Those who feel contempt for the hip hop scene tend to know very little about its revolutionary origins and what it really is about. Anything you hear on commercial radio, any videos you see on MTV pertaining to be ‘hip hop’, are nothing but weak, watered down versions of the genre.
I don’t listen to much mainstream hip hop, because there’s little to appeal: it doesn’t touch the “street poetry” (as Dylan describes it) of the true form. Hip hop originated in the South Bronx and Harlem in the 70s and offered a way out from gang warfare and poverty, an alternative means of expression, for marginalised subcultures.
It started as a true expression of self, a way to showcase verbal dexterity and skill, and often served as powerful social commentary too.
The commercialisation of hip hop pushed forward by music industry execs in the 90s centred on the glorification of violence and titillation, and the mode of expression lost its way. Thankfully though, rappers such as Immortal Technique are helping steer hip hop back onto the right path.
Immortal Technique is key in today’s burgeoning underground political rap scene, populated by others such as Dead Prez, Constant Flow and Hasan Salaam in the US, Akala and Lowkey in the UK – those who speak out against the prevailing political landscape and global injustices – imperialism in all its forms, war, the pitfalls of capitalism, poverty and discrimination.
Immortal Technique played the Garage, Islington on Sunday, and he blew me away. He was so impassioned, so strong in his beliefs, so articulate – in short, a born leader.
What makes him stand out is that he doesn’t just preach revolution and political change as lip service – he actually tries to do something about injustices on a personal level.
He donated the profits from his album The Third World to build an orphanage in Afghanistan – crucially, without any corporate or external funding, which he is entirely against. He also often visits prisons to speak to youth and immigrant rights activists. Even during this tour (the brilliantly titled State Terrorism tour) he joined a Free Palestine demonstration in Birmingham. And he began his show at the Garage by dedicating it to the victims of Gaza.
There’s more of a need for rappers like Immortal Technique out there. He’s an incredibly inspiring, extraordinary human being, who makes you feel like you can, and should, change the world for the better.
If you’re craving an antidote to the largely anodyne, bland state of today’s mainstream music scene, have a listen to Immortal Technique’s blazing, polemical street poetry.
I’ll leave you with a few of his lyrics:
“You swallow propaganda like a birth control pill
Selling your soul to the eye on the back of the dollar bill”
Leaving the Past
“I’m baptised by America and covered in leeches
The dirty water that bleaches your soul and your facial features
Drowning you in propaganda that they spit through the speakers…
All they talk about is terrorism on television
They tell you to listen, but they don’t really tell you their mission”
Tell the Truth
“The only way to counter the insurgents that are well-equipped
Is to paint the people fighting for freedom as terrorists
Then find a faction looking for foreign investments
You stall them with power and murder any objections
You can’t stop a revolution from breathing
So to beat ’em they offer people the illusion of freedom
But when you’re done dreaming and wake up, tortured for treason
Then you can see them, hiding behind the God they believe in”