"Why did Bush knock down the towers?" asks Jadakiss on "Why?" Currently at number 36 on the Billboard Hot 100, it's probably the first Top 40 song in history to directly accuse the President of the United States of launching a terrorist attack on his own country.
Perhaps Chuck D.'s famous proclamation that hip-hop culture is black America's CNN still holds true. Throughout much of the Nineties, while America's most-trusted news source wallowed in tabloid stories such as the Monica Lewinsky scandal, hip-hop artists trafficked in "reality" fare, telling tall tales of killing "niggas" and pimping "hoes."
During what has thus far been a partisan and rancorous decade, journalists have sought to foment arguments between ideological opposites such as the Democratic and Republican parties. We even take joy in drumming up conflict between friends and colleagues such as Democrat John Edwards, the hot young vice presidential candidate, and Hillary Clinton, who is "reportedly" upset that Edwards's efforts to launch a future campaign for president will thwart her own ambitions. Meanwhile hip-hop artists are locked in a world of beef, dividing into numerous camps, units, crews, and cliques, and waging a never-ending war against enemies real and perceived.
These are gross generalizations, but the underlying point is that, in taking its cue from black America, hip-hop culture reflects American culture as a whole, of which black America is undeniably a part. Shortly after the 9/11 attacks when President Bush was granted carte blanche by Congress to enact his political agenda, flyers began turning up in densely populated cities such as San Francisco that screamed "Bush Did It," superimposing his face over a photograph of United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center.
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The same disconnect occurred in hip-hop culture. While Ghostface Killah bellowed "America, together we stand, divided we fall" on Wu-Tang Clan's "Rules," Mr. Lif released his Emergency Rations EP, where he opined on "Home of the Brave," "Are lives worth a world of power? Easy question." Two years later, following the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay, two controversial wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and countless other demonstrations of Bush's executive power, the grapevine is beginning to circulate Lif's thoughts with greater frequency, leading to their mainstream exposure via Jadakiss on "Why?"
But, as always, more incendiary voices are speaking in the deep underground. There is the Capital D, a Chicago-based Muslim whose forthcoming Insomnia on his own All Natural label (www.allnaturalhiphop.com) analyzes America's war against al Qaeda and radical Islam and its collateral effects on Muslims in this country. Mr. Lif is returning with fellow Boston MC Akrobatik, and their upcoming album together as the Perceptionists on Definitive Jux (www.definitivejux.com), Black Dialogue, reportedly takes the piss out of the Bush administration, asking, "Where are the weapons of mass destruction?"
Then there is Immortal Technique. A Peruvian whose parents brought him to Harlem in the mid-Eighties, Immortal Technique spent two years in jail for aggravated assault in the late Nineties. His time in prison helped him focus his ideas, and when he was paroled in 1999 he set upon the battling circuit (made famous by Eminem in 8 Mile), building a reputation as one of the fiercest and most scientific rappers in some time.
Check this verse from "Creation and Destruction," the opening track from his 2002 debut, Revolutionary Vol. 1: "The government took scientists from Nazi Germany/To design nuclear rockets and ways of observing me/But their pathetic attempts didn't work to murder me/When this country was conceived these bastards never heard of me/But now I hold the souls of slave masters eternally."
For listeners who count the late Eighties and early Nineties as hip-hop's golden era, Immortal Technique is a thrilling prospect. His voice has a grinding, monotone cadence that will be familiar to anyone who has attended a rap battle and heard competing MCs vocally dump out pages of verses within 30 seconds. But he's no backpacker. His songs can be brutal, especially when he speaks of "dismembering" and "decapitating" opponents with a deliberate coldness. On "Creation and Destruction," he continues, "I'll leave your body drenched in the blood of all your ancestors/You'll never be at peace, like the souls of child molesters."
The anger and gravity of Immortal Technique's content is apparently not an act. During a phone conversation with him from New York as he prepared to go out on the Warped tour, the rapper casually spoke of crushing people who have confronted him in clubs over his content. "I've had a few run-ins," he says. "Unfortunately, I had to stomp the shit out of that motherfucker. Fortunately, that's not the focus of my life."
Immortal Technique says he performs around 50 shows a year, and has sold an impressive 33,000 copies of his 2003 album, Revolutionary Vol. 2. The disc was released on Viper Records and jointly distributed by EMI and underground imprint Nature Sounds. Viper is owned by drug reformer Jonathan Stuart and Immortal Technique, whom Stuart made executive vice president this year.
On Revolutionary Vol. 2, Immortal Technique raps, "Condoleezza Rice is just a New Age Sally Hemings." In conversation, he says the current election is a reprise of The Manchurian Candidate. "Kerry was put there to lose," he laughs. "Your boy Bush might have bought another one." He believes the rap industry is "based off some rich white people's image of what we can be." He even takes some progressive activists to task, calling them "self-righteous people who can't get a real job."
"It's not like I'm trying to insult everybody," he adds, relievedly. "Because I know that there's some people that are really dedicated and give their lives to that. But it gets to the point where you've got to stop preaching to people and say, 'What can I actively do to help?'" Immortal Technique knows his words can be scalding, but he doesn't consider himself a radical: "Having an opinion isn't extreme."
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