Felipe Coronel is, all at once, a Peruvian-born student of history, a thickly-accented New Yorker, a child of Harlem, and an incredibly well-read man. Better known by his stage name Ė Immortal Technique Ė he writes and performs some of the most politically saturated and emotionally charged music to appear in the work of any American artist since perhaps Bob Dylan, only darker and more raw.
Tech does not create music that is peace-oriented or anti-war. He does not create music about gang violence or the need for racial equality. Instead, he explores the history of all of these issues and shows, rather than tells, his listener why he believes we Ė humanity, America, African Americans, Latinos, et cetera Ė are where we are.
In a song called The 4th Branch from his second album, Revolutionary Volume 2, for example, Tech sings:
Media censorship, blocking out the video screens
A continent of oil kingdoms, bought for a bargain
Democracy is just a word, when the people are starvin'
The average citizen, made to be, blind to the reason
The song is an exploration of how the United States got into the Iraq war, rather than something as overly simplistic as a call for peace. Who is responsible? How could this war have happened? Tech places the blame for the selling of this war on the shoulders of the fourth estate, the press.
Tech expresses his frustration with the whole concept of "fair and balanced" reporting, telling Raw Story that facts donít always have another side to them nor should two sides always be portrayed as equally balanced and equally legitimate.
"What if there is no other side of it?" he asks. "That is not enough for [the media]. They feel that they are supposed to present two sides of a story, which is great most of the time, or should be most of the time. But when it comes to the balance of those two sides, they take great care in making them equally balanced when they are not always equally balanced or even equally true. They give credence and legitimacy to ideas that deserve no legitimacy."
Tech was born in Lima, Peru in 1978 and first came onto the New York underground Hip-Hop scene as a battle rapper in 1999. In 2001, he released his first album, called Revolutionary Volume 1, and in 2002, his second album, Revolutionary Volume 2. With hardly any marketing campaign, he has become an underground international folk hero of sorts, from South America to the Middle East and, of course, on his home turf in Harlem.
Tech says that he uses imagery to explore complex issues.
"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.'"
In a song called "Peruvian Cocaine," for example, Tech presents the narrative from the viewpoint of each of the participants along the route of drug trafficking, from the poor South American farmer, to a political leader, to a drug distributor, to an undercover cop, and so forth. Each point of view, each persona, shows the listener their motivations.
The Peruvian leader shows one face of this saga:
Yo, it don't come as a challenge
I'm the son of some of the foulest
Elected by my people...the only one on the ballot
Born and bred to consult with feds, I laugh at fate
And assassinate my predecessor to have his place
In a third-world fashion state, lock the nation
With 90% of the wealth in 10% of the population
The Central Intelligence Agency takes weight faithfully
The finest type of China white and cocaine you'll see
Tech's interview with Raw Story was wide-ranging, extending from the Ottoman Empire to European colonialism in South America. He brings off conversation with the ease of a professor in front of a graduate level history class.
"We still emulate the European oppressor in everything: In terms of the standards of beauty; in terms of governmental structure or even in terms of religion," Tech says. "Contemporary America would look at Aztecs as savages for sacrificing people to their God. But you would not look at Europeans in the same light, even though they used to burn people alive as heretics to honor their God."
Tech also speaks about the side of him that was involved in petty theft and assault, running with a rough crowd in Harlem and eventually doing time in Philadelphia.
While in college at Penn State, Tech was sent to jail for a year, after getting into a altercation with crack dealers. He was paroled to his fatherís home, on the condition that he attend school at least part time and work. This time, he excelled, until his music career took him away from formal study. He says he read everything he could get "his hands on" as he joined the battle rap scene.
The complete Raw Story interview follows.
Larisa Alexandrovna: Where does the name Immortal Technique come from?
Immortal Technique: Originally I battled under the name Technique. But I always felt like a personís spirit is immortal, you know?
IT: Ö [Itís] not simply what we just do in this life, but how we are remembered, and how we affect the world around us. In that sense, some people enjoy a sort of immortality based on their contributions. Technique is what you need to accomplish anything. So the combination of the two can change the world, you know? Besides, I feel like a man who walks with God can walk anywhere.
LA: You were born in Lima, Peru. Are both your parents Peruvian?
