Posts Tagged 'underground'

Black Milk – Tronic Review

While traditional record labels and the overall state of radio hip-hop is in a sad state of decline, there continue to be a rash of good underground coming from the Midwest. A little while back we caught up with Minnesota’s DoomTree, and last month I spoke about the stellar album from Detroit’s eLZhi. eLZhi’s The Preface, with a large amount of production provided by Black Milk has been on repeat on my iPod for a while, so I was excited to hear word of Black Milk‘s solo effort, Tronic, hitting shelves tomorrow. But you don’t have to wait til then to read about it… we got a sneak peak this weekend.

Black Milk’s work displays a feel for both the progressively electronic side of hip-hop, as well as nods to the nostalgic feel of using old samples. Both work to great effect on Tronic, and while some cuts are much stronger than others, the album’s diversity of sound and style provide something for any hip-hop listener. On “Long Story Short,” the album opens with a simple piano rift that is then covered up by a pulsing beat and heavy melody pieces to form the backdrop of Milk’s rhyme describing his ascension in hip-hop. As the song ends, horns come in to help transition the piece back to the easy piano of the beginning, almost as if he doesn’t want you to forget that he appreciates both the gentle and heavy-hitting aspects of the genre. This gives way to “Bounce,” a darker song using heavy synths that sound like they could have come out of the Blade Runner soundtrack. Black Milk’s style lyrically on this song uses quick starts and stops, breaking his lines up and sometimes rearranging words to emphasize points. How he feels he fits in is obvious when, lamenting the current state of hip-hop he states, “that’s when I clock in as an option when you need a breath of fresh oxygen.”

“Give the Drummer Sum” mixes bass and snare drums with some traditional horn pieces and a sped up sample with “it makes no sense.” While the song is solid, it exhibits one of Milk’s traits in that at times he seems to try to do a little too much. The heavy rapping and funky drums fit nicely over the melody of the song, but the sample seems like one piece too many. This moves into “Without You,” a fantastic inversion of the usual hip-hop love song. Here, rather than taking the time to rap about a special woman in his life, he takes the opposite tact by rapping about how much better he is on his own. What’s special about this song is that he puts it over a playful and bouncy track, helping this break-up song to avoid any bitterness or darkness so commonly associated with them. It’s a welcome twist to a common theme.

“Hold It Down” comes next and rips with a beat and synth combo that sounds like it could have come out of an ’80s pop song like “Tainted Love.” But just when you think it might be a slow rehash, Milk uses the head nodding beat to rap quickly, ripping through the song in a way that feels like lightening on wheels, while still mixing in a stop and start that keeps it fresh. This is followed by one of the strongest tracks on the album, “Losing Out” with Royce da 5’9″. The strength of this album comes not just in the speed of the verses, but in the successful mixture of the futuristic sound some of the songs aspire more to while interspersing a repetitive and backbone providing sample. Unlike the repetition on “Give the Drummer Sum,” which wears thin by the end of the track, the use of the sample here as catalyst for the verses keeps the entire cut moving.

Heavy bass synth rules the DJ Dez featured track “Overdose,” and successfully conveys the feeling of an overbearing and heavy runaway train. But not one to become too bogged down in one style, or leave the listener too overwhelmed, this is followed by the easy flow and lightly vocally backed “Reppin for You,” which includes another fantastic line regarding the state of the industry when he spits, “This dude asked me/, ‘what’s the answer to this hip-hop cancer/, I’m so hungry for real shit I feel like I’m fasting,'” and at times it feels like Black Milk, in his desires to be both progressive and retro, is starving to provide something real on multiple fronts. “The Matrix” is the cameo cut on the album, with appearances from Pharoahe Monch, Sean Price and DJ Premier and is followed nicely with the hi-fi sounding “Try.”

