Third World Order

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In the 20 (long) hip-hop years since Public Enemy unleashed their revolutionary rap opus, It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, a lot has changed. Since 1988, hip-hop’s most popular and high profile artists have morphed from the outspoken militant stance of Chuck D to today’s prevalent less-than-revolutionary swagger of such faves as Lil’ Wayne, who is more likely to be rapping about sex (“Lollipop”) or the joys of sippin’ on cough syrup than fighting the powers that be.

It would seem, as Nas so famously predicted, that hip-hop is dead. But don’t believe the hype.
“Hip-hop is dead. That’s what they said on the news. Nah, it’s still alive. It’s just getting confused,” raps Yungun (aka Essa) on the new Herbaliser album, Same As It Never Was. The U.K. emcee is right: Traditional so-called conscious hip-hop is alive and well. Once you begin to dig for it, you’ll discover an abundance of articulate, thought-provoking contemporary lyricists like J-Live, Rashan Ahmad, Jean Grae, Braintax and the ever explosive, articulate and militant Immortal Technique, a musician who is leading the charge of this hidden side of contemporary hip-hop with his new album, The 3rd World.

“In the same way that major superpowers come to the third world in order to exploit natural resources, land and labor, I drew a very similar comparison between the way that major label superpowers in the industry of music come to the underground, which is the third world of hip-hop, to exploit the resource of production or creativity,” says Immortal Technique. Always stubbornly independent, the Harlem emcee never minces his words. As on 2003’s powerful Revolutionary Vol. 2, the new album criticizes the current administration (on “Payback” he sends “a message to the outgoing president...why don’t you kill yourself”), and the evils of the entertainment biz (on “Reverse Pimpology” he suggests exploited artists “go to the Sony building and piss in the elevator”).
It is no coincidence, then, that the outspoken Immortal Technique is not linked to a major label or corporation. He never could be. “They will champion someone who is not fit to defend those positions for our people,” he explains. Hip-hop historian Marcus Reeves agrees. “Labels, especially major labels, avoid the overtly political rap acts...nowadays more than ever, they want to make money, not a statement,” says Reeves, who recently authored Somebody Scream, which examines the rise of hip-hop as a revolutionary force.

Immortal Technique and hip-hop artists like Dead Prez operate in a seemingly separate universe from the mainstream rap “business” by concerning themselves with issues rather than airplay or sales. This current return to more conscious hip-hop is a result of “the war in Iraq, the Patriot Act, the demonization of the culture of immigrants and the demonization of Islam,” according to Immortal Technique.
Hip-hop’s more mindful, underground or “third-world sector,” as Immortal Technique calls it, appears to be growing in its ranks, with both new and old artists joining in the renaissance. Longtime hip-hoppers KRS-One and MC Lyte, for example, recently joined forces as Almost September to record the positive message song “LOVE.”

“It’s very important for us to never lose sight of the revolutionary aspect of hip-hop, the lyrical side,” says Immortal Technique. “That’s the third world: the revolutionary side, the street side, the hardcore side and the independent.”

June 24, Highline Ballroom, 431 W. 16th St. (betw. 9th & 10th Aves.), 212-414-5994; 9, $18/$20.

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