IT: My motherís father is black, from the Caribbean. His family bought their freedom from slavery and moved down to South America and lived there ever since.
LA: How did that affect you as a child?
IT: You know, I grew up with my mother being very honest and candid about that, and with some of our people had a certain amount of racism ingrained in them. You are going to find many Latino people who are in denial about their African blood.
LA: And you are not?
IT: No, I have never been like that. I look at my grandfather and by all means and standards he is more black than people that consider themselves black in America. They donít consider themselves Black or ďIndioĒ out there because they cling to nationalistic titles rather than embrace cultural and racial origin. An interesting way to discount a majority and create a Eurocentric ideology by not acknowledging that such a thing exists.
And the people in these countries didnít want to maintain a relationship with their ex-colonial powers. The people who ran the countries were in themselves all European and not of any indigenous background until the late 1980ís early 1990ís.
LA: The cycle where the victim becomes the oppressor.
IT: Yeah. If youíre less than indigenous, it is because you are in some part African. So people avoid that like the plague. Itís terrible. We still emulate the European oppressor in everything: In terms of the standards of beauty, in terms of governmental structure, or even in terms of religion. Contemporary America would look at Aztecs as savages for sacrificing people to their God. But you would not look at Europeans in the same light, even though they used to burn people alive as heretics to honor their God.
LA: You donít even have to go back to Europe. You can look at the Salem witch trials in America. Your family moves from Peru to the United States, Harlem in particular. Why do you move?
IT: The economy had collapsed. There was massive inflation. Of course there was a war going on between the Shining Path and the US-backed government [of Peru]. At this point it was violent, there were no jobs and my father was looking for opportunity.
LA: So why Harlem?
IT: [laughs] My father was trying to find a place less violent than Peru, right? So we move to Harlem, New York in the 1980s.
The Fourth Estate
LA: Letís talk about "The 4th Branch," from Revolutionary Volume 2 (The song is available to listen to below). You take the 4th Branch Ė the media Ė to task for failing to do their job in the lead-up to the Iraq war. Do you think it is a matter of systemic corruption, a trade-off of truth for access, or do you think it is more based on wanting ratings and churning out sensational stories?
IT: Oh they did their job. They did their job.
LA: Do you think it is yellow journalism?
IT: It was their job to do what they did. That is their real job.
LA: When you say that is their real job, what does that mean?
IT: Their real job is to sell an agenda, not the news. I can see parts of the news on the news, you know? It is like when democracy is not fully a democracy. As soon as one aspect of it is betrayed, it stops being what it is. In this case it stops being the news.
LA: So once the ethics of it are violated, once a little is traded off for expediency or for ratings, it all becomes suspect?
IT: More like when I look at it from that perspective, it is as though I am capable of telling everyone what is going on, in telling 100 percent truth. I have that ability, right? But because I cannot present another side of it, for example, then I cannot tell any of it? What if there is no other side of it? That is not enough for them. They feel that they are supposed to present two sides of a story, which is great most of the time or should be most of the time. But when it comes to the balance of those two sides, they take great care in making them equally balanced when they are not always equally balanced or even equally true. They give credence and legitimacy to ideas that deserve no legitimacy.
And not just from the right either. They give people legitimacy from the progressive side who deserve no legitimacy, just to have out there as an example of how radically left someone is, when they donít represent the left at all. Instead of finding someone logical enough to express themselves, they find people who are ignorant enough to just get by on the topic.
That bias really exists no matter what the topic is. We could be talking about Iraq, or we could be talking about the Israeli-Palestine conflict, you know?
LA: So where do you get your news?
IT: I am not saying that I donít watch the news or read the news. It is just that I will see it or read it and supplement that with what I have read about the history of the country or issue and I will talk to people who are there. So if I want to hear something about Gaza, for example, I can call someone there. I know people there, I can call them or they can call me, you know? I can be in contact with them and be like yo, what is really going on over there?
LA: But what do you say to your listeners who do not have the benefit of knowing someone in Gaza or in any other place?
IT: Hopefully they could read stuff on The Raw Story.
LA: [laughs] Thank you for the plug. Who else?
IT: Democracy Now is a very good program. There is also the Real News.com. There is plenty of independent media and although they may not have maybe the legitimacy in the market of a CNN or something like that, I think they are a lot less filtered.