Dance With The Devil. If those words do not bring to mind the powerful and captivating lyrics of underground rapper Immortal Technique, then you obviously need to do some research. Felipe Andres Coronel, better known as Immortal Technique, is one of the best rappers in the game right now. While some rappers spend their money on luxurious living, I.T. actually uses money he receives from his albums to help children in Afghanistan, create grant programs for high school students and speak to young adults that are in prison. In the vein of rappers KRS-One, Chuck D and Zach De La Rocha I.T. delivers a message that not only addresses current problems, but does it in such a way that you feel the song on a much deeper level.
Da Circle which consists of Fatz D’ Assassin and Goodtime Slim, are also rappers that you definitely need to check out. Hailing from the streets of NYC Da Circle has been around for awhile. Starting out as The Usual Suspects with six members, Da Circle eventually became the duo that it is now, and a loss of members has not slowed them down. Working with people such as Poisen Pen and I.T., Da Circle obviously is someone to know about.
Both signed to Viper Records I.T. and Da Circle were representing their label throughout the whole week of Austin, Texas’ SXSW 2011 music festival. Taking a break out of their crazy schedule both groups talked to me about their music, the SXSW atmosphere, future plans and other things.
MVRemix: Let’s start off with who you guys are and what you do.
Immortal Technique: I’ve been doing this for about a decade now, so where do I begin? I was born in a military hospital, came to New York, started battling, making CDs independently and linked up with a bunch of rap acts that I had seen. Poisen Pen had introduced me to Da Circle who were a couple of brothers that represented drive and hustle that I saw when I was working a day job and trying to do everything I could. They’ve been holding it down, doing 9-5 gigs, writing rhymes, paying dues and making stuff happen. Then we got together one day and they said “We got a couple of song ideas, can we make this stuff pop off,” and I said “Let’s do it.” Through Viper Records we released an independent project called The 360 Deal that enabled them to get their music out there, and they were also a part of The Third World with Rebel Armz. So realistically speaking, they’re a part of the family. We’re here at SXSW to show people that independent hip-hop is not the future, but we’re the only one available. It’s either that or corporate slavery.
MVRemix: Da Circle when I was looking you guys up I found out one of your biggest influences is Wu-Tang. How was it working with them at Rock The Bells, and do you plan on checking them out here at SXSW?
Slim: Well the plan was to hit them up, but we heard they cancelled, so we’re heartbroken. That was definitely on the itinerary though. Working with Wu-Tang at Rock The Bells was an honor for me. Wu-Tang is one of the most legendary groups in the history of what we do. It was an honor.
Fatz: To touch on a subject my big brother Immortal Technique touched on at a show, new Rock N’ Roll artists pay homage to older groups. In hip-hop I feel there is a general disconnect and disrespect between the older generation and the younger generation. We see Wu-Tang as iconic. Wu-Tang, EPMD, Slick Rick, Run DMC, Krs-One and A Tribe Called Quest, all of those groups are iconic. If they didn’t do what they did and they didn’t make the noise that they made, then I wouldn’t have this road to travel down. I think some of the younger, vivacious kids do not show the proper respect to pioneers that did it before them.
Immortal Technique: I wouldn’t say all of them, some of them do. We are more than willing to set-up meetings between them and the Zulu Nation. We are more than willing to introduce people to Afrika Bambaataa and Kool Herc. Because if they hadn’t of done what they did, there wouldn’t be any Nas, Wu, Tribe, none of that. So I think that it is not only important to realize that they are the fathers to what we add, but the grandfathers, and the great grandfathers in soul, R&B, jazz and all those art forms that incorporated the message into the music. It seemed back then that everything meant something. A song wasn’t just about love; it had a different dimension. It wasn’t just about sex, violence, but how those things affected the soul of the human being. In other words, music use to have soul. It use to have a meaning behind it, rather than just the self-glorification for the self. We’re trying to connect the past and the future because we represent the wisdom, knowledge and experience that the past has given us, so that way we can pass this on to the younger generation of the future.
Slim: You have to think about it like this. If you have a brother, a father, a grandfather or an OG in the hood that has knowledge, you’re supposed to respect them. You can’t just say “Yo, I’m doing me, chill.” You have to respect what they bring to the table because they’ve been there before and they know how to do what you’re trying to do. That is all we’re saying and that is what we’re trying to do.
