Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Immortal Technique - A Revolutionary Life

Immortal Technique, UCLA, May 2008, all photo by Angi Brzycki

A revolutionary who has started an underground movement, Immortal Technique is not your usual rapper. Tech tackles political issues rather than rapping about guns and ‘hos. Cause of Death, Tech’s searing indictment of 9/11 and political corruption became an instant hit on college radio stations. Lyrics such as the following outrage the political right and fascinate his left-leaning audience:

“I don’t think Bush did it ‘cause he isn’t that smart
He’s just a stupid puppet taking orders on his cell phone
From the same people that sabotaged Senator Wellstone"

(Cause of Death, Immortal Technique, Revolutionary Volume 2)

Tech hopes his music will inspire young people, particularly college students, to learn more about the world so they can make a positive impact. In January, Tech performed for free at the Bronx Museum to raise money to buy coats for the homeless. After his performance in a room packed with fans and activists, Tech gave a captivating speech. “Revolution to a college kid who puts a poster of Che Guevara or Bob Marley on his wall is something very different for a person who lives in West Africa or Central America.

“Because revolution has consequences. In the most glorious attempts to fight corruption, innocent people will be killed and innocent women will be raped. But people are willing to suffer through that chaos, pain, and suffering because their government has become so non-compliant and disrespectful to their civil liberties.”
Tech encourages his listeners to see through the propaganda and fight for truth and justice rather than what is popular. Before anyone champions a cause, he says, “they should understand the history of it.

“Why wouldn’t they want to know the history of their nation? Why wouldn’t they want to understand their nation’s history and relate what happened then to what is happening right now, because history repeats itself.”

Tech, whose real name is Felipe Coronel, was born in Peru in 1979. His family, tired of political instability and civil unrest in Peru, moved to Harlem when Tech was two. The family struggled financially while Tech’s father, now a physics teacher, attended university. Tech spent his teen years rhyming, writing graffiti and getting into fights.

Tech managed to finish high school and was accepted at Pennsylvania State University. Leaving Harlem for Pennsylvania was a difficult transition. Tech says there was a lot of racism on the campus and in the community. Physical violence is how Tech chose to address his rage. “I was no choir boy who just punched some kid in the face,” he admits.

During his second year of studies, Tech was facing multiple charges for aggravated assault in the tri-state area. He was convicted and sentenced to 1 to 2 years at a prison in Pennsylvania.

Shortly before his release date, prison guards caught him confiscating contraband. He was caught with an extra prison shirt. Consequently, Tech spent his last two months in solitary confinement.

While serving time, Tech read extensively, mostly history, philosophy, and the classics. One book in particular, Marx’s “Philosophy of Poverty,” impacted his social development. He wrote a song with the same title that addresses class struggle and the roots of poverty.

Tech was 20 when he was released from prison in 1999. He returned to Harlem, worked in construction, and held various office jobs. On his time off, Tech wrote lyrics to songs. Soon he was entering hip hop battles held in the local clubs. Battling is one way to establish yourself in the hip hop community. It was not long before Tech was winning the battles and gaining fans with his politically-inspired raps.

Today, Tech’s MySpace page has more than five million hits and 200,000 friends on his list, which grows daily. Many want to know what books Tech has read, a strong indication that he is challenging his audience to read about the issues he addresses in his lyrics. The comments posted praise his revolutionary politics and songs as well as his vision and voice. There are even marriage proposals.

Some comments question Tech’s radical politics and beliefs. Tech’s lyrics are a vituperation against the people he deems corrupt, and that includes nearly everyone in the Bush administration. He takes on sensitive topics such as the plight of the Palestinians.

But he thrives on the questions. “I have been challenged everyday by the people around me,” he says. “I don’t surround myself with yes men. I surround myself with people who are eager to see this message grow, and see everything I do come to fruition in a way that will be more effective in addressing the problems we have.

“So I don’t have a fear of having everything I do scrutinized, as long as it is done respectfully.” Engaging in these discussions will only help him grow, he says.

Tech’s MySpace blogs are well-written essays revealing his philosophical and historical grasp on everything from globalization and racism to third world poverty.

