The commercialization of hip-hop, its overabundance in mainstream airwaves and the overall declining quality in its music has led me to believe that hip hop is dead, or at least it should be. There is that broad yet very disappointing stereotype that hip-hop, rap and everything in between is a reflection of catchy rhythms and socially lyrical flaunting.
Cars, hoes, sex, money and jewels—the lyrics are new but the topics are not. Whether it’s Lil B, the latest artist or Wiz Khalifa who as of recent sits near the top of the Billboard, hip-hop music has been saturated with what sells and what is catchy.
That’s why it was so refreshing and entertaining to listen last Friday to underground hip-hop legend Immortal Technique and the acts that preceded his, including local Long Island performer Diabolic.
Whereas artists like Khalifa, who in his single “Say Yeah” samples the popular 1999 techno song, “Better Off Alone,” and Lil B, who in his song “Exhibit Based,” attempts to establish his dominance over the rap game while addressing his life story, there is both a lyrical and social appreciation when it comes to listening to Immortal Technique.
For example, his song, “Point of No Return” covers everything from the slave rebellion of Nat Turner, to the Holocaust and 9/11, providing historical insights that rhythmically flow and would make any liberal arts major appreciate each individual lyric. You could call comparing underground hip-hop like Technique’s to the mainstream music that is heavily played and prostituted for mass consumption like the comparison between apples and oranges—or good music and bad music. But what’s unique about Technique is the where the root of his message comes from.
In this industry where icons and influential figures like Eminem and Sean Combs remind audiences of their stature by appearing on Super Bowl commercials, Immortal Technique, whose name is Felipe Andres Coronel, and many like him choose to be strictly independent and fairly less publicized. “What the industry offers I think, to people, which seems lucrative, is the idea of working with very accomplished producers who are very professional. I’m gonna say that much for them,” says Technique after his Friday evening performance at Stony Brook.
“I think there are factors that are overlooked in the greater scheme of what I do. I have to be a good rapper; I have to be in tune with what I have. People have to trust what I say. You know, I’ve never taken corporate bribes for stuff. People respect my opinion because they know I’m honest at least, even if they don’t agree with every aspect of what I say.”
The beauty of independent hip-hop, fully evident during the performances of Diabolic and Technique, is the rich intensity and poetic verse that fuses the beat of an individual song to that specific message. So while you might have themes that may overlap with some mainstream rap about the social confidence of one’s particular dominance over the industry, it’s done respectfully, even though it’s doused with profanity and insults. Often absent in the music younger artists, Technique’s music has diction that is full of passion with each verse uttered, clearly crafted through years of experience and performances, which binds the audience to each song.
Listening to Technique and most other underground rappers, the music goes beyond the simple ecstasy enjoyed by a catchy-club song or a popular bass-driven beat. It makes you stop, think, and analyze, which is very rare for most other musical genres.
“I don’t think everyone’s gonna get every single thing that I say, but I think there are so many references within the music to things that aren’t just part of pop-culture, that they’ll say ‘You know what? That’s interesting. What does that mean? I wanna discover it for myself,’” Technique says. “At some point, you make music for people in different instances. There’s music for people when they go to the club, there’s music for people when they’re in their car and they wanna be in a mood where maybe they’re a little more pensive about what’s going on in their life. I can make music that’s reflective. I can make music that’s very, very hard edge but at the same time I cant expect everybody to sit there and grasp every single aspect of what I say, and that’s a process that comes with time.”
At many points during the concert, Technique’s crew of performers would provide anecdotal advice to everyday life, from challenging authority, successful leadership qualities. They quite often expressed their support of marijuana. But as juvenile and simplistic as that might seem, there is a plethora of substantially thought-provoking material in much of the music played that night. Often is the case that much of Technique’s material is heavily politicized. Many of his songs will question the conventional idea of history and will even go as far to as make reference to specific presidential administrations and foreign governments.
Much of that message comes from his heavy involvement in various charities, political activism and advocacy. The 32-year-old Peruvian native has even gone as far as to purchase acres of land in his native country in order to correct an on-going problem regarding agricultural business. He advocates for locals to sell crops locally rather than as exports. Technique has also been a staunch advocate of Palestinian rights and has heavily criticized the Bush Administration for its occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan as well as the Patriot Act. Technique partnered with Omeid International, a non-profit human rights organization that works with orphans in Afghanistan, to fund the construction of an orphanage.
“I feel that if I weren’t doing this rapping, I’d be doing what I’m doing in some other fashion. It’s just who I am. I don’t feel comfortable walking past someone who’s suffering knowing that I don’t really need to do much to help that person,” says Technique, without a hint of boastfulness. “There are other people who don’t give a shit, who think that doesn’t affect them. I don’t believe in the way people define Karma, per se, the way that it’s like ‘Oh if you do something good, then something good’s coming back to you.’ This isn’t pay it forward homie, it’s not like that,” he adds.
And from listening to Technique perform and listening to him talk, there is no doubt that he is as truthful and honest as they come, a straight no-bullshit type of guy who’s ego appears unaffected by his success.
“I think if I’ve learned anything through all my travels, I’ve learned that humanity is so similar, and strives to be so different from one another, and so superior. And that is where it’s truly flawed.”
If there is anything to take away from Immortal Technique, let alone the various talented independent rappers, it’s that hip-hop isn’t dead. It’s just underground, untouched and left pristine.