In the world of hip-hop, Immortal Technique is king. His leftist politics bleed poetically over a brilliant mixture of indie hip-hop wit and top 40 bravado. But don’t expect to find any of Tech’s tunes on American Bandstand anytime soon.
On The Martyr, Tech has compiled spare tracks from recent recording sessions into a surprisingly cohesive “bits and pieces” album. The record opens with a brief spoken-word intro in which Tech reminds the listener: “It is your responsibility to burn this for every motherfucker you know.”
The music kicks off with the goose bump-inducing title track. The song is built around the haunting strings from the Beatles' “Elenor Rigby.” As a typical (but no less impressive) album-opening declaration of war, Tech weaves historical metaphors into a litany of political martyrs; Huey Newton, Patrice Lumumba, Salvador Allende, Mahatma Gandhi, Che Guevara, etc.
On his previous albums, Tech turned heads with his ability to turn a history lesson into an allegory for current problems in America, the world or even the music industry. The Martyr keeps that ball rolling. After the moving “Eyes in the Sky,” which cleverly samples Alan Parsons Project, Tech has a little fun and hi-jacks the rousing “Fratelli Chase” (from Dave Grusin’s score for The Goonies) for the hilarious “Goonies Never Die.” In addition to bragging about his own juvenile exploits, Tech slips in more than a few references to the 1985 cult-classic. “I'll put your hand in a blender to make an entrée / Then cut your dick off and glue it back on the wrong way.” It’s nice to hear Tech have some fun after all the hefty politically-charged songs.
While many of the tracks on The Martyr feature guest rappers, Tech always dominates with the gravitas of his rhymes and the intensity of his delivery. On “Civil War,” however, he has called in the big guns for a collaboration that might just be his best song to date. Joining him on the track are Killer Mike, Brother Ali and Chuck D. While Tech delivers some powerful lines (“Fuck a civil war between the north and the south / It’s between field niggas and the slaves that are stuck in the house.”) and Chuck D provides a stirring chorus, it is Brother Ali who steals the show. Ali represents America’s Muslims with powerful post-9/11 poetry; “Me, my wife, and babies / We ain’t never made jihad / We just want to touch our heads to the floor and talk to God / Ask him to remove every blemish from our heart.”
While it has its flaws (I wanted “Black Vikings” to be so much better than it was), The Martyr has more than enough highlights to make it a worthy addition to the growing saga of Immortal Technique. Even the few missteps are good enough to serve as a reminder that even at his worst, Immortal Technique is better than most in the rap game. Let’s just hope that his next album, the long-awaited Middle Passage, is released sooner than later.
Oh, and in true DIY punk fashion, Tech has posted The Martyr for free download through his Viper Records website.