Peruvian-born Harlem emcee Immortal Technique rocked a full house at the Metro in Sydney on January 19 as part of his debut tour of Australia and New Zealand.
The Afro-Peruvian Technique grew up alongside other poor African Americans and Latinos in New York and steered clear of offers from record labels (“offered me a deal, and a blanket full of smallpox!”, he sings in “Industrial Revolution”). Instead, he built up a substantial following as an independent artist.
Early in his career, Technique would freestyle battle other emcees across New York. If they lost, they were obliged to buy a copy of his album. In this way, he built up a decent war chest, won mad respect in the hip hop scene and went on to win most of the battle tournaments in New York.
The Metro gig started with local support. Guerilla Republik Australia organiser K-otic 1 was followed by Brothablack, who got the crowd amped up fairly well with his Aboriginal rights themed lyricism including the track “Are you with me out there?”.
Then came Bronx emcee Akir, who is from Technique’s New York crew stronghold. Akir had the crowd singing along with the punchline to “work so hard and it don’t make sense”.
If you thought that political hip hop was in some separate category, removed from hip hops roots, and that seeing a political act was some kind of dry and serious affair — think again. This was a fun show: with DJ Static spinning hip hop classics by House of Pain and Kriss Kross and a bunch of other old skool favourites.
Support act Poison Pen, hailing from Brooklyn, was charismatic, relaxed and indeed quite hilarious. He got the crowd well pumped and singing along.
Immortal Technique entered draped in the Aboriginal flag and was greeted by thunderous cheering and applause. He told the crowd he was honoured to be so well received and after hyping the crowd up sufficiently got right into the (all Spanish language) Golpe De Estado.
This was followed with the first installment for the evening of Technique’s trademark political banter: “Listen — a lot of times people take for granted the things they have in this country and in places like the United States.
“They take things for granted like running water. They take things for granted like a roof over their head, like soldiers not coming in their house to destroy their family and steal their natural resources; we can’t forget mothafuckas from South America, to central America, to Africa, to South East Asia, to the Middle East, to America..." The rest of what he said was drowned by the roar of the crowd.
And with that, in came the title track to the album Third World, with lyrics like: “I’m from where people pray to the gods of their conquerors/And practically every president’s a money launderer/From where the only place democracy’s acceptable/is if America’s candidate is electable/And they might even have a black president but he’s useless/Cause he does not control the economy stupid!”
Technique’s uncompromising anti-racist, anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist politics comes with contradictions.
By coincidence, the Socialist Alliance national conference was on the weekend after the gig. Walking around with my newly purchased souvenir tour shirt on I naturally ran into a few of the many comrades who are fans of Technique’s work, some who had seen him in other cities.
A recurring point of discussion, however, was the question of Immortal Technique’s respect for women — or lack thereof.
At no point in his material does Technique advocate physical violence against women. However there are several references, especially on his first two albums, where he sexually objectifies women and even refers to them sexually in a somewhat coercive manner.
For instance, in the track “Obnoxious” from his second album Revolutionary vol. 2, (which he performed as an encore at the Metro show) he is insulting gangsta rappers and quips: “Give me a hundred grand, give me your watch, give me your chain/That’s your girl? Bitch, get over here, give me some brain/I’ll bust off on her face, and right after the segment/she’ll probably rub it in her pussy, try and get herself pregnant/I said it I meant it, that’s the way I deal with enemies/like ‘pro lifers’ who support the death penalty.”
Understandably many people, who might otherwise be quite receptive to the other great messages in his work, (and who would be useful connects for Technique to incorporate into his support network) are turned off by such misogynist lines. Myself included.
But as a hip hop artist who will listen to other people's music collections and who has had to play various trashy commercial hip hop and R&B requests working as a DJ, I’ve got to say I’ve heard such misogynist jibes before — and in much greater density, and without the slightest shred of anything progressive to offset it.
Those commercial tracks will not once provide a blistering critique of US imperialism; of the racist system which created and polices the ghetto-prison loop in the US; of how gentrification removes people from their homes, their neighbours and friends; and of the prevalence of racism within the music industry insofar as black artists are snapped up and moulded into the same crass stereotypes which are in turn sold to predominantly white audiences.
Misogynistic lyrics should not be accepted as OK, but it doesn't alter the fact that Technique also gives voice to Muslims, African Americans, Latin Americans and indigenous peoples standing up against the racist system which oppresses them; and explicitly calls for revolutionary change.
Technique viscerally articulates the legitimate rage of those who are sick of their own oppression and that of their compatriots elsewhere and who want real change.
When I looked around at the Sydney show, I saw a multicultural audience with many people of Middle Eastern, Latino, Asian, African and Aboriginal backgrounds. There were whitefellas too, sure, but this was not a “whitebread” audience.
And these people were evidently delighted to have Technique there.
From what I understand, Tahrir Square over the past 13 months has not always been a space that is completely welcoming to women. But, despite some clearly negative features that have to be fought against, the movement to get rid of Mubarak, and subsequent protests against the SCAF are major progressive steps and demand support.
Just like the messy Caracazo riots paved the way for revolution in Venezuela, and the imperfect upheaval in Egypt may well be laying the foundation for much deeper going social change in the region, Immortal Technique is at the vanguard of a movement to wrest hip hop itself — powerful format that it is — back from the powerful corporate forces who have enforced their control of its distribution and messaging.
Hopefully his gender politics will radically improve, but regardless, he will at least have created space for others to go one better than him on that particular political/hip hop battlefront.
Technique is not perfect — but he puts on a pretty damn good show and I believe his project should be seen in context and deserves respect.