From its inception, hip hop has always been an art form to foment resistance among the oppressed. This tradition is no more apparent than in the lyrics of Felipe Coronel, also known as Immortal Technique.
Confronting the crimes of empire head on, Technique stands out from the mainstream corporate-friendly hip hop that’s commonplace in American society. With politically potent anthems like “Bin Laden” and formidable albums like Revolution Vol. 1 and The Martyr, Technique’s passionate and critically engaged music is emblematic of the creativity necessary to strike a blow against the oppressive structures of privilege and power.
Defending the rights of the oppressed through a microphone, Technique offers a forceful rebuttal to the elite consensus built on myths of control and domination. These qualities and more come through in this hard-hitting and insightful interview with Breaking the Set.
“I make rap about lyrics, not beats and marketing.” – Immortal Technique
Xavier for Media Roots
Immortal Technique on Conspiracy Facts, Money as God & the Two-Party Dictatorship
AM: Just one of your albums carries the same punch as an entire Howard Zinn book, what is your music making process like?
IT: I had a room in my house where I wrote all over the walls and it literally looks like a madman lives there–literally everywhere on the wall. One side of the wall is The Martyr and the other side is The Middle Passage and it’s just written ideas that don’t mean anything to anybody else except me. It’s like shorthand writing, you know? So I think it’s a complicated writing process. There’s sometimes when I’ll write a song like for example Caught in the Hustle which took me about an afternoon or Bin Laden. Those songs took me about an afternoon. And then there’s a song like You Never Know which took me a couple of years to write or Dance with the Devil which took around the same time.
AM: In your song Akir I want to read some lyrics for our audience: “Capitalism’s a religion that makes Satan a god/ And teaches self-righteous people to embrace a facade.” I wanted you to expand on what you meant by that.
IT: Well I think I was making a reference to the fact that when you think that everything in this world revolves around money and that you can monetize anything or that everything’s for sale, then it’s hard for me to look at you as a person of faith. I think that people hide behind faith so that they can get their economic agenda completed but it strikes me as very difficult to consider a person that has love and god in their heart where every single action of theirs is built on trying to monetize something, not so people can get paid but so they can make money from things like water, air. And I think that what’s difficult for people to process is that this is going on within their soul right now or their life or however they choose to see their spiritual struggle or their physical struggle. This is going on within all the people that are watching this program now. Everyone has some sort of choice to make. I think the difference is that when people in power are making choices it affects people differently.
AM: Iraq’s elections were this week. Barely anyone noticed. You traveled to another country ravaged by war that no one else pays attention to anymore: Afghanistan. You mentioned that you helped build an orphanage there. After talking to local Afghans on the ground and getting that perspective what message do you think that they would want to send and relay to the US government and the people here?
IT: Well I mean I went there in 2009 when there were a huge amount of civilian casualties. There were drone operations. There were a lot of people very dissatisfied with the US role. They feel like they did the exact same thing anybody else did when they came there, that they came there under the guise of stabilizing the region, stabilizing the country, the same way the USSR backed the government of Dr. Najib and “oh we’re going to have reforms. We’re going to do this,” and little-by-little the people notice the reforms benefit corporations that you’re making money with that you’re taking natural resources out the country. You want to control more and more things about our lives. Go harass your own citizens. Leave us in peace. And you know if you’re not going to leave us in peace we’re not going to fight you because we’re the Taliban, we’re going to fight you because you’re in our country. We don’t want you here anymore and it’s not your decision whether you want to stay here or not. There’s no threat here anymore. Bin Laden has been annihilated.
The threat that we have now is an inner threat. See, I think this is the part that people don’t understand. We have a new Star Wars movie coming out and I always remember this one scene from Return of the Jedi–I’m sorry The Empire Strikes Back–where he’s like “I don’t want the emperor’s prize damaged. You’ll test this machine on someone else,” and I feel that that’s what Americans don’t realize is happening, that we’re testing this machine on other people. Human rights, civil rights: let’s test it on immigrants that way people will say “they’re illegal human beings it doesn’t matter what we do to them. We can put them in these internment camps. We can put them in these FEMA camps as long as well-to-do white American citizens are there for no reason other than speaking against the government .” Oh, it’s okay for someone who works like a slave to do that then have all their money confiscated, thrown into prison, apart from their family. I don’t think you see it. That’s what my message is. You don’t see what they are doing. They are testing it on people that aren’t the perfect candidates, you know. People forget that Rosa Parks was not the first person to be ripped off the bus or to have that sort of incident. There were some before but think that–the NAACP didn’t think that she was the “perfect candidate.”
AM: Rosa Parks. Of course she wasn’t the first person but the establishment wants you to believe revolution is not a process. That it’s just a moment in time. And Rosa Parks was that moment in time. Of course rejecting the years of struggle that went on before that moment, Felipe. Of course the pretext for US intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan : 9/11, hunt for Bin Laden. I want to talk about your song Bin Laden because it really impacted me, Felipe. It says: “They funded al Qaeda, and now they blame the Muslim religion/ Even though Bin Laden, was CIA tactician/ They gave him billions of dollars, and they funded his purpose/Fahrenheit 9/11, that’s just stratchin’ the surface.” What is your biggest question in regards to what we’ve been told about that entire story.