One of the most solid aspects of this album is that even in the heaviest rapping moments, Black Milk never wants the listener to forget how musically focused he is. Numerous songs have extended musical portions and the instrumental “Tronic Summer” exhibits this beautifully, taking a relaxed beat and infusing it with synths and keys for an easy driving song. Throughout the album, Black Milk does a good job of mixing up his style and production. At points futuristic and at others retro, Tronic displays a musically and lyrically diverse piece and while a few tracks hit a bit too hard for my liking, the overall feel of the album is sure to please anyone looking for some solid new hip-hop.

Immortal Technique – The 3rd World Review (full album)

We’ve previously reviewed the original press release cuts from this album. You can read the initial review here.

You can read Evolving Music’s exclusive interview with Immortal Technique 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.

Immortal Technique Interview, Part 3

Immortal Technique Cover Art for The 3rd WorldThis week we have posted two parts of our exclusive interview with Immortal Technique. In these interviews Tech has discussed his method for writing music, the effort it takes to self-produce an album, his views on global politics and current events, and insight into the creation of his upcoming album, The 3rd World. In this final segment, Tech talks about music revenue, the remix culture and the upcoming Presidential election.

For Part 1, click here.

For Part 2, click here.

AC: Going off of that in terms of revenue and economy, there has been a lot of talk of internet piracy hurting the income of musicians. In “Obnoxious,” you advocate people to “burn it off the fucking internet and bump it outside,” so you obviously don’t feel that piracy is hurting you. What do you think the difference is between the reality of what musicians make from song and album sales on iTunes, and what the record industry wants consumers to believe they make in order to discourage music piracy?

IT: I definitely would like people to purchase The 3rd World in stores and purchase it online, but I think it was more of a way for me to express my frustration with the music industry. I can’t believe they have the audacity to call anybody else a thief. As much money as they steal from artists, as much as they don’t have a health care program for any of their artists, and I look at stuff like that and I’m disgusted. They go to these conferences and tell kids, “How can you steal a record?” I’m like really?

AC: They’re stealing from their own artists.

IT: How come you steal from your own artists? How come you’re selling the masters of your own stuff to be bootlegged in order to generate a buzz in the hood. You’re doing it to yourself and then you want to blame other people? You Godless piece of shit. How dare you try to take the moral high ground with the rest of the society by claiming that someone else is a thief? Really? What about all the Black artists who R&B and Soul were based on, whose masters were bought up in a fucking fixed contract? How about all the people who never got the money that they deserved because someone else slapped their name on a fucking recording, who didn’t have anything to actually do with the process of making this music, or didn’t participate in any of the song writing? How about all the publishing that you owe people? That’s tantamount to reparations that you owe the Latino and African-American communities. So before they talk about stealing money, they should realize that when you point the finger at somebody, there’s three fingers pointing right back at you.

Besides all that, I think that even though it‘s a great thing to be able to download music, there’s bad things to it too. Like when you don’t want a record to leak yet and then it does. So it’s not like I think downloading is great all the time. I definitely don’t want my record to be leaked before it’s ready to be leaked, cause it might not be the correct version of the song, or I might have wanted to change something to complete my artistic vision. But I think also that what needs to be said is that it’s not downloading that’s killing the music. It’s the fact that a whole bunch of people who don’t know shit about music are in charge of a music department. Like I’m glad that you went to the Wharton Business School, I’m glad that you know how to market a record, but that doesn’t mean you know shit about music. Unfortunately, that’s the problem with Hip-Hop, that’s the problem with our culture. We have a whole bunch of people who have no connection to our culture dictating everything for us. We’ve given a valid opinion to people who are not connected to us, over us.

AC: In the musical aspects of your recordings, how much control do you feel it’s necessary to have? Would you be in support of remix work as long as it didn’t distort your artistic message?

IT: I don’t know, remix work is touchy. I understand people sampling a track or something, but being able to take all of your work and re-do it and release the project and not give you a cut off anything, that’s different. You want to take a song and burn it off the internet, that’s fine. But if you’re burning my music off the internet and then selling it, that’s a whole different type of fraud. That’s not just regular fraud, that’s a violation. That’s some shit that’s going to get your IP address tracked down and beat the fuck up. If you follow my tour with a fucking camera and then try to release a DVD of all my shows, and you’re trying to charge people for it, you know what, I’m not even going to let the law handle you, I’m going to handle you motherfucker.

