Peruvian by birth, Felipe Andres Coronel immigrated to America, not out of choice or luxury, but rather to escape the internal conflict tearing apart his homeland. He then found a home in Harlem. Eventually Coronel overcame the struggles of growing up an immigrant in impoverished Harlem, and made it to college. But an altercation between his fellow students, and some drug dealers, landed Coronel in the penitentiary. While in the pen, Coronel studied, freed his mind, and learned the truth of a system that had handed his family a raw deal. And it was then that he began to write and practice his rhymes. Coronel left the pen with a passion, and emerged as Immortal Technique. Overtaking the New York battle scene through “shock and awe,” Immortal Technique quickly became underground hip-hop’s best kept secret.
Tech’s lyrical content is politically charged, socially provocative and quite cutting-edge. When George W. Bush was sucking the American economy dry and sending the poor to war to die, Immortal Technique was on the front lines, protesting, marching, and releasing albums that served as manifestos for the opposition. Whether corporate corruption, American imperialism, prescription pill abuse, liberal hypocrisy, religious fundamentalism, or a sold-out media, no subject matter is safe from Immortal Techniques’ relentless lyrical tirades.
It is uncertain what place Immortal Technique will hold in the history of hip-hop, and it doesn’t matter, because he is making his difference right now. When one day they look back on this era, the alum charts and hit record sales, they’ll see names like Lil Wayne and 50 Cent. But what did they do, what did they ever accomplish for their fans, their people, except to keep them blissfully ignorant and in unemployment lines? Hopefully future generations, when they look back at the beginning of the 21st Century, when there were two wars and one out of every four children was on food stamps, hopefully they’ll realize that we all weren’t popping bottles, flossing, pimping or collecting cars.
Hopefully what defines this moment in time of hip-hop — this time of economic struggle — will be those who stood for and spoke for something better. That instead of rhyming about pimping our women, dealing drugs and selling our souls, a handful of artists were rhyming for jobs, ripping it for universal health care, and laying it on the line to end urban poverty. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll realize that at least a few of us gave a f***. And for those of that that still do, Immortal Technique is our voice.
BallerStatus.com recently caught up with Immortal Technique to speak about his The Third World and Revolutionary Vol. 3 albums, his trip to Afghanistan, and his experiences traveling across a poverty ravaged United States.
BallerStatus.com: Talk about putting your money where your mouth is, in regards to actually going to Afghanistan to try and help.
Immortal Technique: I’m putting my life where my mouth is, man. It was such a powerful experience because of the sadness and the misery that I saw there. And also because of the amount of resilience that I saw in those people. They didn’t want Al-Qaeda in their country. They didn’t appreciate the Taliban taking control. But at the same time, they really have an incredible amount of dignity. And by that, they are grateful for America’s help in ridding them of the Taliban. The average, ordinary person is glad that their daughter can go to school now. There’s no public executions, no banning of soccer games. The difference is, they’re appreciative, but they don’t want any prolonged military presence of the United States there.
BallerStatus.com: What was the situation like there for the orphans? For those kids before you built that orphanage? How bad was it?
Immortal Technique: Afghanistan is a pretty poor country. They run the risk of being sold into the slave trade for prostitution. They’re at risk of dying from exposure to some completely treatable disease. So to me, it seemed like that was a little direr than a situation I would see here in the United States. Even in the worst parts I’ve been in, where people hate cops, if they saw a child abandoned on the street, they’d call somebody. I’m sure the odd serial killer would kill the kid and stuff them in a basement, or something as despicable as that. But the average ordinary person, in the worst slums of America, someone who might even hate the law and disagree with the government, they would do something about that. But in Afghanistan, people hardly have the means to take care of themselves, let alone a random child on the street.
BallerStatus.com: You’ve been a vocal and vehement critic of the “War on Terror” and American presence in the Afghanistan. Has your opinion changed at all because of your trip and personal experiences?
Immortal Technique: I can tell you this much, adding more troops isn’t going to secure peace. Escalation will cause more good than bad. The “surge” didn’t work in Iraq. Sending more troops didn’t lower the violence, it was the bribing.
