When an artist announces, in the opening track of his debut album, that he “permitted time to unfold” you know you’re in for a lyrical lashing. This is how Immortal Technique announced himself to the world outside of the New York rap battles he’d long dominated on “Creation & Destruction,” the lead-off rant on 2001’s Revolutionary Vol. 1 (a tune that also includes beyond-chest-beating classics like “When God said ‘let there be light,’ I turned it the f*ck off” and “I allowed God to let you motherf*ckers exist”). Yet aside from (and almost despite) his Stalin-esque ego, ol’ Tech is a super-educated, bi-lingual political activist and commentator who explores poverty, racism, economic imperialism and convincing conspiracy theories through sometimes near-genius wordplay. Revolutionary Vol. 1’s epic “The Poverty of Philosophy” is a six-minute speed-education that could change your life, and Immortal Technique covers more lyrical ground in the first verse of “Harlem Streets” (from 2003’s Revolutionary Vol. 2) than his blingy peers manage in a career. Being independent of traditional record label and management shackles, Immortal Technique can name names (everyone from The Source to the Taliban get mentions), but massages his message with humor and disarmingly frank charm. Though his relatively lo-tech approach can sound two-dimensional and he’s sometimes more spoken word artist than rapper, Immortal Technique alone is worth tackling the Devore traffic for.
The ever-ethical Tech doesn’t just pop-up on every corporate-sponsored package tour criss-crossing the country, but it’s no surprise that he embraces Rock the Bells (now an international event), which has earned a rep as a platform for “thinking” hip-hop. Another standout on this year’s bill should be Nas who, for an artist of his status, takes chances and uses his celebrity to open eyes. His recent diatribes against Fox News and the over-influence of its owner Rupert Murdoch put him in a different league to the insular product-placement pettiness of rival high-profile rhymers. There’s plenty of old(er) school action too—A Tribe Called Quest, The Pharcyde, De La Soul—as well as a brace of youthful MCs who just sound straight outta the boombox era: Chicago’s The Cool Kids (on the Bigbox Culture Club Stage). Almost inevitably, Wu Tang Clan (who reunited for Rock The Bells’ debut in 2004, inspiring a documentary of the same name) is represented—on this occasion by Method Man, Raekwon and Ghostface—making Rock the Bells the summer’s unmissable, undissable hip-hop happening.
A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, The Pharcyde, Mos Def, De La Soul, Rakim, Method Man & Redman, Raekwon & Ghostface, Immortal Technique, Dead Prez, Murs, Wale, Jay Electronica, The Cool Kids, B.O.B., Kidz In The Hall, Supernatural and Scratch, J-Rocc of the Beat Junkies and DJ Green Lantern at Rock the Bells, 2575 Glen Helen Parkway, Devore, on Saturday, August 9. For more info, visit www.rockthebells.net. Gates at noon. Tickets $25-$78