And I think that this is the point that I’m trying to make…it’s acceptable for people who can’t afford your music or can’t find it in the record stores, which was the issue with Revolutionary Vol. 2 to do that, but I always felt like it didn’t affect me as much because the people that really believed in my work and really believed in my music, they were the same people that were willing to go to the record store after they heard it and try to find the album, or they downloaded it and said, “You know what, I really like this so I’m going to support it.”

AC: Politically and philosophically, you’re the most in depth rapper when it comes to discussing important issues. But a lot of them, racism, poverty, crime, terrorism, religion, breakdown in the educational system, corruption within the political system, these are all tied together, so it becomes like a ball of string. Where do you start unraveling?

IT: I think sometimes I try to take a historical approach more than anything else. Try to talk about how racism came about, talk about the history of terrorism and the history of our involvement in a country, talk about the history of a war and our dealings with specific countries. Then we create a chronological order to follow wherein we take note of specific time periods and the progression of the way in which we became enslaved or became free, or the way we advanced ourselves so we can break them down into subsections. That way we can say, “Ok, this is the origination of this, these are the contributing factors of what made this happen, this is how this plays to this.” Then you start with the origin in history of all of these things because they all do have an origin in history.

Slavery has been around since the Hammurabi period in Mesopotamia, so I think we can look into the origin of lots of things. In terms of whether it’s Communism or Socialism, I mean, it doesn’t start with Karl Marx. I’m sorry to disappoint the adamant White left that sees him as a god. He’s not the father of Communism, he just decided to write down some ideas that were prevalent in all societies going back thousands of years. African and indigenous peoples had a sense of collectivism before Europe even had a structured civilization. That’s not to talk down to Europeans or anything, but just to make the point that this has been going on and the history of our people is older than we can imagine it being. Even the kingdom of Egypt is 4, 5,000 years old, and that doesn’t even begin to describe the kingdoms that came from the Nubians that gave rise to the Egyptians, even though Egyptians are touchy about that subject. But it’s true. These are things that we need to acknowledge, we need to embrace so we can understand our civilization better rather than just falling into the category we always do of being hateful of every civilization besides our own. We need to learn the lessons from history or we’re going to be doomed to repeat them again.

AC: On that note Tech, I have one more question for you if you have time.

IT: Sure.

AC: Basically, our current Administration in this country is a joke. They’ve infringed on our civil rights, deleted emails, judicial firings, and they’ve gotten us into wars we shouldn’t be in. On “Freedom of Speech,” you say, “I love the place that I live, but I hate the people in charge.” We have an election coming up. Do you see any real potential for change in either of these candidates or does it look like more of the same to you?

IT: I think it will be more of the different. It’ll be different things. Obviously we’ve made trillions of dollars of investments in Iraq, and as much as I’d like to believe Barack Obama, who by the way I did vote for, because I vote in every election. Not because I necessarily believe Democracy can’t be circumvented, but more so because when presumptuous motherfuckers come up to me and be like, “Did you vote dude?” and I’ll be like, “well actually I did and it didn’t make a motherfucking difference so get the fuck out of my face and organize something different. Stop thinking that the only way that we can appreciate the democratic rights that we fought for are by voting 25 times every century.” I think that democracy is the institution we set up, not just for voting, and I think that Barack Obama, if he’s elected, will be able to implement more social programs for the benefit of the average American than John McCain. The war will not end. Barack Obama talks about change. You know what’s going to happen? The war’s not going to end, the war’s just going to change. It’s going to be a different war. America tried having a war that was justified by nonsense, a war that was narrated by an idiot. Now they’re going to have a war that is justified and narrated by an incredibly articulate and incredibly intelligent man, if Barack Obama is the one that’s elected. But he’ll have an excuse for it, and for everything, and just from his speech at AIPAC, I don’t think that America’s position on the Israeli-Palestine conflict is going to change. I really don’t think that we’re just going to up and leave Iraq, like I said, the war is just going to change.