BallerStatus.com: Paying off the local tribal leaders?
Immortal Technique: Yeah, everybody, that was the whole point of it. Then they went and sent in more troops to make that look like the answer. It really wasn’t. It just puts us in a — not even conservative, I wouldn’t call it that — more military minded strategy. I don’t think it’s necessarily a military campaign. The Taliban represent a state of mind. You know? There’s no identifiable tattoo. None of them wear a Nazi symbol; they’re not flying confederate flags. There’s no identifiable mark that you can see. They all wear the same type of clothes, whether you’re Taliban, or simply on your way to work. Some of them wear specifically colored scarves, which is something interesting, like the Northern Alliance people, or from a certain area. But I would say that my opinion changed because I realized the fact that this is the ultimate war of ideas. You’re trying to get somebody to change their mind about conservatism, because that’s exactly what we’re fighting out there. We’re fighting an insanely fundamentalist mentality that relies on taking certain things absolutely literally, and they’re people on both sides of the conflict doing that. Even now, some people still take the Bible literally, and those are the ones wanting to fight a war against Islam.
BallerStatus.com: It does seem like this entire war is being fought between the same sorts of fundamentalist reactionary types.
Immortal Technique: Yeah. I just want to get out of their way. (Laughing).
BallerStatus.com: Last summer, you traveled to Peru and Venezuela. What was it like going back down to South America?
Immortal Technique: I went to go look at my lands. I have about 300 acres of land down there, and I was just checking on the fruit trees that we had planted — the bananas, the oranges, the lemons. It dawned on me that if I really want that project to succeed, I’m going to have to go down there myself. My uncle, who was taking care of that for me before, recently became very ill and is in the hospital, so the rest of the family kind of gravitated to that. And then I realized I had to get someone besides just family to work … create some sort of business partnership. I went about it by getting my documents and national identity down in Peru because I was actually born down there. I just did the application process.
BallerStatus.com: You’ve spoken frequently about the importance of reading and self-education. I wanted to hear from you about your own upbringing, your own sources of information that made you conscious of the world around you?
Immortal Technique: I mean my parents always encouraged me to read, but it came to the point that I didn’t listen to anything they said. They could have suggested a book, and I would have read something of the completely opposite genre. There was a lot of rebelliousness, without focus, in my younger years. And even when people ask me, “Oh you went to prison and you went to college for a couple years?” I’m like “Yeah, I learned more in prison than I think I ever learned in college.” That’s the sad truth.
BallerStatus.com: When you first got out of prison, you weren’t able to find a decent job that would support you? And that’s what pushed you towards music? It’s almost as if your music career is a byproduct of our criminal justice system and the obscene manner in which we rehabilitate felons by tossing them back into society without support.
Immortal Technique: It was interesting. About a week or two after I got out of prison, I went to a hip-hop showcase in downtown New York and I saw some kids I used to know from my younger years, from when I was out on the streets. They were telling me they were doing a battle in a couple of weeks, and if I wanted to come perform. I thought to myself, “This sounds like a good idea.” I had some freestyle abilities. That’s all I had been doing in jail; rhyming to other people. It came to the point where I was all ready to go … I showed up to the battle, didn’t know if I’d even actually get in myself, and all of a sudden somebody in the crowd was dissing random people. This a**hole said something to me. So I was like, “I thought I was going to get into the battle, but now I know I’m going to get in the battle, and I hope I get you motherf***er.” I was in. The crazy thing about New York battles back then, it wasn’t like the way battles are structured now, where you might win some money, or some fame on YouTube or whatever the f*** it is. Back then, what made the battle even so much more important was that everybody who won the battle got to come back next month as the returning champion. They got the best slot to perform, based on the number of brackets. If there were sixteen MCs, then there were four brackets, if eight MCs then three brackets to get to the winner. You got to perform right before the final battle. So everybody was waiting because the two best people had been battling all night, and then all of a sudden they give you the best introduction in the whole world. I always remembered, there I was maybe three weeks out of jail, already going to battle and I had a show scheduled. So, it forced me in that direction anyway because I thought, “F*** I can’t just show up to this show and freestyle and do some dumb sh**, I got to put some songs together.” I had about a month and I really narrowed down what kind of songs I was going to do, from the stuff I had been writing in jail. That’s the way it started.
