Immortal Technique’s Rebel Army hits Cambridge

A review of Immortal Technique at the Middle East Downstairs on December 6

, Staff

I’ve never been to a rap show. After seeing Immortal Technique Saturday night at the Middle East Downstairs, I can still say that. I’ve been to a hip-hop show, though. There is a difference, rest assured, and Tech and his Rebel Army family were not shy about marking their territory. This man is a living legend of underground hip-hop. In his eight or so years of recording, he has never signed to a major record label. Still, his politically fueled lyrics and harsh, confrontational style have propelled his albums to extraordinary numbers. One of the benefits of staying unsigned is that no one can tell him how to edit his songs. He says what he wants and means it. That independent mentality isn’t just a rap personality; it is a true representation of an intelligent artist who refuses to censor himself.

That goes for his stage show as well as his records. Immortal Technique brought with him a group of like-minded individuals to put on a concert not just of raps and beats, but also of messages. Blak Madeen and Statik Selektah were there; local favorite Termanology brought in Little Brother; and of course Tech brought his Rebel Army crew, Da Circle, Diabolic, DJ G.I. Joe, and Poison Pen. Each artist had a posse bigger than the next (though Lawrence native Termanology arguably had the largest). Each had a message to get out, whether it was about the government or the state of rap on the radio. Before dropping a freestyle, one of Poison Pen’s crew made it clear that, "I hate rappers. I love MCs, but I fucking hate rappers". This was a common theme of the night; that the rap game has been bastardized by record companies, and real hip-hop survives through acts like Tech and his army.

Tech’s first song was the critically recognized "Industrial Revolution" off his record making second release Revolutionary, vol. 2. The rhyme opens with the line "the bling-bling era was cute, but it’s about to be done." Next was his ode to his troubled hometown "Harlem Streets". He spoke after the song about how "If you can get killed anywhere, then you can find a community of revolutionary minded mother-fuckers, and we got that here tonight!" Tech has always been about inciting action, not record sales. His view is that the government is more corrupt than helpful, and that the institutions of self and community, individual actions en masse, are the true world changing powers.

He continued his political assault with the title track of his recent release, The 3rd World. While rhyming about the destruction and exploitation of the third world nations by the leading powers, he handed a bottle of water to a sweaty fan that had been crammed up front the whole show. Tech isn’t just hollow words; he cares about people at large, and made multiple references to his lack of "anxiety" around fans. "R.O.T.C" was next, and Tech got a breather while Da Circle gave a few bars. Tech then told the story about how he went to a record label to find distribution for Revolutionary, vol. 2. When the label said he had to cut two tracks, Tech apparently asked for fellatio. He next sang one of those songs, "The 4th Branch", a track about the criminally deceitful media. Apparently he doesn’t perform it often, and Diabolic stumbled providing backup vocals, but it was played off smoothly.

After good-naturedly ribbing the crowd about the Sox and Patriots (he being a Giants and Yankees fan), he reminded the crowd "hip-hop started with the DJ." He passed it over to let DJ G.I. Joe solo for a bit, and the giddy scratcher’s lightening hands were impressive. He jumped, spun, and even used his nose to mix, all while smiling and dancing around joyously. "The Point Of No Return" was next, followed by the cocaine trafficking tale "Peruvian Cocaine". Showing his Peruvian roots, Tech dropped a Spanish freestyle and talked about how this country was built by immigrants from all corners of the globe. He then went into the controversial 9/11 conspiracy theory smash "Bin Laden", having the crowd chant, "Bush knocked down the towers".

Tech mentioned a benefit from a few weeks ago during which the Rebel Army helped raise $40,000 to build an orphanage-slash-medical center in Afghanistan. He segued into talking about the commercialization of the gang and gangster lifestyle by major labels and rappers in order to sell records. To prove his point, he performed the haunting "Dance With The Devil", a tale of gang violence and rape. After, he made a point about that volatile subject, praising women as being emotionally stronger than men, and asking all men to be conscious of the women in their lives. The freestyled "Watch Out" followed, and then came the rarely performed "Caught In A Hustle".

Fan-favorite "Obnoxious" was next, and Tech entered perfectly by dissing the Sox and Pats and telling us all with a laugh to, "Fuck off". That song ends with Tech’s permission to get his records even if you have to "burn it off the Internet". He told the crowd to go home and download the CDs they don’t have if they’re too broke to buy it at the show, as long as they "bump it outside". He told DJ G.I. Joe to "throw whatever on" for the last song, and so it was "Crossing The Boundary". Tech cut the song short in order to spit an impromptu freestyle that ended with, "make some noise if you like hip-hop in Boston". The raucous crowd made plenty of noise at that point, even if Poison Pen and some of the others had some trouble getting it to sufficient decibels early in the night.

Immortal Technique is all about interaction with his listeners. That is really the whole reason he writes these rhymes in the first place: to incite something in people. So it’s no surprise that Tech spent as much time addressing the crowd with heartfelt words as he did with damning lyrics. In between nearly every track he made comments about his political views. From "fuck the police" chants, to messages on poverty, drugs, rape, his distaste for mainstream rap, and of course the government, Tech covered all the bases, but he did so with earnest desire for change. All the acts did; they also showed great appreciation for Boston, many declaring their long years of love for the Bean. Respect was paid at every opportunity, both to fellow performers and the crowd.

The over-arching message Tech and his Rebel Army seem to be sending is that "we have more in common than we do apart". The chants of "Viva la Revolución" were not for show’s sake; it was an honest call for revolution. Tech is unafraid to point out injustice and hypocrisy in modern society, and even less afraid to criticize and damn it. His last words were infamous: "It is not people that should fear the government, but the government that should fear its people". This man believes that with more might than most people ever believe a thing. He bleeds hip-hop unlike anyone on BET or MTV. His intelligence and independence are powerful motivators, and I find myself hoping his revolution does arrive some day. "When Revolution 3 drops, we’ll be back here", Tech promised. When it does drop, download it off the Internet. Just make sure you support this Rebel Army by going out to the shows and bumping it in the streets. Viva la Revolución!

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