and a red neck. But the slave master, the man in the big house, he didn't have a red neck. He was under that porch drinking lemonade all day. Watching po' white trash. Because he ain't gonna marry none of his daughters to you motherfuckers. That's how they see you. But instead of looking at it from a class angle, it's automatically thrown into the racial paradigm. Which is unfortunate, because that's what America should have done at the very beginning. Like I always tell people, imagine if it was like it was on paper. Imagine if, when they had gotten here, brother, in 1776, and said, "Hey listen, you're from England, you're from Ireland, you're from Russia, you're from fuckin' Turkey. You're from Africa, you're all equal. You're all protected and treated the same." The reason I think that was impossible, was because the minute those immigrants came off that boat, they were on land that had been stolen from people who were genocided to make room for a colonial invasion.

CG: And I had one more question. It seems like everybody in this country, no matter who you vote for or what you believe in, everybody is really angry about something to the point of wanting to take to the streets. And it seems that the media and the politicians are intent on keeping us divided, like you said, along these false paradigms. What are some ways that we can bring this righteous anger together under one people and really affect change?

IT: I mean, obviously, I choose the medium of music to be able to speak. But there are so many ways to do it. Through independent journalism, you know what I mean? Through teaching in prisons. That's something I definitely did before that I look forward to doing again, even though it was very difficult. But I think beyond just that, people are willing to give their time, and not just their money. Or rather, if people are willing to give their time and not just their money, they'll find that investment goes a lot farther than signing a ten-dollar check off to some organization, telling them to deal with their own problem. Actually having someone there physically caring, another human being, sharing a comprehensive amount of experience in their life, saying, "Here's what's going on with me. Let me break it down for you." I think that we're seeing more of that, so if you have people willing to challenge the status quo in their mind first, or anyone else, that speaks for how far we've come. And I just wanted to give a big shout-out and say solidarity to the people out there singing. Because, you're not breaking the law dude, you're being American. You're being more of an American than that lunatic who's unfortunately driving drunk with the state behind him. So, God bless you. Keep up the good work.

Carl Gibson, 26, is co-founder of US Uncut, a nationwide creative direct-action movement that mobilized tens of thousands of activists against corporate tax avoidance and budget cuts in the months leading up to the Occupy Wall Street movement. Carl and other US Uncut activists are featured in the documentary "We're Not Broke," which premiered at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. He currently lives in Madison, Wisconsin. You can contact him at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , and follow him on twitter at @uncutCG.

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