Q&A with Immortal Technique

Tom Lin

On a blazing hot August day in Jones Beach, New York, Peruvian-born, Harlem-raised rapper Immortal Technique finds himself in the middle of hip-hop history. As the only Latino rapper on the Rock the Bells Hip-Hop Festival's main stage line-up, which includes Nas, Pharcyde, A Tribe Called Quest and a half-dozen other legends, Immortal Technique (born Felipe Coronel), has a crowd of 10,000 fans—black, white, Latin and everything in between—out of their seats, finishing his lyrics, and answering his cries for revolution.

Despite several opportunities to sell out (he's had offers for record deals from major labels after the success of this first two albums, Revolutionary Volumes 1&2) and brains that could have easily led him to a white collar job (he went to a high school for intellectually gifted students, also attended by Lin-Manuel Miranda), Immortal Technique has remained true to his roots. "I consider myself a revolutionary," he says. "I don't think I need to explain that. There is no choice; its always going to be that way."

Why did you decide to name your new album The 3rd World, rather than continuing with your Revolutionary Volumes series?

I'm a writer by nature so, I'm always writing, when I'm angry, feeling down, depressed, or whatever it may be. So I kept writing and writing and I had all these songs that were incredibly powerful. They had a strong concept to them, but none of them fit the concept of the Revolution series.

Why did you choose the theme of the third world for your album?

We wanted to show people that no matter how fucked up people think they have it out here, the conditions of poverty in places like South America, India, the Middle East, or Africa are ten times worse. It redefines poverty. I think it's incredibly necessary for people--especially in hip-hop, where they think they're so hood--to humble to the reality that their "hood" is nothing in comparison to these places.

Do you feel hip-hop audiences are ready to hear such a strong message, or are you afraid people are only interested in what Jay Z and Kanye have to say?

You just saw me do a show in front of 10,000 people. I sold out all my shirts, all my CDs. I get a lot of love. It's been a month now and I sold about 40 thousand CDs of The Third World, all independent, no major labels. I get $9.75 a CD so f*ck them labels.

Who are some people in the music industry that have influenced you?

It's funny because people always ask me who my influences are, and I always tell them Chuck D, Public Enemy, Run DMC. But I don't mean musically. I sat down with these brothers over the years and they said, "Look brother, in 1994, this is what I got paid for this classic album, that these [record executive] motherf*ckers are sending their children through college with: I got like $5000." They taught me so much about the business of the music, they didn't necessarily influence my style as an artist, but rather as a business person and I appreciate that.

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