Interview by Gerardo Garcia III
For those who don’t know, tell everybody who you are. Can you tell us about yourself and your background?
Immortal Technique: I live in Harlem NYC and I’m Peruvian and Black, I was born in el hospital militar de Lima Peru and I came here to this country when I was about 2. I have lived in Harlem for most of my life, went through high school never giving a fuck and I just took that idea to college with me. It’s not like I was tryna be ghetto or act hard, I just didn’t know how to act period, I was doing shit you do in the hood at college like the circumstances of life hadn’t changed.
Can you compare and contrast on your experiences in Peru and in Harlem? How has that affected your writing?
I have always gone back to my native land when I could afford to do it, because I never lost touch with my roots and decided that a nationality could never replace or is ever capable of replacing the cultural sense or the human aspect of an individual. Meaning I live like a man first, not with the self interest of any nation at hand, and when we talk people then we come to a new way of looking at the population of the world, instead of politically incarcerating people in racist categories as this governments foreign policy does. I grew up and went back to visit a place in Peru called San Martin de Porres, not a very rich place at all, basically the hood, but even then I grew up in Harlem which is the hood it’s not the not the worst place in NYC or even the worst place in America. New York City used to be a really fucked up city, but nothing compared to the sickness and drama of these little crack towns on the East Coast or the immigrant camps near the border where people live a life that resembles slavery so much they might as well call it that officially to dispel any illusions. When you grow up not having too much when your parents are both struggling to raise you, go to college, and take care of the family to you may not live in a tin house like our brothers and sisters do in the 3rd world, but you see drugs, you see violence in the street, you see hatred and police brutality.
You become a part of that world and you strive to not become a victim of that world and not to buy into the corrupt ideals of a society that doesn’t see our success as something that can be done without assimilation that involves the ultimate sacrifice of identity.
What kind of music did you grow up on? How did you get into rap? Who were you most influenced by that comes out in the way you rap today?
I listened to what I have always listened to, old school r&b, Classical music, music from the 50’s and 60’s, 70’s, Jazz, Blues, Merengue, and Salsa. I have always loved Hip Hop though because the message was condensed and you were able to say so much in so little time. I got into Rap when I was about 9 years old riding in a car listening to the beats that they used to spin on the radio and I had heard other people rapping on them before, but I was so young and I didn’t care who they were. But as far as my influences on my style they have been Revolutionary people, and not even the people but what they represented, X, Che, Zapata, Sandino, Tecumseh, Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Francois Toussaint. Men who dared to think differently about the state of the world and the state of black and Latino/Indigenous people.
You’ve garnered huge popularity in New York City and around the East Coast, mainly as a battle rapper and by dropping two hot albums, Revolutionary Vol. 1, and Revolutionary Vol. 2. There was also the Unsigned Hype piece in the Source magazine. How have you dealt with this huge interest in Immortal Technique and how has it affected you as a person?
I’m still who I was before, I just enjoy the beginnings of an independent success, I’ve shipped about 23,000 records and sold about 20,000. This doesn’t make me the richest nigga in the game or in the underground even. I can’t afford to be gassed up I still live in the hood with what I had before, I’m not a flashy nigga I wear the same clothes, only now people are tryna holla and pay me to wear their clothing line and shit like that. But I take everything as another step I don’t chalk them up as victories and then sit on them. I got Unsigned Hype, I was the nigga to beat in the underground for a couple of years, enjoyed many battle victories, did huge shows, got the Hip Hop quotable, sold more than anyone thought that I would. But to be honest these things mean nothing if they are not backed by action, by a sense of commitment to the ideals that I began this project with. I try to keep shit as personal as possible, but the volume of people tryna book me for shows is insane, and about half these people are bullshit tryna offer a nigga loose change when they know me and my peeps put on a murderous live set. I am now in the process of trying to find a booking agency and get in touch with various booking agents that can get me to the places I need to be. But not just that I also need to find someone that can get this shit marketed to a Latino audience, it’s easy for me to reach the hood here I can run around the corner but we need niggaz to run into the Latino community and let them know it’s started. The return of what we have always wanted, La Revolucion, and not corny Bush hating by rich white liberals who speak in reiterated pseudo intellectual leftist arguments. But the strength to confront fake shit in the world through Hip Hop, moving hardcore to the forefront while putting issues about classism right there with racism and cultural identity. I want the message out there blasting and I’m gonna end with this…I don’t rhyme for money, but I don’t like being the nigga that doesn’t get paid as much as other people.
Because of your popularity, your music and message has spread to the South and to the West and the response has been very positive. Why do you feel your music and your message can cross those geographical boundaries?
