Music & Clubs

Revolutionary Road

Immortal Technique takes his music and convictions on a cross-country tour of Occupy camps and music venues
OCCUPYING EVERYWHERE: New York–based rapper Immortal Technique shows solidarity by making an impromptu tour through nationwide encampments.

TRYING TO TRACK down politically inclined MC Immortal Technique (real name Felipe Andres Coronel) for an interview felt a lot like playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

After buzzing his phone several times with no success, I started sleuthing recent Immortal Technique–related news items and the rapper's Twitter Feed to find out which Occupy Wall Street encampment he was hitting up that day. A few weeks ago, it was home base in Zuccotti Square, in New York. Last week, Miami. This past weekend, Houston.

Immortal Technique's OWS visits coincide with "The Martyr" tour, set to march into Avalon Nightclub on Friday. Watch out for him mingling among the tents at San Jose City Hall before or after the show, rallying the hard-core protesters still occupying San Jose. Maybe his appearance will even entice Occupy San Jose warrior Shaun "Cracker" O'Kelly down from his perch on the wall of the city's headquarters for a visit with the New York–based rapper.

I finally managed to catch him while on a tour bus to El Paso, Texas, and he gave me some insight into what fuels his life and his music, and why he supports Occupy Wall Street. Born in Peru in a military hospital during a period of violent civil unrest, a young Felipe Coronel and his family escaped to the States, landing in Harlem in the 1980s. Growing up, he wasn't exactly the pocket-protector type.

"I rarely ever took school seriously," he said. "I would read what I wanted to, unless I was forced to cover the annoying curriculum."

Despite his defiance of authority, Coronel had a thirst for knowledge about the world outside of his urban playground. "[Social and political issues were] always on my mind in some way, shape or form, even through the most ignorant and crazy years," he said.

Although Coronel played jazz trumpet and dabbled in hip-hop in his younger days, "Being a rap artist was just an idea. I just rhymed because I felt like I needed to represent what I saw that was real and fraudulent."

He also was a bit of an anarchist.

"If you met the 19-year-old incarcerated Immortal Technique and told him he was gonna be a rapper, he'd probably just laugh at you, and then rob you," Coronel joked. While no longer committing felonies, Immortal Technique still retains that "fight against the man" credo.

Coronel began rapping under the name Immortal Technique about 15 years ago as he began competing—and winning—rap battles.

"To complete any task in life you need some sort of technique, and when that technique is immortal, then anything is possible," he explained.

Whether onstage or in the recording studio, Immortal Technique sounds like a tenured political science professor from Stanford who began spitting rhymes during a lecture, and he's brought that awareness and passion to multiple OWS sites over the past couple of weeks as he travels around the country.

He eschews the issue-skirting tendencies of big record companies, opting instead to release albums off counter-culture label Viper Records, which has a prominent tab for "Activism" on its website.

"Without economic freedom, you cannot have political freedom, in this and just about every other society," he said. "We need to control our own music."

His intense, boxer-in-the-ring style of rapping, infused with political furor, can be compared to underground rhyme slingers Sage Francis or Atmosphere. While other famous rappers pollute the airways with the same old refrain of "Bentleys, bitches and bling," Immortal Technique chooses to use his musical platform in a more constructive fashion.

In the media and on the streets, the voices—of the student debtors, of the foreclosed-upon, of the families who used to live paycheck to paycheck, without a paycheck anymore—are growing louder. This is the time when Immortal Technique's lyrics become their battle cry.

"I see [Occupy Wall Street] as one of the greatest expressions of democracy in the recent decades this country has seen. They are on the ground dealing with the real issues in the local community," he said.

In the irony-tinged single "Rich Man's World (1%)" off his recently released mixtape The Martyr, Immortal Technique makes a strong statement about the plight of the people: "Only little people pay all these taxes and fees/ Since you were born, we control all you watch and you read/ And pretty soon we're going to own the f------ air that you breathe." I'm thinking if I head down to Fourth and Santa Clara streets this weekend, I'll finally find out where in the world Immortal Technique is. He'll be the one with the microphone, surrounded by 99-percenters, giving his two cents on the 1 percent.

Immortal Technique

Friday; 8pm; $15

Avalon, Santa Clara

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