AC: And again, that’s assuming we’re intelligent enough to put Obama in when this is a country that for 8 years went with Bush.

IT: Right. He might not even win. We have to realize that the places he beat Hillary Clinton were because people didn’t want Hillary Clinton to win because of the Rush Limbaugh factor, where people were saying, “you know what? We need to smear Obama, we need to make sure he doesn’t come out of this looking rosy, so I want Hillary Clinton to be voted for.”

AC: Right. Well Tech, I won’t take up anymore of your time. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk today.

IT: No doubt. And remember, June 24th, you’ve got The 3rd World, Immortal Technique and DJ Green Lantern, will be on sale in every store, be on, and of course you can preview the record on

So there you have it folks, Immortal Technique’s exclusive interview for Evolving Music. Start getting excited for The 3rd World to drop as the tracks I’ve heard off it are phenomenal. They continue the trend of excellent music supported and punctuated by vicious and powerful lyrics and masterful delivery. Evolving Music and MixMatchMusic would like to thank Immortal Technique for his time in doing this interview, as well as Dennis Paredes, Sam Donado, Public Wizard and Viper Records for helping to make it possible.

Immortal Technique Interview, Part 2

On Monday I posted part 1 of my interview from last week with Immortal Technique. In it, he touched on his method of writing music and creating albums, his inspiration, his time in prison and his previous work with DJ Green Lantern. In part 2 of this interview, Tech talks more about his upcoming release The 3rd World (due out June 24th), capitalism, the foreign policies of the US and perception of Third World countries. Check back Friday for the third and final installment of this interview.

AC: It’s my understanding that the title of this album, The 3rd World, is also a metaphor that looks at the recording industry as being almost US Imperialistic-like, and the underground scene being more of a 3rd world country, is that correct?

IT: Absolutely. And even in the way we’re presented, they present the underground as some little backwards ass place where nothing really gets done, the same way they say, “the only way that some of these 3rd world countries can be efficient, the only way you dark people can have any sort of success is to privatize everything. Privatize your water, your communications, your transportation industries, sell us your diamonds, sell us the rights to your oil.” And that’s what the industry does when it comes in to deal with another artist. “In order for you to get on, what you have to do is change your image, take the political content out of your music, change the way we market you, sell us your masters, sell us your publishing, sign a 360 deal where we get a huge percentage of your merch and your fucking shows.” And I’ve always looked at that as utter ridiculousness, and I can’t accept stuff like that.

In the same way that that’s done to our people overseas, that’s done to us here. And we’re not any more efficient than anyone else. We think that because of the technological advances of our society that that makes us morally superior and more civilized than anybody else? America still has election fraud just like West Africa; we just had that in 2000. We still assassinate our own presidents; we just did that what, 35, 40 years ago? And after that, Bobby Kennedy? And we’ve had political assassinations after that. We have a high murder rate, we’re a gun culture, we’re no better than anybody else. We’ve definitely funded horribly authoritarian regimes, and then we sort of step away from that.

I look at the example of El Salvador, where we put 1.8 billion dollars a year into a Civil War to fund paramilitary death squads. And because we’re not physically on the ground doing it, we step away from that as if we had nothing to do with the repercussions of it and the horrible human rights abuses, the torture, rape and murder that even ended up claiming the life of an Archbishop of the Catholic church simply because he was telling the troops that were funded by American money and the CIA that it was un-Christian to oppress their own people. And it was un-Christian to commit political genocide against people who thought differently from them. And that it was the will of God and Jesus Christ to show mercy to the poor and to realize how corporations were exploiting people. That’s not Christian Socialism, fucking idiot, that’s Christianity, that’s the spirit of Jesus Christ.