I have a large Latino fan base yes, but my African brothers have always been there and I would never abandon their issues either we bleed over the same things. I am Indio Peruano Latino, however it is said and I have the blood of grandfather who was a black man and I will never talk that down or be ashamed of it like some confused Latinos who have given into (and in some instances try in vain to rationalize and justify) the racism implanted by colonial Europeans. Putos perros. Oppression though, is not limited to Black and Latino people, there are millions of white people who live below the poverty line, and who share the same unemployment issues and exploitation that we do, I have never discriminated and told a white person they didn’t know shit about the hood cuz their hood is different than ours, the trailer park and low income housing is just a different dimension from the projects, from the sealed off communities with horrible drinking water, than the reservations… Since Caroline/EMI started distributing the album we have reached lots of Whites, Asians and Middle Eastern people. Nothing could please me more then to see a diverse group of people at every fuckin’ show that I have, I think people sound stupid when the criticize any Black and Latino artist who has any white fans…Who buys 50 cents music? White people, who buys Lil’ Jon records and Jay-Z records, Dipset, Snoop and Nas ? White people, like it or not they are the major supporters of Hip Hop…I welcome muthafuckaz that are about something at my shows and I welcome them buying my music and supporting hardcore street truth, no matter what color or nationality they are…After all that’s what Hip Hop is supposed to be about.
Also, since your music is spreading across the country, you are also picking up new listeners of various cultural backgrounds. Most of which consists of Latinos with the slight majority being Mexican-American, or of Chicano descent. Typically, they have strayed away from this type of rap music, than has more of an “East Coast” sound.. How do you feel knowing you are getting so much love and respect from your Chicano listeners? Why do you feel you can transcend those cultural borders?
Mexican people haven’t had any real issues addressed in mainstream Hip Hop I think that some of them see what I do in terms of speaking about what the fuck is going on in the streets with our people and they know that since I am coming out to the West Coast I will most likely be able to speak about what’s affecting them. And I will, cuz ain’t nobody in American history get fucked over like Indios, Blacks and the people of Mexico, which I do consider indigenous in root no matter what they call themselves and how much Spanish they speak. I think also people are tired of hearing Hip Hop be either pop or abstract they want something tangible, something from the block, something rhythmic with hard hitting beats. Underground Independent call it whatever the fuck you want, it’s just reflective of what we are dealing with in different regions culturally, since NY is mostly Puerto Rican and Dominican, those people have the subjects of freedom independence, African heritage and struggling in the hood running in their blood. They are a people who have made survival in the ghetto an admirable fight no matter what racist muthafuckaz look down on them or how police try to abuse them. Same for people in the South who see this music and this movement as something that goes behind the scenes of this crunk explosion that is fun to dance to but paints the South as some fuckin’ nonstop martigras when niggaz is getting 10-20 years of trumped up charges to feed the prison industrial complex. I just make music about what I live and what I see, lots of people see the same thing.
I know you have been touring across the country. I’ve read that you put on a very personal, intimate show that really gets the audience involved. I definitely plan to attend a show when you come to Texas. Anyways, of all the places you have visited, where have you been best received? Where have you been worst received?
Best received, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Chicago, and of course the famous Rocksteady show in New York City…All the other places have shown me love but these places go the craziest. The worst received show was probably in NYC too, in the summer of 2001. I rock that song “The Cause of Death” for a majority of white people over at Columbia University, I basically turned the J5 and Blackalicious show into my personal Revolutionary agenda. I didn’t get boo’d at all, half the people really liked it, the other half of uptight people who were new at the school from middle America had probably never left their tiny bubblefuck all white town and they had no idea how NYC wasn’t a Republican stronghold after 9/11. People are mad and continue to be mad with this president, and with the illusions of support the by and large conservative media has.
Do you like to partake in any of the nightlife activities those cities have to offer? Or do you pretty much chill and hang out after the show?
I see what’s poppin’, a lot of cities have drama and gang activity and I don’t try to get involved in shit like that cuz it’s hard to hold heat in places where you just get there unless I got niggaz in the area. But I like to chill after the show, talk to people who have questions sign CD’s and see if there is any clubs that are really on some cool shit out there. I don’t really smoke too much weed or drink as heavily as I did before I went to jail, but I have realized what some people sadly never do that I can have a good time and not fucked my head up to the point of not remembering shit the next day. My shows end pretty late though and in most of these cities everything closes at 1AM…So it’s pretty much a wrap unless I have a night off.
What about people that come up to you and ask you for autographs or to listen to their demo tapes? Does that bother you at all?
