We’ve previously reviewed the original press release cuts from this album. You can read the initial review here.
The hype and expectations surrounding the release of Immortal Technique’s new album have been extreme. Suffice it to say that upon the release of some of the demo tracks last month, that hype grew, and the feeling surrounding the album was that it was going to be an excellent addition to Tech’s discography, as well as provide an extreme jumping off point for underground hip-hop and global awareness. Upon listening to this album a few times all the way through, I can say that its strength and vision match the hype.
The album kicks off with the “Death March Intro,” a dark and forceful pounding beat backing a vicious 2 minute verse. Where other rappers are content to put a brief intro at the beginning of the album, a skit is standard, Immortal Technique hammers the first track to set the stage for what’s to come. The intro is followed up by “That’s What It Is” which utilizes explosion-like bass sounds in the background and scratching throughout. Tech on here spits about the current state of things within the hip-hop industry and world at large. He rips fake vegetarians and Aryans and talks about his growth as an artist both in content and sound. This moves into “Golpe de Estado,” a slow, trudging beat that utilizes the parade march song from Godfather II as Tech, Temperamento and Veneno lace the track with verses in Spanish. While I can’t understand much of what’s said in this song, the beat and the forcefulness of the lyrics make it enjoyable.
“Harlem Renaissance” showcases the initial strength mentioned in the original album review…Tech’s ability to stay on point and keep his flow tight over music that sounds unconventional on a Tech album. It also shows the type of boost in production evident throughout the album. The moving beat, hand claps and overlaid strings take a small bit of the bite out of Tech’s flow, and to good effect. The song’s backing is musically inspiring, and Tech over the top finds just the right balance between his more relaxed flow and the battle tenor he takes into other tracks.
This is followed by what I view as the weakest track on the album, “Lick Shots,” and amazingly, it’s not because it’s a bad track. The verses, with guest spots from Chino XL and Crooked.I are incredibly solid. The only problem with the track is the repetitive nature of the chorus and the fact that it sounds too fake for Tech. The chanting of “Lick Shots for the Revolution” is tiresome by the end of the track, but again, this weakness only further accentuates how strong the verses are. On other tracks it’s easy for Tech to overshadow his guest stars, but here their verses are just as strong and make for a track that’s great to listen to even if the chorus falls short.
The first beats of “The 3rd World,” while retaining the ragga-street melody style of tracks like “Peruvian Cocaine,” employs a thump and kick beat that’s harder and more fleshed out than Tech listeners are used to hearing. His mastery of lyrics, both in how he fuses lines and words together while never losing sight of his content, is again in full display here with lines like, “from where the bombs that they used to drop on Vietnam/Still has children born deformed 8 months before they’re born.”
This is followed by “Hollywood Drive By” which utilizes a much more mainstream musical backing to accentuate Tech’s flow about blowing up the traditional industry. This is a great example of the irony and intelligence Immortal Technique employs. It’d be easy to rap about taking over the industry and taking down the major labels in typical fashion, but by lacing the stronger than industry standard lyrics over a West Coast style backing that you’d find on the radio, Tech brings to your attention that it doesn’t matter how bouncy the beat is if you’re not rapping intelligently over it. On the advance tracks I was sent, one of them was a radio edit of a freestyle Tech had done a few years ago called “Watch Out.” Amazingly, even though it was an edited version, I absolutely loved the song. Here, “Watch Out” gets a revamped sound. Some of the lyrics have been tweaked, but more importantly, the flow has been re-recorded and sounds incredibly sharp over a beat that samples from the Apocalypse sounding symphony from the central battle scene in Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith. The combination makes this track fire and perhaps my favorite on the disc.
When “The Payback” comes on with a vintage hook that could have come out of a Kanye song and laid back horns, the initial auditory reaction is to think the lyrics are going to follow those pop sensible lines. But when Diabolic opens with, “I want to run for President and the focal point when I’m campaignin’/is to put FEMA to work on plantation at Camp David,” it becomes clear that nothing has changed but the background, and even that difference is then altered by Diabolic, Ras Kass and Tech’s forceful delivery and unmistakable style on the third verse. (*Editor’s Note: Thank you to StreamofConsciousness for the correction on this portion of the review. See Comments for the original text that has been corrected) By the end of the cut, as much as you could imagine hearing the beat on a radio station, Tech has made it completely his own, and you can’t imagine someone rapping about women, money or any of the other surface level topics popular in the genre today. The song is all the stronger for it.