If I come into a room and you’re having a debate with somebody, and I give you a set of kitchen knives, or I give you a gun, and I leave the room and I say, “Handle your business,” and lock the door behind me, just because I’m not in the same room as you when you do what you need to do, or when you do what I put you up to do so I can gain the benefit of you controlling that room economically, that doesn’t alleviate me from the moral responsibility of what has happened there. And I think that that’s something that the American empire will have to admit or it will destroy it in the long run, because truth crushed will always come to light. I’m afraid that Leo Strauss, father of Neoconservatism, was deathly wrong. It wasn’t that Liberalism failed. It was that America became schizophrenic, because on the one hand it claimed to be the bastion of freedom and democracy, and on the other hand, it was a racist police state for Black people and it was spreading its own brand of Imperialism to the rest of the world, just like Russia was. What Russia did to Eastern Europe and Asia was the same thing that America was doing to West African and all of Latin America and the Caribbean. So where’s our moral high ground? Didn’t we do deals with the Taliban before? You want to find excuses for all of this, that’s fine, but you’re just lying to yourself. These aren’t conspiracy theories, these are real life issues. We created the Saddam Husseins, we created Manuel Noriega, because we needed people like that.

AC: Now tying that back into the labels of the underground, what do you think the underground labels need to do, both separately and together, need to do in order to create the kind of backlash needed to change the current industry structure?

IT: Really just make music that has soul. Make music that you want to. I know that there is a trend to just make music that’s radio friendly, this one’s for the radio, this one’s for the bitches, quote unquote. I just make music and then after the album is done, I say to myself, “ok, what can I see playing on the radio? What is more for the streets?” Whereas other people tailor their music for this or that, or they’re like, “Oh, yo, this isn’t a really dope song, these aren’t really great lyrics, but this would probably make a really hot ringtone.” Like, at that point, what the fuck are you really doing?

AC: That leads me to an interesting question. Lately, I don’t know if you’ve been reading about it, but there’s been a few really well publicized stabs at independently releasing albums for free on the internet by Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. Do you think those releases were an important step in the way the industry is changing, or does the fact that both of these groups were already well established and wealthy enough to release an album for free make it more of a publicity stunt than anything else?

IT: That’s an interesting argument. I mean, can you have Capitalism without capital? That’s essentially what the argument is. Could America have had an Industrial Revolution without the capital it built up from slavery? Probably not. The reason that we abolished slavery was not because we had some sort of guilty conscience. Even in the beginning of the 1900s, they kept African people in the Bronx Zoo as proof that they were the link between man and monkey. They used to keep Pygmy Africans there. I mean, this is reality. Racism was backed up by Eugenicists, by racial science, by the church even, in order to justify continuing the profit margins of slave traders and one subsection of the country. Whereas the other side realized, “You know what? It’s much more efficient for us to be able to have free men do their labor. They work much more efficiently than slaves, and we don’t have to pay for anything. They have to pay for their own things.” The money that they get is regenerated and recycled into the economy itself, it creates a stronger economy.

In the same respect, I have to say that that’s a beautiful concept, and if someone blew up just doing that and giving away their music for free, then obviously they had some other job, but I guess these cats have the benefit of already having a multi-million dollar success. But I wouldn’t necessarily categorize it as publicity stunt or something that was done with some sort of two-faced attempt at garnering even more of a fan base. I mean, it seems like they were just honestly putting their reputation to the test with their fans. They could have miserably failed, and it could have done nothing, and it could have been broke, but they gambled the right way. Obviously they have a very loyal fan base. It’s something that I guess, you’re right, can only be done with a fan base that’s committed to the artist.

AC: Now going off on fan bases, you tour and you make a point of spreading your music outside of the US. What have you seen as the state of record industries in other countries, and how has going abroad helped you spread your message and build your base?

IT: Well I can spit in English and Spanish, so definitely anytime I’m in front of a Latin American audience, or a Spanish speaking audience in Spain, we’ve been able to look at that and think to ourselves, or I think to myself, how far this hip-hop culture has actually come. In other ways though, I look at it and think that in Africa and Latin America, when I’ve been there, people don’t buy anything but bootleg albums. No one goes to the store to pay the equivalent of 10 dollars for a CD because that’s literally like a week’s wage.