MVRemix: What do you think about independent/ underground rappers like MURS, who also goes hard at the people who disrepsect past MCs and do not pay homage to those who paved the way for them?
Immortal Technique: I’m performing at Paid Dues so I guess that says a lot. If I didn’t like that brother and I didn’t like the message he had, I wouldn’t be involved with him business-wise. I believe this leads into another topic where you’re not only saying things, but actually acting. You can say “Oh I’m not going to sell out,” but your actions will reveal what you’re going to do. Don’t tell me what you value. Show me what you spend your money on and I’ll tell you what you value. I’m going to tell you what you love because that exposes everything about you. Being in business with MURS and Guerilla Union shows that I believe that their heart is in the right place, and they’re trying to preserve the culture of hip-hop by giving independence a voice. We do that at Viper and give independence a voice, where we make sure that the artists have their creative vision fulfilled to the fullest of my abilities. In other words I don’t tell a guy, “Don’t rhyme about that.” As long as the song is hot and the mixes sound all right. I’ve had people bring in stuff where the snare is way up and the bass line is messed up. That is when I come into it, and take care of the technical aspects of it.
Slim: We can attest to that (laughs). On The 360 Deal we had some songs that made him cringe a little bit, but it is still on the album and that is how we wanted to express it.
Immortal Technique: If something doesn’t sound right, in terms of sonically, I think that is where someone with more experience, like myself, will step in. It has been a long ride and it will get more hectic as The Middle Passage comes out. I have a documentary coming out this summer and everything is busy, but that is what’s up.
MVRemix: Tell me a little bit about The Middle Passage and when can we expect that to drop?
Immortal Technique: Hopefully at the end of the summer time. Premier and I just announced in front of all of the cameras that we were working together. I’m also working with six other producers that we will reveal at certain times that are strategically planned out, but there is a lot of really incredible talent on the production. It gave me the opportunity to work with people with different sounds. The album has a diverse sound, the lyrics are still very brutal, the topics are still very relevant and we’re going to show people that if I didn’t rhyme about this type of stuff, they wouldn’t know about it. I’m back, not that I ever left but I was busy touring all around the world, while other people were arguing about who had the hottest mixtape that they didn’t even make any money off of. We did it the old-fashioned, punk rock way of getting into the streets and playing different towns. That is something that we always try to do.
MVRemix: Most people know you for just being hard and making songs like Dance With The Devil and Obnoxious, but they don’t know that you help children in Gaza, Afghanistan, and you pay your dues in not only rap, but in places that most people consider bad places. What is your take on that?
Immortal Technique: I think it is interesting because it brings me to a prime topic about The Third World. When I made the album I told people, “If you think it’s hard living in the hood of Texas, or the hood of New York, try living in the Gaza Strip with no water.” South America, Southeast Asia, Central Asia, all of those places. I went to Afghanistan with OMEID International, and we built an orphanage and a school with underground hip-hop money. No corporate sponsorship and no one’s political agenda. It is things like this that make me continue to rhyme about the things I do. It’s not that we don’t like Democracy or America. We like the idea and the message of America, but we don’t like the fraudulent way in which people come across it. We really don’t want Democracy, but we want the natural resources of another country. There is something fundamentally wrong with the way of thinking if you’re trying to justify that in any shape or form as a person who lives in America. Bottom line.
MVRemix: How have you all liked SXSW and the whole experience?
Slim: It’s been a beautiful experience. It’s a party for musicians and it’s what we’re here for. We’re here to preach that independent message, what we do and how we do it.
Fatz: I’m loving it out here, the energy is up and we’re just networking. We’ve done two awesome shows and we’re just loving it out here in Texas.
Immortal Technique: We appeared, did guest appearances, we’ve just been all over the place. We’ve played at about 17 clubs, crashing parties and stuff. We’ve been hanging out with people with rugged feet, everything. Shout out to Chino XL, Rebel Armz every day and Mohammad Dangerfield. SXSW 2011, MVRemix, we out!
Also check out the organization Immortal worked with in Afghanistan: OMEID International