Immortal Technique, stage name of Peruvian born Felipe Andres Coronel, released his new album “The Martyr”, completely free to download yesterday.
Needless to say, I have had it on loop since last night and my immediate impression of it is that it is a work of incredible commitment by a workaholic independent MC who was raised in Harlem, New York, and became politicised from an early age.
Immortal Technique (IT) has always written provocative lyrics with themes ranging from the institutional racism embedded within capitalism, the injustices of globalisation, corporate greed, censorship, and oppression.
What is apparent in this new effort is the broadening of approach in handling the often very polemical content in the verses. The album also features notable artists such as Dead Prez, Vinnie Paz (of Jedi Mind Trick’s fame), Brother Ali with even Chuck D (Public Enemy) making an appearance among others.
The album opens with an interlude which calls for you to “burn this for every motherfucker you know”. After all, its free. The idea here, which has been muddled as of late in hip hop, is that the message has become so muted, it is more important than the money, it has gone beyond it and travelled full circle (because lets face it, with record labels now manufacturing “the best rappers” around, the culture of hip hop has largely changed through the lens of public life into a pseudo-culture dominated by braggers). As veteran MC RA the Rugged Man once said, “you’re only as successful as how much they spend on you”. Immortal Technique has rejected that artificial dependency and sought ways around it.
“I need you to think for you and stop being a servant”
The title track, “The Martyr”, then opens with the IT almost picking up from where he left off in his last offering “The 3rd World”, almost challenging the beat to outdo him and his poignant lyricism – something rather unique to IT and his work. Whereas a lot of MCs overlay their verses on a beat which seem largely divorced from the lyrical material, there is a genuine sense that the two are conjoined in IT’s work. This is especially apparent as the album continues with the melancholic “Angels & Demons”, featuring infamous rap duo Dead Prez.
Following this, a definite stand-out track begins: “Rich Man’s World (1%)”. This has taken the Twittersphere by storm, and rightly so. Never has a more cynical (and believe me, its cynical) and comical (he has sampled ABBA’s “Money Money Money” in it) exposition of the so called “1%” and their lifestyle been made before. In this track more than anywhere else, IT truly demonstrates that, while lyrically driven, he certainly has the technique to relay the content given all of the rhyme structures and effective time-lapsing.
“[…] only little people pay all these taxes and fees / since you were born we control what you watch and you read / and pretty soon we’re gonna own the fucking air that you breathe / I take what I want – fucker – I don’t have to say please / I convince you that its good for you / take it and leave / you think presidents are the face of a nation? / I put them all where they are / end of the conversation”
“Toast to the Dead”, a late and great J Dilla production, is a solid track quite reminiscent of IT’s work on Revolutionary Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, taking on the form of an inward reflection of defiance and struggle, but ultimately resilience.
Sure to be another fan favourite, “Goonies Never Die”, then begins with a playful beat sampling the memorable film’s theme. Adopting a similar kind of tone to “Rich Man’s World”, this song trumpets along pleasantly into the more pensive yet uplifting “Natural Beauty”.
The mood suddenly changes in “Civil War”. If hip hop could make you march, this could be the song. A heavily political diatribe against the assumptions and preconceptions we have in our society which keep us divided along artificial lines, distracting us from the dividers at the top who prosper because of it.
“[…] I never hate on the south / I respect their vision / I just hate on niggas that promote samboism / and white execs that love to see us in that position / they reflect the stereotypes of America’s vision / they want dancing cooning and hollering / only respect us for playing sports and modelling / modern racism? / its stay in your place-ism / while people trapped in practical black face-ism / so fuck a civil war between the north and the south / its between field niggas and slaves that are stuck in the house”
Sandwiched between probably my least favourite tracks, “Mark of the Beast” and “Young Lords”, “Black Vikings” explodes in all of its confrontational glory, challenging the listener to first bear the sonic assault before actually revelling in its aggression and energy. If “Civil War” made you march, this track will surely make you join the vanguard.
“We may not run America, but we make America run”
The penultimate track “Ultimas Palabras” (“Last Words”) has been stylised as a public speech. Departing from a similar track of IT’s, “The Poverty of Philosophy” where IT overlayed his spoken words over an accommodative beat, “Ultimas Palabras” has an audible audience. It is another act of trying to eloquently raise awareness about the corrupt elite in politics and business, ending with a rather dramatic conclusion, and opening into what IT described as his favourite track on Twitter: “Sign of the Times”. Its understandable to see why.
This track is simply an incredible piece of music. Fusing cultural melodies and instruments together with the most passionate and concise I have ever heard IT probably since the title of track of “The 3rd World”.
It would have been fantastic to hear renowned MCs such as Chino XL and Canibus on the album, but that is a juvenile gripe of mine as a fan wishing to play fantasy rap.
Despite the numerous MCs featured, the best thing about this album is Immortal Technique himself – this is a trend true of all the best MCs. It is visible to see how he has managed to refine his MCing skills as well as taking on melodies and beats which, even more than before, compliment the lyrical content. The album itself could not be more timely either, with occupations around the world raising awareness and protesting against growing inequalities, corporate greed, and how the “1%” are living ever more lavish lives, often at our expense. It will certainly resonate.
Some critics claim his material is too monotonous, convoluted and bordering, if not completely espousing, conspiracy theory. Yet, with powerful and effective aphoristic lines such as “live for revolution, instead of always dying for it”, I think it is safe to say the message has developed and matured into something which has become more tangible and accessible. The message isn’t stylised as one man against the odds we should cheer on, it is a metaphorical call to arms.
Immortal Technique, unlike many other MCs who are obsessed with reinventing themselves to energise marketing campaigns, finds his niche impersonally – a welcome and rare thing in modern hip hop.