On Friday night in a small upstairs room at Appel Commons, Immortal Technique walked on stage with slow, pensive confidence and a T-shirt featuring his own name. He took his place behind the podium and began to speak for the next hour and a half, expounding his views on politics, race and life’s general purpose, followed by a brief performance.
Sponsored by both The Intellectual Diversity Association and The Prison Activist Coalition, the event focused on discussing freely the same racial and socioeconomic tensions and inequalities Immortal Technique hyperbolizes in his lyrics.
Technique, as he was addressed throughout the night, spoke eloquently on his own personal philosophy, shaped by an eclectic upbringing that took him from Peru to Harlem, New York. He told the story of his family’s choice to leave Peru in the wake of the violence after the Shining Path rebellion in 1980, only to find a different, more subversive violence, omnipresent in the streets of Harlem. Technique explained that he “embraced hip-hop culture as a child,” not as a way “to glorify [street life],” but rather as a way “to explain it,” saying that to him it wasn’t gangster rap; it was ‘reality rap.’”
He explained that the source of the violence that caused him to leave Penn State and serve time in prison was that he “took [his] conditioning from the street” to Penn State, seriously detracting from his education. Technique has since learned to harness his violent feelings and use them as inspiration for impassioned vitriolic raps about the reality he sees and disproves of around the world.
Technique was not afraid to take controversial stances at times, even showing his support for violent socialist causes around the world.
He expounded his distaste for the modern-day legacy of European colonialism that has subjugated different native peoples throughout history. During a brief question and answer section, he employed his impressive historical knowledge as evidence that this subjugation is only continuing through globalization. He spoke specifically of contemporary “corporate imperialism,” which he sees in the exploitation of Latin American resources that provide wealth for some but often never reach their homelands’ impoverished populations. With his success, Technique has bought a farm in Peru whose products are sold exclusively within the country.
He was even unafraid to discuss his displeasure with the Obama administration and American democracy in general, saying “we put a price tag on human life all too often.” Technique cited his disappointment with both Obama’s immigration policy and his questionable advocacy for a public option as failures of our current day democratic system.
Immortal Technique finished his speech by taking up an issue closer to home here in Ithaca. He threw his support behind the Ujamaa program house, saying explicitly that it “should not be closed.” The house’s vision and validity has been debated heavily in recent weeks and its existence seems to be more and more precarious with the financial crisis. Technique dissented, imploring students to take action and support not only the house’s continued existence, but also to push to spread cultural and historical education and awareness. Technique proposed even incorporating a library into the house.
When all questions had finished, the room transformed. Chairs were pushed back against the wall and the audience gathered tightly around the stage, bobbing their hands in the air along with Immortal Technique’s rhymes. For a little over half an hour, Technique performed some of his classic songs spanning his entire career. The small crowd of just around 200 pushed towards the stage, interacting directly with the emcee.
The crowd consisted of many loyal Immortal Technique supporters. Fans rapped along with Technique during well-known songs like “The Point of No Return” and “Harlem Streets.” During some songs, Technique started chants with the audience, including a back and forth of “Peruvian-coke” during the song “Peruvian Cocaine.” While beginning with a somewhat serious demeanor after Technique’s politically dominated speech, the crowd readily loosened up during the performance, especially after Technique sprayed the audience with water from his bottle on stage.
Technique gave a memorable performance, with pugnacious yet poignant freestyles and even more controversial song lyrics. The crowd walked away impressed by both the emcee’s ability to animate a crowd and the sophisticated vernacular of his rhymes.
The night closed with a promise to the crowd, for those willing to wait, that Technique would sign anything “except a Red Sox hat.”