Rapper Immortal Technique opens The Martyr, his free mixtape, with a commandment to burn the music onto a CD for the purposes of sharing it with as many people as humanly possible.
The album from the Peruvian-born, New York-based emcee is an astounding piece of dedication and intelligence, a sea of information and political science set to hard beats and near-perfect production. The fact that Tech is giving it all away for free asserts his position that the message trumps the money, that true culture and morality trumps pseudo-intellectual navel-gazing and hollow braggadocio.
With 15 tracks of pure hip hop, it’s impossible to dismiss this freebie as weak sauce. It is as strapping, as urgent and as powerful as a hip hop record has been this year, even if the material is from other eras and other times. With the Occupy Wall Street events taking place internationally, Immortal Technique’s presence is welcome and his message is poignant.
Picking up where The 3rd World left off, The Martyr gets underway with the title track and never lets up. A sample from the film Elizabeth opens the door, with the Duke of Norfolk (Christopher Eccleston) stating that he is “content” to die for his beliefs and adding that the people will always remember a martyr. “No,” answers Sir Francis Walsingham (Geoffrey Rush), “they will forget.”
It’s apropos to initiate the record on such a point, as behind every ounce of dropped truth is a cover of pessimism, as though the message won’t really blast through the commercial surface propped up by diluted “gangbangers” like 50 Cent, perverted idiots like Akon and money-waving empty suits like Diddy. This forces Tech to work harder to put more prominence in his bars. The pressure to bring up his game, to be remembered, lies behind every piece.
“Rich Man’s World (1%)” is a beautiful example of this. Featuring Immortal Technique at his most contemptuous, the voiceover begins by informing us that “the world is a business.” Boldly sampling ABBA, the emcee glides effortlessly over the beat and coats his speech in arsenic to drop gold sets like “Yacht in the ocean, coastin' with the sails out/Hey America, thanks for the bailouts/I made off with the Banco Ambrosiano/Got away scot-free like Il Vaticano.”
There’s also the playful “Goonies Never Die,” a cut that jubilantly samples, yep, the Goonies score and rolls through a remarkable collection of lyrics from Tech, Swave Sevah and Diabolic. And let’s not leave out the gorgeous and clever sonnet to real women found on “Natural Beauty.”
I’ve long recommended Immortal Technique to friends who don’t enjoy rap music and, for the most part, those friends are rolling with the music in no time. With so much conventional rap based on hedonistic malarkey, outdated misogyny and naïve celebrations of prosperity, The Martyr is invigorating in style and astonishing in scope. And, in case you missed it the first few times, this shit is free!