Rapping is only a small part of Tech’s life. On June 24th, Tech announced on his MySpace blog his plans to work with the non-profit human rights organization, Omeid International. As part of the first stage of Project Green Light, a partnership effort with Omeid International to build an orphanage and clinic in Afghanistan, Tech has donated $10,000. In addition to this generous donation, Tech plans to hold fundraising concerts across the nation.
The orphanage will house 20 children and the clinic will service the impoverished community in Kabul. There will be a K-5 school where the children will be educated in small group settings by certified teachers from the U.S. and Afghanistan. Future plans include therapists to help the children who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.

Tech plans to travel to Afghanistan to see how The Amin Institute (the name of the orphanage and clinic), is making progress. Tech writes, “the money I made off this music will give them a place to live and a chance to learn… and rebuild their own nation instead of paying some U.S. corporation trillions of tax dollars to do so after we destroyed it.”

Tech continues to speak at juvenile detention centers and participates in gang workshops which he says helps keep him connected to the streets. In Palestine, Tech helped fund children’s hospitals. When plans were announced to build on the land used by the South Central Farm, a garden that helped feed the poor in this inner-city area of Los Angeles, Tech flew out from New York with his own money. He gave a free performance and participated on the panel speaking out to try to save the farm.

Tech’s blog on police brutality had so many hits it nearly brought down his page. He wrote about the not guilty verdict reached in April against New York police officers involved in the shooting death of Sean Bell outside a New York nightclub. Bell, who was to be married the next day, was shot 50 times while leaving his bachelor’s party.

On his blog, Tech invited people to share their experiences with police brutality. Hundreds responded. Tech plans to submit the responses which he is calling The Police State Chronicles to organizations who promote policy change regarding the use of excessive force by police officers.

Hundreds of Tech’s songs, live performance videos and interviews can be found on YouTube. A charismatic speaker with a velvety voice, Tech’s passion for exposing political corruption and failed foreign policy shine through in these interviews. His Afro-Peruvian and indigenous roots endow him with sultry good looks and flawless skin any woman would envy. Tech’s electrifying live performance videos streaming on YouTube show crowds on their feet pumping their fists and singing along. Here is a video found on YouTube of Tech's song Cause of Death made by Bradley Smith who lives in London.

Music videos made of Tech’s song Peruvian Cocaine which addresses corruption in the war on drugs has been viewed more than 100,000 times on YouTube. It opens with a voice clip from the film Scarface. The short clip is an interview between an American journalist and government official in a South American country. The official says that the United States is the major purchaser of their national product, which is cocaine.

Tech tells a disturbing tale in this song of corruption and exploitation beginning in Peru and ending up on the streets of America. The song ends with a voice clip featuring Wesley Snipes from the film New Jack City. The Snipes clip clearly states how far-reaching and corrupt the war on drugs has become. Snipes points out that there are no Uzis made or poppy fields growing in Harlem.

Music videos of the song Cause of Death garner the most hits. In this song he points out how news of the bombs planted on the George Washington Bridge on 9/11 by four non-Arabs was buried by the press. This is a question asked frequently on his MySpace page. His friends want to know more about this seemingly forgotten incident.

Tom Fenton, a former foreign correspondent for CBS News writes in his book, Bad News that four Israelis driving a white van were arrested in the incident and then released. Initial reports indicate that when the white van was stopped, bomb sniffing dogs smelled explosives. Fenton believes the story was buried to save embarrassment for the Bush administration. The media feared covering the story, he says, “because it doesn’t take much to be accused of anti-Semitism in any negative reporting on Israel.”

Although Tech was offered contracts by major record labels, he has chosen to stay independent. The labels wanted him to tone down his politics. Independent label, Viper Records, is where he found a home and is now president.

Revolutionary Volume I was released in 2001 followed by Revolutionary Volume II in 2004. His much anticipated third album, The Third World was released June 24th. Fans will find a new soul-like beat and lyrics that will inspire, infuriate, and bring a message of change. Tour dates are listed on his MySpace page. His album is available in stores and on his Viper Records website.
Tech ended our interview with something his father told him long ago. “My father said, ‘99.9% of people hate what they do for a living. Find something you love to do, Felipe. Because if you are one of those people who loves what they do, consider yourself blessed.’ And I definitely do sister. Everyday.”

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