In September 2001, Felipe Coronel of Harlem, New York, debuted as rapper Immortal Technique with his album Revolutionary Vol 1. For the last 16 years, Tech has established himself as a talented songwriter, musician, and social activist. On the surface, Tech appears like another successful pursuant of the American dream who advocates for noble causes and rejects the problematic status quo.
However, his first album, though wildly successful, also stirred up significant controversy. Search his name in Google, and you are bound to see it on the first page of results. On Revolutionary Vol 1., track eleven is titled “Dance with the Devil.” Immortal Technique tells the story of a man named Billy Jacobs, a high school drop out and drug dealer from a rough neighborhood who grows up without any kind of guidance. He sells weed, commits robberies, assaults, and eventually sets his sights on joining a gang. Before being allowed to enter, however, he must pass an initiation test by raping a woman to prove his ability to commit an evil act. Two gang members drive around one night with Billy in the car. They eventually target a woman, throw a bag over her head, break her jaw, and take turns raping her on a roof of an abandoned building. At the end of this horrific act, Billy is told to kill the woman, but must look into her eyes as he does it. He removes the bag from over her head and comes face to face with his own mother. Realizing what he has done, Billy commits suicide by jumping off the building while the two gang members kill his mother and flee the scene. In one of the last lines of the song, Immortal Technique asserts “And listen cause the story that I’m telling is true, Cause I was there with Billy Jacobs and I raped his mom too.” When confronted about the song, Immortal Technique has continued to say it is a true story, that he personally knew Billy Jacobs, but that he was not actually involved in the crime.
Harlem police actually questioned Tech about the song because it was a similar to a case that had occurred prior to the song being released. While Tech argues his release of the song was meant to bring awareness to callous violence against women, it is understandable why so many people found it disturbing. Some even went as far to claim it should be fully censored from all public forums due to its content. On one side, you have Immortal Technique exercising his freedom of speech as an artist and claiming the song was meant to start a relevant conversation. On the other hand, you have people deeply offended by its content who would prefer the song to be taken out of the public sphere. So in the end, do the ends justify the means? If an artist claims to create work for a just cause, do disturbing methods suddenly become acceptable? Even if the song was made for the sole purpose of being provocative, does it deserve to be censored and demonized? Is Immortal Technique playing into the “urban legend” aspect of his story on purpose?
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