Last fall, Immortal Technique came through Denver as part of a voter-registration-themed tour called Stand Up and Be Counted. As he urged young people to make their voices heard in the 2004 election, little did the Peruvian-born, Harlem-bred MC -- who's known for his scathing criticism of the Bush administration -- realize that the government was in the midst of its own initiative to silence him.
"The next morning, bright and early," he recalls of the day after his raucous performance at Cervantes', "basically, some government agents broke into my room and accused me of drug trafficking and tried to hit me with all types of charges. They came in some unmarked vehicles, a whole shitload of them. They could have been narcotics division, 5-0, DEA. They weren't wearing the traditional blue uniforms you see in the movies. There were people who were dressed in all black. There were also people dressed in plain clothes. It seems like they were making a gigantic deal of coming there, because they came pretty deep."
Because of pending litigation issues, the rapper is leery of commenting on the situation other than to say, "I beat everything," though he promises his version of the incident will be documented for a future DVD release.
So was it just a case of mistaken identity, or did the clamp-down have something to do with the MC's controversial lyrics, which brutally attack Dubya and his boys? Reading it in the context of the Patriot Act and other government efforts to silence dissidents, Technique leans toward the latter.
"It's hard for me to say that it was coincidental," he says.
Tough call, but one thing's certain: Technique's incendiary words are hard to ignore. For example, his latest single, the DJ Green Lantern-produced remix of "Bin Laden," features this chorus rapped by KRS-One and Chuck D: "Bin Laden didn't blow up the projects/It was you, nigga, it was you/Bush knocked down the towers/It was you, nigga, it was you, motherfucker." Elsewhere on the track, Technique describes suburban ghettos as "the gulag, the new hood, where they send us to live/'Cause they don't give a fuck about none of our kids/That's why blacks and Latinos get the worst education/While Devils run America like Birth of a Nation."
Lines like these aren't likely to get the rapper invited to any Republican Party functions. But despite the inclusion of Jadakiss-penned lyrics about Bush, Technique shrugs off the notion that he is a conspiracy theorist.
"I don't think Bush did it, because he isn't that smart," he insists, referring to the 2001 attacks. "He's just a stupid puppet taking orders on a cell phone. I think that while individuals on both sides of the political spectrum view conspiracy theory about 9/11 as ludicrous, I think it is obvious that the government that is in place now -- that didn't even want to have a 9/11 commission -- isn't telling us the truth about 9/11. And they're not telling us the truth -- not because they want to protect the public or for national security reasons. They're not telling us the truth because they want to protect themselves from either their own belligerent incompetence or their involvement with terrorist groups that they have had in the past."
This analysis is typical from the man who on "Cause of Death" gave us such quotable lines as "Colonialism is sponsored by corporations/That's why Halliburton gets paid to rebuild nations." And more fiery jabs are sure to follow: Technique is currently in the lab fine-tuning his Chomsky-esque critiques for his next full-length, The Middle Passage (volume three of his Revolutionary series), slated for release at the end of 2005. The title refers to the slave-trade journey, which he compares to the path one takes in the music industry to get mainstream acceptance.
"Basically, the idea of the middle passage is the path from independence and the freedom to say whatever you want to the world -- where you don't even get to say what is on your album," he explains. "When niggas talk about that gangster shit, it makes me laugh, especially rappers, because I'm like, 'You're begging a rich white man for extra money; you don't even control what song is on your album. So get the fuck out of my face.'"
To that end, Technique remains proudly independent with Viper Records, and he's aligned himself with Babygrande and Koch Records, whom he hopes will provide him with better distribution. But to get to this point in his journey, to paraphrase Nelson Mandela, Technique has had to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before he can begin to get close to the mountaintop of his desires.
After high school, in an effort to escape the Harlem streets that claimed many of his friends, Technique attended Penn State. It was there, however, that he earned a state-paid vacation after someone shouted a racial slur at him and a friend. Facing a three- to five-year sentence for aggravated assault (he never confessed to the crime), Technique ended up serving a one-year sentence in an upstate Pennsylvania prison. While in jail, he wrote most of his first record, Revolutionary Vol.1. "I chose to reform myself," he says.
Once Technique was released, it was on. He developed a reputation as a serious battle rapper in the New York underground and went on to release Vol.1 in 2001 and Revolutionary Vol. 2 in 2003, to critical acclaim. After getting out of jail, he also had a chance to go back to Peru, which proved to be an inspirational experience.
"I rhyme about what I've been through," he says. "A lot of people who grew up in the hood understand poverty from one angle, but being born in a Third World country and going home, I was definitely humbled. And it taught me what poverty really was and the difference between racism and classism and how they're intertwined."
Technique is using this knowledge to try to change the world, one record at a time. He says he hopes to rebuild notions of community through education and economic-empowerment ventures.
"I want to do things to physically make a difference," he says. "I'm working on a scholarship program. Education is revolution to me. Blacks and Latinos used to control every industry in our lives, but now we control none of them. It starts with investing in ourselves, something we rarely do, investing in our own businesses and controlling our own neighborhoods. We need to have our own bank. We need to start by educating ourselves. We seem to associate being intelligent with being pussy. Oh, no, it's not.
"The most gangster shit in the world," he concludes, "is to know what's going on."
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene with music features, additional online music listings and show picks. We'll also send special ticket offers and music promotions available only to our Music Newsletter subscribers.