In music, as in politics and religion, militarism is often an effective vehicle for impressing one’s message — just ask Felipe Andres Coronel. Born in a military hospital in Lima, Peru, and brought up on the streets of Harlem during the “Golden Age” of hip-hop, the rapper made a name for himself as a champion battle emcee whose rhymes reflected the political and physical violence of the world around him. Self-releasing his first album, Revolutionary Vol. I, under the name Immortal Technique in 2001, Coronel elevated himself above the noise level with visceral storytelling and a focus beyond the sybaritic pursuits typically associated with the rap game. Corporate imperialism, xenophobia, poverty, rape, institutional racism, religious hegemony: these are but a few of the ideas he challenges with his songs.
The political landscape may have changed in the decade since Coronel began his recording career, but his willingness to confront key issues has not. With four studio albums now under his belt, including the release of last year’s The Martyr, Immortal Technique remains unsigned to any label and retains full control over his music and collaborations (the latter including a partnership with Omeid International to build an orphanage in Afghanistan). Recently, I caught up with the emphatic emcee to chat in anticipation of his show at Casa de la Raza this Saturday, March 3.
What makes The Martyr a new concept, instead of a continuation of Revolutionary? I think, for me, the Revolutionary series had a bit of a — I wouldn’t say a format, but most of my albums have a similarity, and I think this was more in the vein of a compilation album. But it definitely is part of the series; it’s just comprised of so many different time periods that went into making it. Not that The Middle Passage doesn’t have stuff that I had been working on for a couple years, but at the same time it was in its own vein. I couldn’t call this album The Middle Passage or Revolutionary Vol. III. It was something that I had to give away to people absolutely for free, and it was incredibly successful. I appreciate the outpouring of support that I got because of something like that.
Let’s talk about your participation in the Occupy Movement. I was there when it first started, down in N.Y.C. I visited about 15 different Occupy sites when we did the first half of The Martyr tour, and we had a chance to examine some of the local issues people had been dealing with, as opposed to the national concerns Occupy Movement put on the forefront of the political scene. Each one came with a plethora of social issues that were very married to the local area. It was something that really shone a light on the fact that the federal government had swept things under the rug; all the things that Occupy Movement became criticized for, in turn, brought these issues up to light. You know, [people said,] “It’s a bunch of tents with homeless people.” The response came: “Homeless people? You mean those types of individuals who, I don’t know, would get a predatory loan from a bank that knows exactly what it’s doing, and that has done this to thousands of people, and then have to be in the streets with their fucking families?” We heard all types of criticisms, like “Oh, there’s drug addicts there.” “You mean individuals who are lost in a federal system of a war on drugs, in which nonviolent offender victims are routinely incarcerated for fucking football-number periods of time, when realistically speaking there is no data that is even offered as an explanation for how that would be constructive to a society?” … Those were some interesting things that were brought to light by visiting these sites and getting to talk to individuals about their personal stories.
What can you tell me about the history of Casa de la Raza? [Laughs] Oh wow, you wanna take it all the way back. I mean, what I understand about it — I’m not an expert — but, apparently, back in the ’70s, during the extent of the continuation of what the Civil Rights movement was, people like César Chávez and other individuals really became a legacy that people wanted to live up to, and I think that’s one of the many institutions that are trying to preserve that. Really, it reminds me of what I was trying to do — and what I think I successfully accomplished — in Arizona, which was to meet with local people. Instead of boycotting the establishment and saying “Okay, we’re not gonna come to Arizona,” we said, “In fact, we are, but we’re gonna work with specific people there.” We’re not gonna ignore it; we can’t get away with ignoring these problems anymore, so we’re gonna face it as a people, as a nation. I would be down to work with any organization like that.
Immortal Technique plays an all-ages show at La Casa de la Raza (601 E. Montecito St.) on Saturday, March 3 at 8 p.m. Visit clubmercy.com for tickets and info.