IT: I’ll have to get back to you on that one because it’s not just one. I mean there’s way too many. But overall I think people feel like they got their tooth capped. That’s it. There was some problem and that somehow it got fixed and now this bad guy has gone away, Ayman Zawahiri M.I.A. It’s funny to see how seriously we took al Qaeda and how much of a threat they were to global stability that we needed to in some shape or way or form to hunt each and every single one of those cells down and destroy them and yet we had no problem when those cells existed in Syria to get rid of somebody that we didn’t like. Now obviously it became a PR nightmare for the administration, for the country, for everyone that we were giving people that were connected to that organization money but at the same time it’s very exemplary of the length–not just this country because I won’t single out America–but that any country willing to go to.
When we talk about internal struggles it has to be spoken on that the United States is not the only empire that’s had that. You don’t know how many times I’ve had to talk to people Abby and tell them “hey listen, the war against Chechnya was not a handful of Muslim extremists against these poor white Russian people who were victimized.” No, it was like as if the United States declared war against Florida and said “hey, we’re going to invade you,” and everybody in high school and college in Florida said “I don’t want to be invaded. I’m going to join a military. We’re going to fight.” Yeah, and then we had a gigantic clash of people in which a hundred thousand people died. I think that this is a story that keeps getting told again and again and again. It’s not just one system. It’s not just one group of people.
I think it’s just the whole idea that some men are more fit to rule over others and that we have to conform all ourselves to that agenda. That only some cultures are acceptable and others are deemed as savage and primitive when we live in a very civilized and yet primitive society. We live in a very civilized and technologically advanced yet barbaric society. So I think unless we address those issues. Music is one way to do that. Bin Laden is the song that I wrote when Green Lantern came up with the most electrifying hook that we possibly could. Got Mos [Def] in the studio and said “just fill the bars with nothing but facts,” and that’s what we did. We talked about how Saddam Hussein was the worst thing in the world unless it was the time when Reagan was giving him weapons fight against Iran. I think that these things, these hypocrisies, when you point them out give humanity a little bit more perspective and give them the ability to become more self aware. And that’s what we need.
AM: It definitely does and what’s unfortunate is that simply pointing out things that you just outlined I’ve been attacked as a conspiracy theorist. I mean simply mentioning the fact that the Grand Chessboard existed as Zbigniew Brzezinski’s book, I was called a conspiracy theorist in the mainstream media. And I know you been called one too and I think it’s really important to address this pejorative term and get your response to it.
IT: Okay, I was called a conspiracy theorist because on Revolutionary Vol. 2 I made a series of claims and I’m going to tell you them right now Abby so we can both laugh. I claimed that the federal government on volume 2 was tapping all your phones and that they were listening–
IT: Listen to me, I’m serious.
AM: It’s already funny.
IT: My album came out in 2004. I said the federal government is tapping your phone. People said “no they’re not. He’s a conspiracy theorist.” Okay, idiot number one check. Number two: I went out and I said I didn’t believe the government’s full story behind 9/11 and that they were holding something back and it came out that they were holding something back, that they weren’t telling people about the quality of air to breathe and what chemicals were in the building so countless numbers of first responders died of some pulmonary disorder or another, a very, very tragic situation. So that’s another precedent I told people would be set and it was set. I told them that the war in Iraq was under false premise and false circumstances. The only person who still denies that to this day is Dick Cheney. He’s the only one that thinks there were weapons of mass destruction there. And that’s probably, as the old joke goes, is because him and Reagan have the receipts.
I don’t know. I don’t know what the issue is when people who don’t like conspiracy theorists only because they’re afraid of what they’re saying might actually be true. I think that’s because those people that hate us the most are the people that really want change, that want to do something but they feel powerless and they would feel even more powerless if they found out that what you were saying was actually true because then not only their suspicions about what’s actually really going on be confirmed but the other thing that would be confirmed is that they’re too much of a coward to do anything about it or that they’re not capable of doing anything about it or that they have all the courage in the world but are physically incapable, or believe themselves to be physically incapable of doing anything about it. But they’re wrong on every account. It’s not that you’re a coward. Everyone’s afraid of the odds when they seem insurmountable but when you face those odds and when you’re unwilling to just hang up your hat and say “it’s too complex, it’s too hard,” that’s when you face your fears. When you say “okay, this government’s taking away rights from people. If I stand up for those people I might lose my rights too.” When you say “it’s worth it because if one of these people loses their rights I know that I’m next. I know that my family’s next. I know that other people who speak out against injustice are next.” And if it’s not down outright it’s done subtly first until it’s done outright.
AM: Absolutely man. I love this country and that’s why I’m here fighting. I’ll be here in the streets until I die trying to make it better. Telling the truth is not a conspiracy theory. It’s such a cheap shot to shut down debate and critical thinking.
IT: I always told people. They made it into a kind of meme of Instagram. I said “don’t call me a conspiracy theorist because I know more about this country’s history than you do.”
AM: I love it. Felipe, we have one minute left. I wanted to say we’re both going to be at United We Stand Festival. It’s this amazing festival bridging together the left and the right to provide an alternative to the two-party system. Why do you feel passionate about breaking the dictatorship of Democrats and Republicans.
IT: Well, I would say that all those people are not bad people. I just think that the system needs to understand that we won’t allow two parties that work for the same person to feed us the same lie again and again. Also I met people from the Democratic Party and people who are marginal Republicans who are very, very good people and they do good things in terms of their service and they’re pro-immigrant. They’re pro-civil rights but at the same time I think that the country needs an alternative to just one gigantic system funded by corporations or another gigantic system funded by corporations. I think that we need a voice of our own, a people’s tribune, so to speak. Unfortunately we don’t have that.
AM: We really don’t. Thank you so much. Felipe Coronel. Immortal Technique. Amazing to have you on man.
Transcript by Xavier Best, Photo by Flickr User Kieran Ferguson