Revolutionary technique

Issue 

REVIEW BY EDMUND PARKER

Revolutionary Volume 2
Immortal Technique
Viper Records 2003
Visit <http://www.viperrecords.com>

Britney Aguilera? Robbie Timberlake? Paulini Sebastian? I occasionally have the misfortune to watch ABC's Rage on a Saturday morning and, for the most part, it's one banal, indistinguishable song after another, whatever life they contained processed out of them by money-hungry music corporations.

With Revolutionary Volume 2, hip-hop artist Immortal Technique provides a much-needed alternative — politically and musically — to the Kraft-cheese crap that these major music corporations try to shove down our throats.

Technique grew up in New York but was born in Peru; according to his official biography at <http://www.viperrecords.com>, he was brought to the US "in the early '80s while a civil war was breaking out in his native Peru. The US-supported puppet democracy and guerrilla factions were locked in a bitter struggle which ended like most do in Latin America, with the military and economic aid of the State Department through channels like the CIA."

A conversion from apolitical thug to revolutionary musician occurred during his time in prison for aggravated assault (he was paroled in 1999). From this album's introduction — a track that features one of the most famous US political prisoners, radical African-American journalist Mumia Abu Jamal — Immortal Technique's left-wing politics are at the forefront.

Too few artists have lyrics like this (from "4th branch of the government", an indictment of the slavishly pro-war corporate media and their role in the "war on terror"): "Guantanamo Bay, federal incarceration/How could this be, the land of the free, home of the brave?/Indigenous holocaust, and the home of the slaves/Corporate America, dancin' offbeat to the rhythm/You really think this country, never sponsored terrorism?/Human rights violations, we continue the saga/El Salvador and the Contras in Nicaragua/And on top of that, you still wanna take me to prison/Just cause I won't trade humanity for patriotism ...

"Fighting for freedom and fighting terror, but what's reality?/Read about the history of the place that we live in/And stop letting corporate news tell lies to your children."

What makes Technique's album so exceptional isn't just his anti-imperialist, anti-racist lyrics, it's the skilful rhymes, backed by mostly excellent production (some beats sound a little too synthetic for my taste).

The album's subjects range from racism in the US, to the oppression of Palestinians, to the war on Iraq. On "Peruvian Cocaine", Technique is joined by emcees CrayzWalz, Pumkinhead, Loucipher, Tonedeff, Diabolic and Poison Pen to dissect the reality that lies behind the "war on drugs" and expose of the real story behind transit of illegal drugs from Latin America to the US, while revealing the real victims — South American peasants and workers: "I'm on the border of Bolivia, working for pennies/Treated like a slave, the coca fields have to be ready/The spirit of my people is starving, broken and sweaty/Dreaming about revolution, looking at my machete/But the workload is too heavy to rise up in arms/And if I ran away, I know they'd probably murder my moms."

A frequent point of reference is Washington's post-9/11 imperialist crusade. On "Cause of Death", for example, Technique raps: "'Jealous of our freedom', I can't believe you bought that excuse/Rockin' a motherfucking flag don't make you a hero/Word to Ground Zero/The devil crept into heaven, God overslept on the seventh/The new world order was born on September 11 ... Without 9/11, you couldn't have a war in Iraq/Or a defence budget of world conquest proportions/Kill freedom of speech and revoke the right to abortions/Tax cut extortion, a blessing to the wealthy and wicked/But you still have to answer to the armageddon you scripted."

On another track Immortal Technique raps that he would "never make songs that disrespect women/Or to judge people by the way that they're living/But the way I am is based on the life I was given". However, for all Technique's lyrical brilliance and wit, no assessment of his music can be complete without addressing the sexist and homophobic verses in a number of his songs. The subject seems to be one that he is defensive about — "How dare you niggaz criticise the way that I spit/you coffee shop revolutionary son of a bitch", he raps on "Obnoxious".

Technique's theory appears to be that because the language he uses is common in the milieu that he moves in it's okay, and that to take his use of sexist and homophobic terms too seriously is to miss the point. There is no doubt that he takes pleasure in being a lyrical shit stirrer, which there is certainly nothing wrong with in abstract.

But language matters; not using sexist and homophobic language, whether it is used seriously or in jest, is not just a question of abstract, puritanical morality. Using such language helps the ruling class weaken the solidarity of the oppressed, by maintaining the divisions that sexism and homophobia sow within the working class. Just as the racism implicit in imperialist crusades like Washington's "war on terror" needs to be challenged, so too do the ruling classes' anti-woman and anti-gay policies need to be confronted in order to build a movement capable of tearing down capitalism and replacing it with a society based on human dignity and solidarity.

However, by any measure Technique's music, flawed as some of it is, does more to confront the reality of human suffering caused by capitalist society than the music that radio stations and Video Hits consider inoffensive — music that doesn't challenge imperialism and the attempt by the US ruling class (and its allies like Australian capitalists) to "normalise" the suffering inflicted on the Third World and the oppressed within the imperialist countries in the name of "freedom". And let's not forget — most of that music is banal, forgettable crap.

From Green Left Weekly, March 23, 2005.

Visit the Green Left Weekly home page.