AC: The word of mouth surrounding you obviously has been increasing greatly in the last few years, and you’ve done this all without the major labels’ help. For someone like you who was told that the marketing of your music would be difficult, and your content would be difficult to sell, how have you attacked self-marketing, and what has the growing success meant in terms of changing your strategy now?

IT: Lots of people, not just the record labels, told me that this wasn’t going to be lucrative or that no one was going to care, but I was fortunate enough to believe in myself and say, listen, I’m going to do whatever I want, with or without the express permission of other people. There’s no gatekeeper for me. I don’t need somebody to co-sign me to put me on.

Anyone who has supported me has never been because I twisted their arm, it’s been out of the goodness of their own heart because they felt the truth in the music. So I think in terms of marketing myself, I don’t need to create a rap persona, or a different personality in order to sell records. For me, it’s just as simple as getting the word out and getting the music to people. The music sells itself, and the message sells itself. It creates an even stronger support base because we’re drawing in from lots of people who don’t get their struggle talked about, lots of people who never really had the benefit of Hip-Hop addressing some of the issues that they’re dealing with.

For example, I have a song called “Harlem Renaissance” on The 3rd World, wherein we take the struggles like what goes on in Bosnia or Kurdistan, where people are being ethnically cleansed, and struggles in Palestine where people are losing their land to a foreign government’s occupation, and we relate that directly to what goes on in the inner city communities where we’re being ethnically cleansed economically. Where gentrification is changing the face of the neighborhood, but not for us, because the only reason they’re making the neighborhood better is so we can get the fuck out so they can raise the rent or create condominiums that go for 1.5 million dollars, and in the hood, you know people don’t have that type of money. So essentially what you’re saying is “Get the fuck out.” Like one of those rich country clubs, where it’s like, “You know what, it’s not that we don’t want Black and Latino people here, it’s just that it costs $150,000 to be here, so we know who’s going to be here, we know who’s not going to be here.”

In the same way that in the future, there will be a racism based on the reality that there will be different races. There will be a race of people who can afford to be genetically modified and say, “I don’t get AIDS like the rest of you fucking people. I don’t get cancer like you. I was fixed from the point that I was conceived and had different genes added to me to where I’m not as susceptible to levels of cold and heat the way you are, my skin doesn’t develop cancer the way yours does when exposed to this climate.” There will be people who are specifically tailored that way, and that’s going to be based on money as well. All of these things, whether or not we know it, are creating even more divisions in our society, so we know who’s going to be able to afford that sort of modification, and it damn sure ain’t gonna be the majority of the people in Africa or Latin America or Southeast Asia. It’s going to be rich people living in the 1st world. And those of us that look like our people, that will be able to afford that, are only that because they’ve been working for people who have been exploiting our land, and those traditionally are the people who control this country. (Editor’s Note: For an interesting fictional representation of the type of expensive genetic modifications Tech envisions here, check out Gattaca.)

Click on this link for the third and final installment of the interview where Tech talks about the current music industry, remix work, internet piracy and the upcoming Presidential election.

Immortal Technique Interview, Part 1

Immortal Technique has been on the scene, steadily gaining in influence and word of mouth for several years now. His first two albums, Revolutionary Vol. 1 and Revolutionary Vol. 2 redefined what rap music could be by not just mentioning public and political issues, but by intelligently, eloquently and powerfully incorporating them into a coherent message meant to spur action in the listener.

On this blog, we’ve previously reviewed an Immortal Technique show, as well as given many readers a first glimpse of Tech’s highly anticipated new album with DJ Green Lantern, The 3rd World. Last week I had the opportunity to speak with Immortal Technique and ask him a few questions. Due to the length of the conversation, and in preparation for the June 24th release of The 3rd World, I’ll be posting this interview in 3 parts, because how else can you tackle posting an interview where you talk about everything from writing rap lyrics to local politics in over 9 pages? Check back later this week for parts 2 and 3 of the interview with Immortal Technique.