But Tech is not one to allow listeners to fall into a false sense of expectation. Rather than follow “Reverse Pimpology” up with another listener-friendly and accessible song, Tech uses it as the set-up for his usual album spoken word track. On “Open Your Eyes”, he uses a dark, trudging beat, accentuated with the eerie refrain, “Open your eyes before you die” to speak over on issues concerning the 3rd World, privatization and the abuse of natural resources and indigenous peoples overseas. This dark track is again contrasted nicely by “Payback,” featuring Diabolic and Ras Kass, a song with a laid back beat accentuated with solid horns. Here, Tech definitely lets the beat influence his flow as he relaxes more into the track. The gruff sound of his voice remains, but the pacing is less frenetic and stands out well against the track.
“Stronghold Grip” sees Tech invite Poison Pen and Swave Sevah onto one of the grimiest tracks on the album. The undulating synth work, high pitched overlay and driving bass come together to provide the backing for these three to rip. What’s solid about this track is that unlike other guest spots on the album that feature one verse, these three go back and forth throughout the song, making it a much more collaborative effort than the other lyrics on the album. Tech then throws another curve ball by following up this heavy effort with the more light-hearted and comedic “Mistakes,” which incorporates stories from various points of view of mistakes…a cigarette smoker dying, a player that sees the high school girl he was careless with stripping in a club, a rapper looking back and lamenting signing the major label contract. The melody helps carry the track with Tech’s sense of humor, and his story telling of these mistakes stays true to subject matter.
DJ Green Lantern’s remix of “Parole” comes next. This track is solid. You can hear Tech’s rage over being incarcerated in his voice as Lantern’s marching bass line keeps the head nodding. While a number of the songs on this album are fantastic because of their contrast in terms of musical backing and Tech’s vocals, this track stands out because it sounds like the perfect stylistic harmony between the two, a true blend of their similarities. “Crimes of the Heart,” featuring Maya Azucena finds Immortal Technique rapping about instances of betrayals of the truth and the heart. From this track and lines throughout other cuts, it’s clear that Immortal Technique finds the idea of self-betrayal and dishonesty despicable. The guest here from Azucena provides a nice contrast to the other tracks by bringing in a female voice on the chorus. The background with spacey synth work serves to both ground Tech’s lyrics and set Azucena free to fly over them. The difference between the two makes this song stand out from previous Tech songs, keeping the beat ominous while providing uplifting moments in the form of Azucena.
The album closes with “Rebel Arms” including Da Circle and J. Arch. This track is a great bookend to the album, taking it back to the war-heavy march of the intro and allowing Immortal Technique to run wild with one of the more pointed cut downs of the music industry on the CD. The track gives the final parting shots to the industry, and closes it out on the themed ending. He opens with “The game is polluted with rappers that are really snitches/and most DJs are nothing but industry bitches.” As the track ramps up with added strings, Tech ups his rap and creates an epic sound. The only surprise here is that Immortal Technique doesn’t get the last verse on his own album, but when he’s already said so much, who needs it?
This album had a lot of expectations to live up to, both in my mind, and the mind of other fans following the hype and anticipation surrounding its release. These expectations were amplified when the first advance tracks came through, and I’m very glad to say that the album delivers on all levels. The lyrics continue to carry a consistent and strong message from Immortal Technique, while the production by DJ Green Lantern and several others including Southpaw, reaches a new level from Revolutionary Vol. 2. All told, The 3rd World is a fantastic stepping stone in Immortal Technique’s career, one that shows his diversity and ability to work with other artists while still forming an album that is both musically and philosophically his, without any sacrifice of ideals. It takes a lot to refrain from selling out to an industry and the prevailing bling culture surrounding rappers, but this album demonstrates that Immortal Technique does not face those issues, and only continues to grow in his artistic vision and political message.