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Immortal Technique - Revolutionary Vol. 2

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Artist: Immortal Technique

Album: Revolutionary Vol. 2

Label: Viper

Review date: Jan. 14, 2004

I first ran into Immortal Technique at an MC showcase at Northsix in Brooklyn. I don’t remember too much about that show, but I definitely remember Technique. A relative obscurity, even in a room full of hip hop nerds (and I’m not excluding myself), he stepped up to the mic, ripped open his Jersey that read “Bad Boy Entertainment,” scoffed at anyone who thought he represented that crew, and proceeded to destroy the show. A mix of Che Guevarra, shock rap, and unbeatable flow, his charisma enthralled the audience, made us chant his name, and occasionally scared the shit out of us. By the end of the night, Revolutionary Vol. 1 was completely sold out.

His second go round, Revolutionary Vol. 2 has better distribution this time, but is nearly identical in structure, look and passion to his original DIY release. The cover art is similarly violent, the rhymes are just as full of stomach acid, and both CD’s have his cell phone number on the CD. I’m still not sure if that’s a form promotion, or a challenge.

Let’s get the downside of Revolutionary Vol. 2 out of the way. It has the exact same weakness as Revolutionary Vol. 1, and it wouldn’t be surprising if there was a similar problem on Vol. 3. The beats are simple, and at times, repetitive. The actual sound quality is better than Vol. 1, and one or two of the productions are particularly nice, but for the most part they are dark, string samples over straight forward, 4/4 drum programming. Similar in feel to early Mobb Deep, the beats on this album function as accompaniment rather than stand alone creations. But the truth is, you don’t listen to Immortal Technique if you want to hear great beats. He is, as it is sometimes said, “all about the lyrics.”

Like a man possessed by the spirit of Chuck D, Noam Chomsky and Malcolm X wrapped into a White Owl and smoked slow, Tech never rhymes about money unless he’s talking about the government giving to the Taliban, and he never talks about hoes unless they’re your mother. He is vicious, hilarious, angry as fuck, and delivers rhymes like agent orange delivers tumors. There is no abstraction, no singing, no back-pedaling, no apologizing. Tech has a manifesto to spit, and he doesn’t stop till he’s done. And it doesn’t hurt that he drops gems like “cause if you go platinum / it’s got nothing to do with luck / it just means that a million people are stupid as fuck,” along the way.

Some highlights from the album include “Harlem Streets,” the lead single “Industrial Revolution,” “The 4th Branch” and “Peruvian Cocaine.” “Harlem Streets” is an all-too true vision of New York accompanied by DJ Roc Raida on the turntables, “Industrial Revolution” has more great one-liners than Rodney Dangerfield has bad movies, “The 4th Branch” hates hard on the US government and “Peruvian Cocaine” is a tight concept piece which depicts the way cocaine is trafficked into the US. Most of the members of the Stronghold Crew play a character in “Peruvian Cocaine,” showing the corruption at all levels and the amount of talent under the surface of that New York set.

The best cut on the album, however, is “You Never Know,” featuring the lovely Jean Grae. A tragic love story told from the first person, it is effortlessly narrated and heart-breaking, managing to locate catharsis even as it descends. Usually foul-mouthed in a wonderful way, Jean Grae simply sings the hook on this track, leaving Tech to weave his tale. “You Never Know” motivates much like a funeral – it makes you want to go out and do something.

Revolutionary Vol. 2 is a rock-solid LP full of enough heat to light a fire under George W. Bush’s ass. It is also proof that hip hop, the most ubiquitous booty-shaking sound right now, is still a powerful tool of social critique. Though not everyone may agree with some of Tech’s more left-field conspiracy theories (e.g. bombs planted in the twin towers by the US government), Tech is nothing if not understanding of this reality. He is full of righteous hate, but never in blind or sweeping ways that are sometimes endemic of history boiled down into hip hop form. He insults the government, but never hates on whole colors, creeds or social groups, and he never insults his audience. As he puts it “I love the place I live, but I hate the people in charge.” And it is this mixture of intelligence and anger, knife edge and open heart that makes him one of the most promising artists in the New York independent scene.

By Owen Strock

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