Revolutionary Vol. 2
eah, I’m hip to you, Immortal Technique. You’re an ultra-leftist hip-hop ideologue who likes to lump Bush, Bin Laden, and Bill O’Reilly under the same sub-heading of Conscienceless Racist Fucks. Hey, I do that too! You think the war in Iraq was just a giant oil-drummed-up excuse for Halliburton to get a bunch of fat reconstruction contracts. Dude, have you been reading my posts in the Fray at www.slate.com? You think the Patriot Act is just a watchword for the death of personal freedom and the birth of a totalitarian state. Now you’re just creeping me the fuck out, ‘cause I SO said that exact same shit a couple of years ago in a class on Understanding, Appreciating, Worshipping, and Parroting Chomsky at my unnamed liberal arts alma mater.
You get the idea. I agree with most of what comes out of Immortal Technique’s profane grille, but then again, most of this reviewer’s personal political beliefs are situated somewhere just east of Michael Moore. So sure, it would be simple enough for me to just write this review as a subjective veil for a few pet cause celebres, to champion Immortal Technique out of hand for having the stones to speak these Self-Evident Truths on wax in a time of such governmental malfeasance and creative clampdown. Maybe I could even use his incendiary rhetoric as an excuse to slip in a few well-timed barbs about WMDs and deficit spending, therein proving myself not only People’s History-enlightened but also NPR-informed. Hell, I’m sure even Immortal himself would prefer it if I just stuck to the issues rather than bother with an objective appraisal of the album, but there’s got to be a reason I write for Stylus rather than Salon.
In that spirit, I guess there’s one question that could help me parse Immortal Technique’s political vitriol from his value as an artist and emcee. If this was Bizarro world, and anti- Immortal Technique was just as conservative as our Immortal is liberal, would Revolutionary Vol. 2 still hold up as well?
How about yes, but with a disclaimer? First off, there’s much more to Immortal Technique than bumper sticker factoids or politico putdowns (though he’s got both of those on lock-down, like when he refers to Condoleezza Rice as ‘the New Age Sally Hemmings’. Ouch). The beats on Revolutionary Vol. 2 might seem a little minimalist to some, but Immortal is that caliber of emcee who needs no distractions when he’s on the mic to make his words felt. Whether or not you cotton to his philosophies, no one can doubt that Immortal knows his shit and goes hard with it. On cuts like ‘Industrial Revolution’, ‘4th Branch of the Government’ and ‘Freedom of Speech’, he spits verses that would be memorable even if his words had no relation to the world at all. At his best, Immortal can rival Sage Francis as a punchline artist, and compete with Eminem for twisted disses and sick sociopathic humor, and that alone justifies his decision to rock a cordless rather than a bullhorn.
Most of all, however, you can’t dismiss Immortal as a shock-rap button-pusher because of his obvious and sincere compassion for his subjects and their stories. No matter what ideologies or misconceptions inform him, if an artist invests this much passion and human concern in his art, chances are that it will reflect at least some small kernel of truth about a person or a group of people. In that sense, Immortal makes most ‘conscious’ rappers look soft-headed and hard-hearted in comparison, because if you even claim to share a similar view of the world as he does, how could you not be furious, hurt and destructive, how could you not want to tear up the spot?
From that point forward, it’s all a matter of craft and skill. The best of Immortal’s social critiques and character studies find him in top form, whether he offers a broad sketch of ghetto ills on ‘Harlem Streets’, or indicts the narcotics trade in ‘Peruvian Cocaine’ through a series of personal vignettes from each of the particpants, from mule to overlord to Congressman.
Nonetheless (and here’s the disclaimer part), sometimes those stories do fall flat, which is no consequent of Immortal’s personal politics, and therefore wouldn’t be different even if he flip-flopped parties. The closest example of our anti-Immortal Technique would have to be a Toby Keith or a Daryl Worley, but since we won’t allow ourselves to be relativistic enough to suggest that the gulf in greatness between their pop-country shtick and his principled hip-hop genius is the sole result of one ideological structure being stronger or weaker than the other, then it has to be talent and a thirst for insight that we’re talking about here.
Certainly, the likes of Keith and Worley have a definite sense of compassion for their particular prime audience (ie. blue-collar conservative Christians) and for the struggles these people face, but their music often fails to resonate, and it’s because so much of their songwriting remains superficial, so many of their observations little more than generalities. The same fate befalls Immortal on the AIDS parable ‘You Never Know’, just because the characters seem too archetypal and the scene too clear-cut, so that nothing but the most predictable sentiments manage to stick. It’s probably not the best note for Revolutionary Vol. 2 to go out on, but all it really proves is that even an emcee as intelligent, focused and unique as Immortal Technique still has room left for improvement.