BallerStatus.com: Chuck D famously referred to rap as “the black CNN.” It seems clear that many of your fans get better informed about their world, and about different social movements or struggles, simply from listening to your music. Outside of the traditional media outlets, how do you personally stay informed?
Immortal Technique: I think that learning to read between the lines of traditional media is one way, and also realizing that eventually you’re going to have to cross-reference all sorts of different information coming from different sources. I like first-hand sources if something is going on in a specific country. I’ll call someone who lives there or get in-touch with them, like when that s*** went down in Iran. I made a bunch of different connections with people I knew from out there and I was just communicating with them, asking them for back-story, asking them about what exactly was going on out on the street. So I think that.
BallerStatus.com: I wanted to get your take on the Van Jones controversy. Months ago, there was a political witch-hunt that unfortunately succeeded in getting Van Jones fired from the White House. The excuse for taking him down was that Jones had signed a petition calling for further government investigation of the 9/11 terror attacks. In reality, the incident reeked of “McCarthyism” with the right-wing targeting a black man who was working on securing green jobs for poor people in inner-cities. I wanted to hear your thoughts, because of the 9/11 aspect, and what that meant about the state of American political society?
Immortal Technique: Right, you want to talk about how ever many conservative institutions are corrupt and propagate hatred? We could be here all day. I think I just take them for what they are. You know? The minute they try to f*** with me, I’m on my game. I refused to be marginalized. I don’t ask people to believe in conspiracy theories. I just ask them to use common sense, and realize that the best indicator of future behavior is past behavior. So, look at the country and the government that we’re given, it’s not the people as a whole who are bad, it’s just specific people who’ve become drunk with power and passed it on to their children through the heroin dealer of nepotism over the years.
BallerStatus.com: You’ve never really made much of the fame, neither seeming to seek nor flaunt wealth. You’ve given back to the community, on three separate continents. You’ve been proactive in a plethora of ways, and you approach life so differently than other rappers who might have also grown up poor, or spent time in prison. What I wanted to know if I could get only one thing out of this interview, is why?
Immortal Technique: My mother and my father were very poor when they were little and when we came to this country we really didn’t have much. I remember we used to get our clothes from the church sales. Even though that was the case, I can remember that I was just happy. I realized that there was a lot of trial and error, or success and failure, but it’s all for nothing if you’re not content. It’s all for nothing if you’re not happy. The reality is that, for me, we can achieve so much in terms of money, in terms of fame, but if you don’t have self-respect … if you don’t have dignity … if you don’t have some true knowledge of self and who you are, and where you’re coming from, then you’re absolutely lost. To me, I value my family. I value the people around me that I call my friends and my “brothers-in-arms” and, that to me, makes me a wealthy individual. I don’t need to floss. I spend my money on things that I think are important. I paid my parent’s mortgage off. You know what I mean? I bought my grandmother a house. I put my sister through college. She’s getting her master’s in medicine now. Those are the investments that I think are important. I bought a farm, that’s almost half the size of Central Park, in Latin America. What the f***? I mean people can’t tell me that I’m struggling or broke right now. I’m a successful underground hip-hop artist, but at the same time, I realize what sort of investments are real investments. Those are investing in people and investing in your friends, and investing in yourself rather than investing in someone else’s idea of what it takes for you to be wealthy.
BallerStatus.com: Finally, The Middle Passage?
Immortal Technique: We’re about seven songs deep. It’s a really brutal album. But I have another ten songs where I don’t know what the hell I’m doing. To me, songs have to fit a specific record. Like The Third World, all those songs have to fit with the concept of the third-world. They wouldn’t have gone on The Middle Passage. The Middle Passage is a much more gritty brutal album as opposed to being a great supplement like The Third World, it’s pretty much the next chapter after Revolutionary Vol. 2.