Unless someone is really pushy or annoyingly dick riding they don’t annoy me, I mean if they do I let them know. There’s only been one or two times I had to knock someone the fuck out, I’m not tryna hurt fans or put them in hospital but I’m respectful of them so I command that in return. I will sign all CD’s when I have the time to do so and I make time. As for demo tapes you can send us anything, but right now Viper Records my label that I Exec VP at isn’t signing any new artists.
If people want to go see you in concert, where can they go to get information or dates to one of your shows?
They can routinely check my website… www.ViperRecords.com
On Revolutionary Vol.1, we heard “No Me Importa.” On Revolutionary Vol. 2, we heard a few bits and pieces of you rapping in Spanish. Do you feel comfortable rapping in Spanish? Are there any plans for more Spanish-only songs? What other languages can you speak or rap in?
Yo habla el espanol muy bien, pero algunas veces me falta una palabra pero puedo entender y communicarme perfectament. I can rhyme in Spanish but I’m not tryna jump on that bandwagon I do it when it fits the concept, I don’t try to do reggaeton to sell records or pimp my culture. Je parle le francais tres bien aussi…But I’m not gonna get into that right now. I will release something else that has Spanish speaking on it so expect that, but it’ll be some thing hardcore not some nonsense.
What is your thought process when making a conceptual song like “Dance with the Devil,” “You Never Know,” or “Peruvian Cocaine?”
They are each different, with ‘Dance with the Devil’ it was a true story that I made myself more of a part of when I wrote the song, it became an urban legend and what’s sick is that people thought it was about rape and it was really about how we are killing ourselves and destroying the most valuable resource that the Latino/Black community has, our women. With “You Never Know” it was a story that was based on my life and what I went though but things had to be changed, moved out of chronological order, and something’s had to be added. I have always been able to write stories, screen plays and such so it reflects in the songs I construct. With Peruvian Cocaine I wanted a posse cut but not the typical shit and I wanted to speak about the imagery that the corporate controlled media ties into it. I mean I have nothing against doing some random joints with other muthafuckaz that reflect whatever the fuck is going on in our minds at the time, but I wanted something different this once…So the result came with me getting a whole lot of people to commit to the idea of writing a story with me, my idea worked out because everyone’s 8 bars seemed to flow together perfectly, the only person who wasn’t there was CrayzWalz who came at the end and bodied the song with his final perspective on the mentality of muthafuckaz who really think they are going to get somewhere hustling, this ain’t “Scarface” this ain’t “Belly”, this isn’t Hollywood you little hood rat…you’re going to live in a fuckin’ cage for the rest of your life and you’re arrest will be used to criminalize those people that come after you, we talkin’ about real shit.
There seems to be a lot of fake emcees polluting the airwaves nowadays and you have addressed that in both albums. How much of your music is based on your life experiences? How much of it is factual?
Most of it, I don’t claim to be Sosa or go around saying that I’m a millionaire I kick it about shit that I know about and that I’ve been a part of or witnessed first hand. I like to also rhyme about some of the things I am learning and to let me mind see all perspectives of the issue even those that I may not agree with for fundamentally sound reasons.
Can you explain the time you spent in prison and how it affected you as a person and as a rapper writing and making music?
Prison made me a more serious person I think but it built up a lot of anger and resentment that I never expressed in there or after that, I think I channel a lot of that into the music and I think that’s not even enough. It made me realize that sometimes people who you think are closest to you are capable of forgetting you, and that they are capable of not being devilish for doing so. I mean there were a lot of snakes that I got rid of and a lot of so called real niggaz that I found out were snitches, but the truth of the matter is that there were people that are down for me now that weren’t there for me in jail. I have also seen how this street image of keeping it real in jail is bullshit, I mean I’m sitting here in the fuckin’ hole cuz I refuse to snitch, and other niggaz all diesel and tatted up talking all tough are walking out the door or getting into some early release shit for singing like a fuckin’ bird. There’s no loyalty, and niggaz in their talkin’ about bitchez all the time and calling other people faggots, closet homos…That’s not gangsta at all. I went in as a man and came out of that place as a man, just a depressed man who has seen what sick really was…What tough really was. Not niggaz talkin’ about it but the muthafuckaz that really did the shit and just shut the fuck up about it. There was a dude that shot his wife in the face that smiled as was mad nice to you, another dude that raped his own daughter violently that was always quiet, arsonists tryna play the father role giving niggaz advice, and then rapists and crackheads that thought they were hardcore muthafuckaz…Basically a whole bunch of people with their rolls confused. I have a bunch of people upstate now, and I’m glad to know that they and more people now are starting to really think about their families and putting their life together after they get out of prison.
