Exploring the depths of the ‘Middle Passage.’

Courtesy of Twitter

On Friday, Nov. 8, I had the privilege of attending Immortal Technique’s “Middle Passage Tour.” This was my first time seeing the revolutionary poet live, as well as my first time attending a hip-hop concert. Immortal Technique is not a contemporary hip-hop artist by any definition, and for that I am glad. He is an unapologetic voice for the oppressed of the world delivering exquisitely crafted rhymes with a power and passion rarely seen. I would describe each of his songs as an invaluable lesson, rich with histories rarely told. In order to understand the quality of his performance, one must understand how Technique defines himself.  Immortal Technique is willing and ready to lay his life on the line for the cause of radical revolution. His revolutionary message is born out of a love for his people, in hopes that they can break free of the colonial and capitalist boundaries of the last 500 years. Now that there is an established understanding of Technique’s passions, one can begin their journey into his music.

 

The evening began with rapper Sadistik, whom I would describe as more of a contemporary performer. I enjoyed his performance and I respect his ability to engage the crowd, but I didn’t really care for the sound. Sadistik loves complicated, fast-paced sixteenth note phrasing, but his enunciation faltered at times and made it difficult to understand his lyrics. His dynamics swung between imitative rock vocals and a melancholy talking tone. In some instances, Sadistik’s delivery was reminiscent of the rapper Bones, or perhaps the rapper Pouya, in that he also had a soft and eerie coolness in his voice. During the majority of the performance he maintained a high energy and intensity in his vocal delivery. Sadistik’s music was often ephemeral, with ambient strings and synths or deeply reverberated vocal tracks. The drums were sonically fat, with a bass that was meant to be felt rather than heard. Although I wasn’t particularly pleased by Sadistik’s music, his performance was well received by the crowd.

 

The bombastic, bellowing, bastion of rhyme and rhythm — an effigy of charisma — can be none other than Poison Pen! The second performer of the evening appeared unannounced, beats blasting, with an energy ready to move the people. He was an instant hit and his delivery was equally compelling. Paired with kick and side snare hits, sparse high hat usage and classic rhythm and blues sampling, his music is akin to Madlib or Mobb Deep type beats. His beats also sampled dialogue and other non-musical elements to create skits similar to some MF DOOM tracks. All of Poison Pen’s qualities culminated into a harmony of the auditory, visual and experiential senses. Both the crowd and the performer were engaged with each other, inhabiting the same heavenly plane in perfect union. Poison Pen is a clear homage to old school hip-hop, yet he maintains a freshness and originality with character. His lyrical substance is informative and clever, with a methodical vocal delivery. His tempo was relaxed but he maintained an ability to lyrically lash out at any time, controlling the flow of musical energy with ease. He guided the crowd through his narratives of revolution, love, pain and struggle. I thoroughly enjoyed Poison Pen’s performance, and I loved his beats, but I especially enjoyed his DJ.

 

Pen’s DJ was none other than the incomparable master of the wheels of steel, DJ Static! The true definition of a disk jockey, DJ Static mixed, cut, scratched and bumped hit after hit in between set times and during a solo performance. His choice in music was impeccable, and he possessed a clear ability to simultaneously please and manipulate the crowd at will — a veteran of the hip-hop scene.

 

Chino XL followed Poison Pen’s performance, appearing robed within the crowd.  Mysteriously materializing from thin air, Chino XL began hammering a lethal club of lyrical damage. His delivery was empowered, forceful and emphatic with narratives fading between reality and illusion. Chino took his time with the set and appeared relaxed on stage. The performance felt tangible and personal, like a conversation between old friends. Chino XL’s set was thoroughly satisfying.

 

Immortal Technique, the realest MC of the 21st century, walked on stage ready to begin his class. The audience and I, as willing students, entered into an agreement with Technique in order to learn the true workings of our collective oppressors: the imperialist nation states of all lands. He appeared on stage donning a long braid tucked beneath a cap, wearing camo pants and a bullet proof vest. Technique emerged alongside Poison Pen, Chino XL and producer Akir. His energy on stage was enormous, with an aura that overwhelmed the crowd. During the course of his set I was taken on a vast journey through Technique’s diverse discography. There was no end to the depths of his knowledge, and his signature delivery left a permanent imprint of his lyrical ferocity. Every single rhyme was elegantly written, with carefully crafted lyrics flowing non-stop from Technique. Immortal Technique has no filter, because he summons the totality of his persona in every word. In between every song we were given freestyle after freestyle, with on the spot improvisations that held our imaginations captive. When those freestyles began the music stopped, and only Technique’s voice rang through the room, filling all the quiet places of the mind. His lyrics describe the realities of U.S. military intervention, the everyday life of the worker, of the Third World, of the American ghettos, of loss and death and especially of revolution. Every song was imbued with power, and he held the crowd in the palm of his hand from start to finish. 

 

Technique’s revolution is the people’s revolution, and it has no state or corporate sponsor. He has always been an unsigned artist that produces, promotes and sells his music on his own terms, even distributing CDs by hand in the streets of New York. Technique’s historical lessons do not run through the filter of colonialism and he unapologetically raps the history of oppressed people.

 

This was one of the most compelling and engaging shows I have ever been to, and I am grateful for the opportunity to have seen such raw intensity live. There is no replacement for a live concert experience, and Immortal Technique is a prime example. Poison Pen, Chino X and Immortal Technique went above and beyond in their respective sets.  Most importantly, their passion for music was shared by the crowd and created a beautifully communal atmosphere.

Hip-hop is a rhythmic oral history, and it is a way in which knowledge and revolutionary ideals are preserved and passed on. Immortal Technique stores subversive information, which would otherwise be ignored by mass media, within his songs. This method provides a guidepost by which to fashion and preserve institutional critiques of our own if we wish to do so.

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