Felipe Coronel is an independent artist who defied conventional wisdom, selling over two hundred thousand records without the help of extensive marketing. Far from his success being solely a triumph for music, the man more commonly known as Immortal Technique continues to use his position for good, engaging as a community activist. Following in the footsteps of his friends Krs-One and Chuck D, Immortal Technique purposely uses his talents to empower the masses with knowledge. And yet perhaps his most admirable quality remains his passion for truth. So often those proclaiming revolution weaken their message with a hidden agenda or racist ideology.
His story is as remarkable as his efforts. He was born in Lima, Peru in 1978. The slum conditions were so harsh that it forced his parents to emigrate to Harlem, where a young Felipe grew up from the age of two. As is the case with many immigrants, the economic hardships the family faced were tough. Yet his apptitude for learning saw him reach college. He attended Pennsylvania, State University but it was there a fight with students resulted in an assault charge. Because of his poor record (he was arrested multiple times as a teenager), he was sentenced to one year in jail. With little or no job prospects at the end of his term, Felipe was at a cross-roads in his life.
Today he thanks his father for pulling him up from the gutter. “He would say if your going to be a criminal do it right”, it was his Dad’s way of explaining that the real crooks in society were laughing at him. The bankers and corporate politicians were getting away with robbing millions from the economy whilst Felipe was trapped in a system designed to see him fail. It was time to get serious, he enrolled in Baruch College in New York studying political science. Previously he had channeled his energy through his raps in prison, now his education added a further dimension to his artistry.
Both Baruch and Pennsylvania are prestigious Universities, his unique experience of going to school with aspiring capitalists and interacting with criminals, formed in him a dual personality. These opposite ends of the scale manifest through his lyrical content, which can be simultaneously brutal yet emotionally moving. His first album release “Revolutionary Volume One” contained all the lyrics he wrote whilst locked away. According to Immortal Technique that album sounds so raw because none of it was wrote with beats in mind, later on it was a tough task to manipulate his vocals to match with the new instrumentals.
“How could this be the land of the free, home of the brave?
Indigenous holocaust, and the home of the slaves
Corporate America, dancin’ offbeat to the rhythm
You really think this country, never sponsored terrorism?
Human rights violations, we continue the saga
El Savador and the contras in Nicaragua
And on top of that, you still wanna take me to prison
Just cause I won’t trade humanity for patriotism.”
– Lyrics taken from the song “The 4th Branch”.
His buzz on the New York battle scene grew in the early 2000’s through his fearless verbal aggresion and relentless spirit. His method of selling records also became the stuff of legends. Instead of looking to sign with a major label, Immortal Technique sold the albums by hand at concerts and on the streets. Despite considerable critical success and label offers he refused to surrender his artistic freedom for an advance. Today artists like Lupe Fiasco are envious of the decision which ultimatly allowed Tech to keep the integrity of his music intact.
With each release Immortal Technique has grown as an artist, “Revolutionary Volume Two” came out in 2003, two years after his debut. It took the raw battle elements from his first album and expanded on them with even greater production. Tech told his fans he wasnt worried if they burned his music for free as long as they supported him on tour. He sticks to a serious business plan which means he’s never late for concerts or intoxicated (take note MF Doom). As the money began to flood in, Tech carried out the ideas present in his music. Instead of splashing cash on lavish goods, he invested in farmland property with the potential for development.
As a gifted speaker he has visted numerous prisons, engaging with the inmates on a human level whilst raising money for children’s hospitals. And yet his finest hour came with his work in Afghanistan. His third album released in 2008 “The Third World” used all of its profits to build an orphanage in Kabul. It currently houses over 20 children. Immortal Technique’s story can be used as a blueprint for success in an industry which looks to block paths for independent artists. But even greater than that, his charitable efforts serve as an inspiration for all of us wanting to know the true meaning of revolutionary music. In 2012 he will release his next album “The Middle Passage”.