AC: I want to start first by talking about your music in general, then I want to talk about The 3rd World release and the recording industry specifically, and then I’m going to ask you a few questions about your ideologies, political philosophies and views on some of the current global issues.

One of the strongest things about your music is that you remain independent, and you’re honest and unfiltered. On your first two albums, you incorporated a wide variety of styles from songs like “Caught in the Hustle,” which has a very South American sound to “Freedom of Speech” that borrows from Pinocchio. You also routinely include lyrics in Spanish. On The 3rd World track that I’ve heard, “Golpe de Estado,” has Spanish lyrics over a Godfather song. What’s your process in terms of writing your lyrics, and finding the music for them when it comes to your Peruvian birth, Harlem upbringing, and subsequent global experiences?

IT: I think that all of these things bring themselves together in a crux of cultural diversity. I’m from New York City, which is very different from the rest of America I must say. Anyone who is reading this who is in New York, or anyone who is reading this from a place in San Francisco or a place in LA, they have to realize that these large cities are very different than what the rest of America looks like.

Due to the fact that we have so much influence from other places that even Hip-Hop itself comes from the fact that Kool Herc brought all these records back from Jamaica and started spinning different things, and the African drum influence comes from so many different cultures and we have so many different people to thank for the advancement of this type of music. And I think that that being the case, it’s just another example of diversity for me about the music that I make.

AC: In your online postings and your blogs and song lyrics, you have a vast knowledge of social, economic and political issues and you cover a lot of topics almost all at once. Then at other times, the battle aspect of your rapping background comes out more. When you’re writing your lyrics, how do you approach dissecting a topic that you want to talk about and forming the structure of the message that you’re trying to get out?

IT: It really depends. There are some songs that have taken me, for example, two or three years to write. Something like “Dance with the Devil.” Then there’s a song like “Bin Laden” that took me one night to write. I wrote “Point of No Return” in a week, I wrote “Caught in the Hustle” in an afternoon. So I think that it just depends on how inspired I am. And not just how inspired I am by a track or if one takes longer to write, it doesn’t mean I’m less inspired by the subject matter or by the effect it’s had on my life, but more in how I’m inspired about conveying that message. Because something may be a little more delicate in terms of the way I want to analyze it in my mind, say, listen, this is surgical precision that I need in order to get this subject across because it deals with something so serious. Not that stuff that I write very quickly doesn’t deal with something serious, but maybe it’s a more natural flow and it’s more like, alright, I just feel this right now, so worse comes to worse, I come and edit the lyrics later. Sometimes I edit them, sometimes I don’t. So it depends a lot on the conceptuality of the record, that’s usually what it starts with.

In the past, when I was in prison, I just wrote lyrics that were based on what I felt and what I was seeing around me and what I was seeing going on in the world even though I wasn’t there, and how I felt about that. And how I felt about being a slave. The reality about me being released and saying to myself, “Hey, I’m actually free,” and all the different levels of freedom I felt. Because when I was incarcerated, I felt like I was trapped. Then, when the CO’s threw me in the hole and 23/1 where I’m in a restricted housing unit and I only get to leave my cell for half an hour a day, you know then I think I’m even more trapped. I get out of that and think I’m free, then I get out of prison and I think I’m free but I’m still on parole, then I get off parole and think I’m free, but I still can’t get a regular paying job because of my criminal record, and I can’t get into Canada because they won’t let me in there because of my criminal record.

So there are lots of degrees to the way I perceive things, and I guess the change in my life and the way that I conduct myself, and my maturing process, not just my voice getting a little deeper and raspier because of the 100-150 shows I do a year, but all these factors coupled with the evolution of my flow and how I decided to make music has definitely changed the way I do songs now. Whereas in the past, I might have wrote verses first and then found a beat, now it’s more about constructing a concept, then maybe getting a hook together, and then structuring lyrics that really cement the subject matter into one perfect unison.

