Immortal Technique brings a different flavor to most rap artists. His socially aware lyrics are completely in tune with his activism and political engagement. He has arguably been more active in the fight for immigrant rights and in his charitable work than he has recently been as a recording artist, but his releases in the early part of the millennium announced him as an artist of rare commitment. “People see the music I make as a threat to the status quo of hip hop,” he says, as he prepares to release The Middle Passage, his first album in nine years.
Prison and Politics
He was born Felipe Andres Coronel on February 19, 1978, in Lima, Peru, in a military hospital. He moved with his family to Harlem, New York, at the age of two and was a student at Hunter College High School. Coronel had a difficult childhood, and although he had embraced rapping by the age of nine, it wasn’t enough of a distraction to keep him out of trouble. As well as frequent arrests for petty crime, he also had a reputation as a thug — Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the Broadway musicals Hamilton and In the Heights, recently revealed he was bullied by Immortal Technique at school. “He terrorized kids," Miranda told Marc Maron’s WTF podcast. "I got thrown in the garbage by him.” However, Miranda went on to say that they eventually became friends and stayed in touch. “It’s been wonderful to watch him grow up and find a political outlet for that anger.”
Coronel attended Penn State University, but was soon incarcerated for aggravated assault and was sentenced to a year in prison. Released in 1999, he joined the battle-rap scene while taking political-science classes at Baruch College. “I read everything I could get my hands on, whether it was about our people or wasn’t,” he told the Village Voice.
'Revolutionary Vol. 1' to 'The Middle Passage'
Having established himself as a ferocious competitor on the battle-rap circuit, performing at Braggin Rites and the Rocksteady Anniversary, he decided it was time to prove himself as an artist with proper songs. He drew on some of the lyrics he’d written in prison and released his debut album, Revolutionary Vol. 1 on Viper Records in September 2001. Sold independently and with a run of just 3,000 copies, it nevertheless established his underground credentials, his rhyme flow channelling his aggression over stark, stripped-down beats. His track "Dance With the Devil," was ranked as one of the most violent hip-hop songs ever by Complex.
Its follow-up, Revolutionary Vol 2 (2003), contains various lyrics directed at the Bush administration, and ranged far and wide in its topics, from 9/11 to mass incarceration, along with many biblical allusions. Pitchfork’s review was positive, acclaiming the album as “a testament to the power of the independent voice in music,” while also noting that “the beats are hit-and-miss… simply overpowered by Technique’s voice.”
After announcing a third album, Immortal struggled to secure a release, touring while putting out the occasional track and making guest appearances. There was a single, "Bin Laden," with Mos Def in 2005, followed by a remix featuring KRS-One and Chuck D. The 3rd World album finally came out in 2008. Critics noted an improvement in the production quality, and the same passion as ever. He put out a compilation of unreleased songs called The Martyr as a free digital download in 2011, but since then hasn’t completed an album. Near the end of 2016 he announced that a new album, The Middle Passage, would come out at some point the following year.
Philanthropy Through The 3rd World, Other Social Causes
Not content with just paying lip service to politics and social issues, Coronel is also very active. He launched Project Green Light in partnership with Omeid International, a non-profit human-rights organization, and funneled the proceeds from his The 3rd World album into establishing an orphanage in Kabul, Afghanistan. In 2008 he sponsored a writing contest for high-school students, asking them to pen pieces about America's relationship with the Third World, and visited prisons to help teach inmates. He supported the Occupy movement and has more recently become involved in immigrant rights. In response to a 2017 controversy over the music festival SXSW’s application of recent changes to immigration law, he joined a protest and co-signed an open letter from a number of artists. “Seriously SXSW this is ridiculous,” he wrote, “I’m urging fellow artists to not play there until this is fixed.”
An artist who puts his money where his mouth is, and who inspires a small but fiercely loyal fanbase, Immortal Technique is very much a unique firebrand who is guaranteed to let you know what’s on his mind, whether in the recording booth or on Twitter. As he so succinctly put it in a 2013 interview: “I choose the medium of music to speak.”
(Profile photo of Immortal Technique by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images)
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