immortal technique: “terrorism is the wrong answer to the right question” ángel luis lara from LDNMtik   I  yolanda pividal / txo!? Immortal Technique’s voice (Lima, 1978) is heard loud and clear in NY’s hip hop scene. Raised in Harlem and a defender of auto production, he is the president of the independent company, Viper Records. Since he sold 80,000 copies of his second album in 2003, the forcefulness of his lyrics has broken through the industry and spilled over into the underground with sponsors such as Chuck D, KRS-One and Mos Def. It is Saturday noon. 125th street, the center of Harlem, is full of life. There is music all over the place, the market stalls, fast food shops and the homeless pushing their ramshackle carts. There is no white person around. After half an hour of waiting, and three surrealist conversations with a nervous crack addict that we try to avoid, Immortal Technique appears with a disagreeable look on his face and dark circles under his eyes. “I stayed up late working on the studio” he says while he puts his baseball hat on and he guides us through the projects, apartments for people with no economic resources and cradle of many famous rappers. He doesn’t talk much on the way. He looks like a normal kid in the neighborhood. Nobody would guess that he was the guy that messed up the improvisation scene in New York after being in prison for a year or the rapper who received the Hip Hop Quotable by the Source magazine in 2003, becoming the first MC that received this important award without being part of a big record company. Once we get to a rickety basketball court, we start the conversation.

You still live on Harlem...
Sure, this is where I grew up and have always lived, except for the year that I spent in a prison in Pennsylvania. Now there are more police and more stores and they want to create a new neighborhood, but not for the people from the neighborhood. Since Columbia University is really close, many houses are being fixed, the rent is increasing and many white students are coming. The amazing thing is that white people are paying enormous amounts of money to live in the poor people’s houses (laughs). But the problem is serious. Our people are kicked out of their houses at gunpoint or they increase the rent so much that we cannot afford it anymore. Luckily, the neighbors are beginning to be aware of this and are getting organized.

Your studio is around here?
Yes, this is where we work and compose our songs.

What does composing mean to you?
For me, it is a personal battle; a battle against a part of my self because I live in this, I am part of the USA machine. I don’t want to be like those who make billions from the war and from privatizing the world. That is my battle.

From that battle, how do you see the hip hop scene in the US?
When you listen to the hip hop from Ronald Reagan’s time, you see that rappers talked exactly about what was going on in the streets. If you listen to the current hip hop, you don’t hear anything about the war, the economical crisis, unemployment or people addicted to drugs. The mainstream hip hop is like an advertisement that sells cars or cell phones. When you watch TV you realize that they use our music to get into the neighborhoods and sell us whatever they want. The Latinos or the black people don’t have the political power but we have the economic power because we spend a lot of money on the products they make for us and most of the time, these are things we don’t need at all.

There might be some kind of obsession with the business, with making money
Yes, people who are at the top in hip hop only say “look at my cars and my diamonds”. But that is not the main problem. The problem is that they don’t invest any money that they earn in their people, in their neighborhoods. They are trained to forget where they come from. The industry is obsessed with us forgetting and singing only party songs. That is my main problem with hip hop in Spanish and reggaeton.

So, what is your problem with parties and reggaeton?
None. I also love to have fun. But, to me, the Latino woman is much more than what the songs say. I know a lot of women who love to party, but they also have a brain and they are lawyers, workers and mothers. The industry shows only what they want about our people and that’s how they take our voice away because our lives are shown as if they only had one dimension.

Now that you are talking about Latinos, what do you think about the immigration movement in the US last year?
It has to keep its independence because if it is controlled by either the left or the right wing, it will never be anything. The right and left in this country are the same. Many people who claim to have left-wing views are against migrants and are openly racist, but they are the blood of this country. If there were no Latinos, who would take care of the Yankees’ children? Who would wash their clothes or do the work they don’t want to do? What Latinos are saying now is: "You know what? Now we want to benefit from what we do because we work harder than any American". My mission is to give a voice to that, to tell how my people suffer and give his life so that this country can get ahead.

You attach much importance to independence, especially in your music. What is being independent for you?
To be free to talk about any topic and not have anybody over me who has nothing to do with my culture, an old Yankee who hasn’t lived the life that I have, who doesn’t understand my people’s culture, but tells me what I have to do. I don’t go to Wall Street to tell them what to do but they fuck us up everyday.

So who drives the current independent scene in the US?
Dead Prez, Akir Hasan Salaam and some others. People who don’t only talk about cars and money, but about this country’s situation, because we cannot forget that we are in a state of war.

You declare yourself against war...
Yes, because they take us there to protect their economic interest and they show this country like the defender of liberty. They only protect the interests of the corporations, which are the ones that pay the politicians’ campaigns. Fundamentalism and terrorism have increased in countries such as Afghanistan because the US government supports the destruction of the left wing and poor people have not been able to use it to express their unhappiness. Terrorism is the wrong answer to the right question: How did we get to this situation? Why are there so many social inequalities? Why do rich people in Brazil or Colombia have to take helicopters because if they walk on the streets they can be kidnapped?

What was the last hip hop verse that changed your point of view about something?
I don’t think it was a verse or a song. I changed when I talked to artists like Chuck D or KRS-One and told me how industry transformed the meaning of hip hop.

If a kid in your neighborhood asked you what he has to listen to in order to get started in hip hop, what would you say?
The Message, KRS-One, Run DMC, Children’s Story by Slick Rick or Fight the Power by Public Enemy. All those people created hip hop. If you want to understand something, you have to grab it from the very beginning. Hip hop is the most powerful way that we have to express ourselves because it doesn’t only get to our people, but rich people’s children listen to it too. We don’t usually have a voice, but with hip hop everybody is listening to us. If you want to understand how not to fail, how to prosper in that and conquer our own destiny, you have to understand the history of hip hop.