Immortal Technique - The 3rd World

Posted June 26, 2008

I can pinpoint the exact moment in my life when I first heard Immortal Technique. It was midway...

The 3rd World Album Review

I can pinpoint the exact moment in my life when I first heard Immortal Technique. It was midway through my first semester in high school, during a ride home from an older buddy. He put on Dance with the Devil, the signature track from IT’s debut album, Revolutionary, Vol. 1.

I was scared sh*tless.

Seven years later, Immortal Technique is still the most inflammatory rapper in the game. He is an emcee provocateur, a hip-hop hothead, a son of the revolution. Most importantly, he is the new torchbearer of politically conscious rap, rising out of the ashes of Public Enemy’s demise. Judging from his upbringing, it would seem like he is the right man for the job. He was born in the third world, in the midst of the Peruvian civil war. He was raised in what might as well be the third world, in the crime-ridden Harlem projects. Now, roughly a decade removed from living on the fringes of society, he brings us his third album, The Third World.

Immortal Technique’s first two albums, Revolutionary, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, captured the epitome of underground rap. In terms of content, they featured bare-boned production that gave him plenty of room to paint vivid pictures of poverty, racism, and corruption. Both albums were met with critical acclaim, although they were poorly distributed under his independent label. Despite his major-label talent, IT is still indie by choice, although you wouldn’t know it from his newest effort. The lion’s share of production on The Third World is overseen by DJ Green Lantern, the former official DJ of the very mainstream Shady Records. And this, folks, is where all the trouble starts.

Don’t get me wrong; Immortal Technique still terrifies and incenses me with his gruff voice and his healthy mix of accusatory rhymes and battle raps. He may have dulled his story-telling edge a bit since Vol. 2, but I still find myself won over by his complex reasoning and his poetic accounts of injustice. It’s the production that really misses. Take Harlem Renaissance, for example: while IT spits his heart out about redlining and subpriming in his neighborhood, Green Lantern forces in some tired strings and a corny handclap. The beat sounds more Upper East Side than Harlem. The reason that songs like Dance with the Devil and Industrial Revolution (off Vol. 2) were so captivating was that the raw production matched up perfectly with IT’s grimy rhymes. Even the title track, The Third World, sounds overproduced and thus underwhelming. Sure, it’s catchy as hell, but it’s just not IT. The problem unfortunately doesn’t end with Green Lantern. Some of the other producers’ beats, like Shuko’s Hollywood Driveby, sound terribly out of place. What in the world is a Cali beat doing on an Immortal Technique album?

Artists are allowed to grow. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that IT goes for a more mainstream appeal on his third album; he has an important message, and he wants to make sure as many people hear it as possible. Therein lies the eternal dilemma of the underground artist: sell or sell out? For the most part, he manages to keep it real enough not to totally betray his cult following. Golpe De Estado, a fully Spanish track featuring featuring Latino artists Temperamento and Veneno, is one of the standouts on the album. Maybe it’s just the Spanish, but the passion that he rhymes with is palpable. The bonus track Watch Out and the quasi-spoken word Open Your Eyes have the same effect. As scary as his barks can be, IT’s barely raised, spoken word voice is even more intimidating.

On the whole, however, a few poor choices end up spoiling what had the potential to be a classic. First of all, I know that The Third World is marketed as a mixtape, but the shout-outs and the backscratching just get irritating after a while. If I want to hear an especially dope line twice, I can press rewind by myself. Moreover, it seems inconsistent that he would sell a mixtape for profit. I know he has to put food on the table, but for a self-proclaimed socialist, that sounds awful capitalist to me. At the end of the day, Immortal Technique’s biggest mistake is that he eats where he sh*ts. The slightly commercialized lyrics and the mainstreamed beats make it all sound so…first world. From anyone else it could work, but from IT it comes across as a compromise. Revolutionaries don’t compromise.

DJBooth Rating - 3.5 Spins

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Posted June 26, 2008
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