Part two: Immortal Technique discusses faith, college and jail
Larisa Alexandrovna
Published: Tuesday February 17, 2009

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Religion vs. spirituality

Raw Story's Larisa Alexandrovna: On religion Ė many today seem to frame it as faith vs. belief. Do you have faith or do you believe?

Immortal Technique: I definitely have faith in myself, but I donít think there is necessarily an applied balance to the universe. ... I think that you are on a path in some way, shape or form, and things are likely to happen if you do certain other things and you place your belief on a specific direction. But to answer your question, I am not an incredibly religious person. But there are some rituals I may observe, as we all do, without knowing necessarily where they come from. Like when you carry your wife over the threshold of your crib or you say grace or when you say "Our Father." Sure I may have said a prayer before I eat, but I believe that we pay so much attention to religion in itself, but we donít pay attention to the history.

LA: Give me an example of this.

IT: I know people who can quote the Bible for days but donít understand anything about the time when Jesus Christ was born of it, or the time of fledgling Christianity, when it was in its fetal stage. So when I look at that, I think of someone telling me, "Hey you know, I know what America is about because I read the Constitution. I never read American history, but I have read the American Constitution. So I know what America is all about." You know?

LA: Right. Yes.

IT: And Iím like, "No you donít. You know what America is in theory. You know what America is in terms of what was written down 200 some odd years ago. You have no idea what America is about because you have never read about manifest destiny, about the Mexican American war, about the Louisiana Purchase, about World War II, The Civil War, slavery and so forth." You know?

LA: Sure. Of course.

Underground battle scene

LA: How are you getting across to your audiences? I mean your music is incredibly complex and involves topics that most Americans are unfamiliar with.

IT: I think I try to put things in a way that implies what I am talking about, you know? I think putting together historical facts to rhymes and metaphors helps people to understand what it is I am talking about, and it gives people a direction if they want to look up something in a particular discipline. Like putting a bookmark into music and saying "Look over here." I took some of these songs that I wrote as a young man, some in prison, and the majority of them I compiled into an album called Revolutionary Volume 1.

LA: Yes, I know. I have the album.

IT: Thank you.

LA: [laughs] Iím not sure if I mentioned this to you when we have talked before, but I approached Rolling Stone about me doing a piece on you and the music. Your metaphor structures, your use of imagery, the internal rhyme and the way you use it, and the passion and focus on politics. My contact there said that you were "too niche" and didnít have mass appeal.

IT: Too niche?

LA: Yeah. You know, how niche can you be if I am digging your work, me Ė a refugee from the Soviet Union, a Jew, a white female in her mid thirties who studied literature and poetry? [laughs]. There is some hip-hop I like, but it is limited to people who have something to say, like 2 Pac. Not guys glorifying and sensationalizing their street cred and sexual prowess.

IT: Not surprising. If you do something [positive], they donít want to hear nothing about it. You know, if I had been shot a few times [or] if I was promoting gang violence or something, then they would want to write about it.

I wanted to study the dark side of revolution. My music is really violent, but not violent without direction, you know?

LA: That is a really good way of putting it. Yes. And your music is not really about a political party or the simple way in which government and politics are viewed.

IT: Yeah. My music is not like "Okay, there is a right-wing authoritarian conspiracy." Iím like "Now donít you understand that the same way American has colonized and used its influence the Caribbean, Central and South America, and parts of West Africa is the same exact thing that the USSR was doing to Eastern Europe?" It is two empires that are competing and if we consider one as a perversion of democracy, then the other is a perversion of socialism. That is not real socialism. That is not real communism. It is an ideology that is used to sell a specific interest. Look at early Christianity, where the faith was brought together and unified under a state religion and later, subsequent wars were justified by the religion, even though the religion did not teach this as just, right?

LA: Yes, but the perversion of democracy and the perversion of communism have a common thread: capital. The emphasis is not on human rights or a just social system, it is simply a matter of who controls the capital. Either way, there is no "we the people" in any of it. But because we are running short on time, can I ask you about a song or two?

IT: Yeah.

College and incarceration

LA: Why did you choose Penn State? Why not a school in New York?

IT: I think itís 'cause we took a road trip to Pennsylvania and I saw the logo or something. [laughs]... I donít know. It was something. I like the football team.

LA: How long did you attend?

IT: About a year.

LA: But you got arrested, right?

IT: When I was growing up in New York, I did really fucked up things that I look back on and think that was just fucking stupid. We were robbing people, breaking into motherfuckersí cribs. And it was not because I was starving. I was by no means rich. I had the basics. I just wanted shit. I realized later that it was really selfish and childish. I realized that if I wanted something I could work for it instead of taking it from someone else. I was following the blueprint laid out for me by the colonizer. So at some point I realized I had to take personal responsibility for myself and stop blaming my situation on others.

LA: But that arrest was before that realization? What was the arrest and imprisonment for?

IT: I took that mentality I had to school with me. My first few months of school, I went to a party and me and my people from school got into a gigantic fight with a bunch of crack dealers and we beat the fuck out of them. And looking back at this as a young adult, as someone who was just crawling into adulthood at that time, I think to myself, you know what? You are lucky you did not get yourself killed with that bullshit. But I did get arrested on a gang of assault charges.

LA: So a year at school and a year in prison. Two different types of education.

IT: Yeah, it is weird, you know? A year and a year.

LA: You did not continue your education at Penn State?

IT: I was suspended for a year. But I donít like the way they handled it. I highlight these things about me and my personality as a young adult to emphasize not how bad I was, but to show you how far I have come as an individual. I am so far from that now.

LA: So what did you do after you left Penn State? Did you continue your education in New York on your own or augmented that with classes?

IT: When I got out of being locked up, my dad allowed me to be paroled to his house, but he had one condition, that I go to school at least part time. So I went to Baruch College in New York for two semesters. It was interesting. When I was at Penn State, my GPA was like a 2.0 because I did not give a fuck about shit. I never clicked with the classes. You know, whenever there was something that had to be read for school, I would go into the library and I would find a book that was completely not related. You know, I would find a book like Tecumseh and the story of early Colonial years or some shit like that and I would be like fuck, this is so interesting, you know? So when I went to Baruch I took strictly political science classes and my GPA was like 4.0, 3.9 and I realized that this was what I wanted to do the whole time.

LA: Thanks for your time, Tech.

IT: Thank you, Larisa.

Click here for part one: Breaking the stereotype: An interview with hip-hop artist Immortal Technique

Larisa Alexandrovna is Raw Storyís Managing Editor for Investigative News. She can be reached at [email protected].

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