You also mention taking your music back to the days of Hip-Hop. There seems to be a misconception between HipHop and rap, the two terms always seem to be interchanged. People forget that HipHop is a culture, and rap is just an industry. Why do you think the younger generation has not made that distinction yet?
Basically they have been spoon-fed the image of Hip Hop, instead of being taught the culture and the essence of it. Seen it on TV and read about it in magazines and on the computer but since it’s hard for everyone to be in the Mecca of Hip Hop they can only believe what they see or what they hear. Internet rumors have a life of their own now, muthafuckaz can be in every magazine and be famous like that and have a garbage live show, niggaz can be all over the radio and have hits but never write a rhyme. All that is corny and not what I’m about, but I don’t point fingers at specific people and hate on their personal hustle nor do I want to, I can just speak about me and what I’m trying bring to the game.
Speaking on the rap industry, you have mentioned turning down recording deals with major labels. Do you have any plans to signing with a major record label? Or do you plan to stay and stick with the independent route? What are the pros and cons for each?
This is the bottom line short and sweet. A record deal is a loan. A loan with a whole lot of strings attached, I have the financial backing now that I’ve proved myself from Viper Records selling so many units independently so what the fuck do I need to give anyone 75% of my earnings for, what the fuck do I need to give anyone 50% even. I need distribution and a good relationship with retail, a distributor that will really push my product and make it priority and giving it shelf space, and posters placement and not just pushing it out there and putting it in a few listening booths. I’m not opposed to signing with a major but I don’t need their wasteful million dollar loan I can release a full scale industrial attack for a few hundred thousand. And when I have sold 50,000 Vol.2’s by the end of the year I hope someone has the God given sense to realize that. And, to see that I rock shows in the hood, I can perform for colleges, I can tear up a show for people who don’t even understand what the fuck I am saying. I don’t need your fuckin’ label I need distribution and a good relationship with retail.
It is known, that you were a fierce underground battle rapper. If you had a chance to battle any of the “mainstream” rap artists out today, who would it be and why?
I don’t give a fuck about battling any rapper, what the fuck does that have to do with anything? I have so much beef with the government and they haven’t even begun to give me the heat I’m gonna get for this next record yet… I don’t look for problems, that’s a fuckin’ joke. I’m in the hood I’m not hard to find, I don’t give a shit about what people say to each other on mixtapes to themselves or on the internet I’m so busy workin on shit that has to do with me and my fam that worrying about what people wanna try and think about me to make themselves feel safer is just not my agenda. If someone really feels a certain way about me, then see me…hijo de puta.
You don’t have too many featured artists on either of your albums. Do you have any plans to collaborate with any other artists? Are there any specific artists or producers who you would want to work with? Would you consider working with any other Latino or Chicano rap artists or producers?
I don’t need too many features, I don’t want too many features, I hold down tracks like I usually hold down beef and shit by my fuckin’ damn self. I mean as my responsibility grows and my name does I’m gonna need some help and some more people in the camp to run this thing but this is really built around where I want it to move, no one has creative control over this thing but me. I’m open to working with anyone from any genre of music as long as what we make fits my ideas, and what I’m about. I won’t work with people JUST because they are Latino but I don’t think that a Latino producer can’t make the type of heat that a white or black person can. That’s stupid…I collabo with people I know, I’m not chasing anyone for appearances. I do business with real muthfuckaz on my albums, if I do a track for you that’s one thing, a verse whatever, but your on my shit that either means that you’re really cool with me or I know you well enough to have you spit what I need to.
I know you have already begun working on your new album. Are you going with the same formula you have used on both your previous albums? What can we expect from Immortal Technique on this new album? Is there a tentative album title or release date? Will this also be released independently through Viper Records?
There is a new album on the way, whether that’s Vol.3 or something else, is really up to the circumstances of release. There is no “formula” I just make hardcore shit that people from the hood and people from the middle of nowhere where nothing exiting happens can feel. People who live in other countries bug out when this shit is translated so that’s another thing, we keep it reality based.
Where do you see yourself in the long run of rap?
I will run my course and then keep making moves, business wise and culturally.
Aside from rap, what are some of your interests or hobbies? How do you spend your free time?
I read, I workout, I write other things besides songs, and I like to travel which is what I think I’m gonna need to do to relax when I finish this next project. I also am very concerned with keeping my family tight and now I’ve started making beats so I might executive produce some projects.
I know you were studying political science in college and you are not afraid to voice your opinions about politics in your music. Any plans for becoming a politician?
Not that I see right now.
For people that don’t know, let them know how to get a hold of your albums.
Go to any Tower Records or Best Buy check out the listing of Mom and pop shops that have the album cuz we’re gonna post it on the website.
Any last comments?
I hope you muthafuckaz are ready…