AC: It’s one thing to be on an independent label, and then it’s another thing, like you, to have complete control over your lyrics, your music and your message. Could you talk a bit about the beginning to end process that you have to personally go through to create an album where everything on it is yours?

IT: (long sigh) Ya, that’s the process. That’s the process right there. Work, work, work. Like you just said, you summed it up, I have to do pretty much everything myself. I’m learning to delegate responsibility a lot more, but most of it still falls on my shoulders. And while I have people that help me out like the people at Viper Records, and people that help with the visuals, and then I have people who are constantly trying to come in and contribute whatever they can, I appreciate all of that. I don’t ever look down on anybody just based upon what their particular position is, because I started out not being very well known, just selling my records around the hood, and then when I was finally able to expand my fan base, I never ignored the people that originally bought my records. I never changed my style up to suit other people and make them feel better about themselves. I still wanted us to be able to talk about the problems that we have, but not just in a complaining manner, but also how to fix them, how to take personal responsibility for some of our issues, or I should say for all of our issues, because we’re the only ones who are going to fix them, not somebody else.

It’s definitely an incredibly huge process from the conceptualizing of all the records like I just said, to writing all the lyrics, cause don’t nobody else write music for me. Sometimes I bring samples to people because I want to use these specific samples, or I’ll come into the studio with a melody in my head and be like, “Can we play this out,” and people will say alright. When I have to meet up with other MCs, or I have to get to someone else’s studio, I’m driving up there myself. A lot of do it yourself stuff, of course, that’s why I get the lion’s share of the paper.

AC: That provides a perfect segway, as the next couple questions I wanted to ask are dealing specifically with The 3rd World. This album has been highly anticipated and the collaboration with DJ Green Lantern is kind of a new direction for you. How did the idea for this collaboration come about?

IT: Well, it’s a new direction in the fact that I’m doing an album with him, but I’ve done plenty of songs with him in the past. I did the “Bin Laden” remix and the original “Bin Laden” back in 2004, and I did the “Impeach the President” in 2006, and I just recently was featured on the Grand Theft Auto 4 soundtrack that he was on. So I’ve always worked with Green Lantern, it’s just that I had originally come to him telling him I wanted to do a mixtape, and he had come to me telling me, “I don’t want to do a mixtape, I want to do an album, I want to have an album in stores,” and I was like, “Alright, we’ll make that happen.” And he was telling me, “Whatever I need to do to help you with that, let me get you some instrumentals,” so he gave me some instrumentals, and we basically started out doing stuff for The Middle Passage and Revolutionary Vol. 3, but eventually, it became such an overwhelming display of music. Not that it didn’t match the conceptuality of The Middle Passage, although some of the songs didn’t, it was more of the fact that it was its own project as soon as I stepped back from it. I was like, “Wow, I have like 19 songs here. What the fuck? I’m sitting here with 20 songs, I’m sitting here with 25 songs.”

Some of these are definitely for The Middle Passage, some of these, like the song “The 3rd World” talks about the correlation between poverty here in America and police corruption here in America, and those same issues being mirrored in the Third world. To me, it was incredibly important to make those subjects known, especially now since we’re going into a different political climate. It’s important not to lose sight of that, because I feel like certain demographics of people in this country benefit from their relationship with the places they come from, and why shouldn’t Black and Latino people have the same? Why shouldn’t we be able to express ourselves on a national platform? I think the fact that Latino people have allowed immigrants to be demonized so much, that’s not all on the White media, that’s on us, because we’re living with that, it shows us how weak and pathetic our community leaders are in the face of all this stuff, because they put up the most minimal struggle. I really think that there has been a complete under representation of the struggle against this. One march on May Day is the culmination of all this? It’s an ongoing fight that’s never going to end, and yet we’re not unified about this, and that’s why they’re capable of demonizing us and vilifying us, and I believe it’s a disgrace to our people to allow something like that. So it’s a personal responsibility of our people to get it together.

Follow this link to part 2 of this interview where Tech talks more about The 3rd World, the music industry and global politics.

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