Better must come

Technique’s rhymes straddle the line between oppression and liberation.

Tom Horgen

Hip-hop can be a fierce platform for articulating social unrest. But artists rarely rhyme at length about, much less devote entire albums to, political commentary.

Public Enemy and KRS-One used to do it. The Coup and dead prez have been doing it.

And now, like bombs over Baghdad, comes Immortal Technique, creating craters of fire with his words. His second album, “Revolutionary Vol. 2” is an inferno – the very essence of shock and awe.

Its impact has pushed the Harlem-raised emcee to the forefront of the national underground scene. And as a proclamation of his arrival, the dramatic opening of “Revolutionary Vol. 2” couldn’t be better.

Mumia Abu-Jamal, the former Black Panther who advocates social justice while sitting on death row, introduces Technique on the intro. As Abu-Jamal finishes speaking, the album’s first song, “The Point of No Return” is queued up, engulfing the listener with a wall of violins and rumbling drums. These initial moments of production excess quickly surrender the spotlight to Technique’s incendiary rhymes, setting the tone for the rest of the album.

And he rhymes without connotation. There’s no Orwellian allegory here. Technique presents his manifesto unabashed with his ideas laid bare and to the point. Apparently, he doesn’t want to be misquoted.

As you might expect, much of his fury is consumed by the global debacle that followed Sept. 11. He proclaims: “Word to ground zero / The devil crept into heaven / God overslept on the seventh / The New World Order was born on Sept. 11.”

Every high-ranking member of the Bush administration and their policies get time under Technique’s microscope. He prods the USA Patriot Act, Bush’s draft dodging and Cheney’s ties to the oil corporation, Halliburton. And for our defense secretary he says: “Rumsfeld, now that I think back / Without 9/11, you couldn’t have a war in Iraq / Or a defense budget of world conquest proportions / Kill freedom of speech and revoke the right to abortion / Tax cut extortion, a blessing to the wealthy and wicked / But you still have to answer to the Armageddon you scripted.”

He even suggests that Paul Wellstone’s blood is on their hands.

Technique is fascinating because he sees his life in a global context, always steeping his rhymes in a world history we seldom see in rap. A single verse can shift quickly from topic to topic. He speaks on the white-washing of Jesus. The Middle Passage. Israel and Palestine. U.S. companies doing business with Hitler. The Crusades. And the Spanish imperialism that raped his South American homeland.

He often references historical events like these to illustrate the inane contradictions of today’s world. But for all his biting, progressive beliefs, there are parts of “Revolutionary Vol. 2” that weaken, or rather, contradict his surplus of forward-thinking politics.

On “Crossing the Boundary” he says, “I never make songs to disrespect woman or to judge people about the way that they’re living.” Unfortunately, there are times when Technique does regress into misogyny and homophobic language. As a result, he creates some precarious positions for the listener where you’ll be both squirming and smirking. Take this line: “Immortal Technique incinerates degenerate fags, burn Trent Lott wrapped in his confederate flag.” This sporadic insensitivity toward women and gays is counter-productive to his quest for racial and class equality.

With a deep oppositional current running through his veins, Immortal Technique represents so much of what hip-hop can be. He’s one of those few emcees bold enough to commit song after song to investigating our ever-polarizing world. But at the same time, he hasn’t shaken the misogyny and homophobia that divides people over hip-hop. If you consider yourself to be a progressive person, this contradiction can make “Revolutionary Vol. 2” satisfying and unsettling in equal parts.