Tuesday, February 8, 2011

War is My Destiny: Religion and Underground Rap


War is My Destiny - Ill Bill and Immortal Technique

After you watch this, you might feel like you just watched the most violent and epic cartoon ever made. This video is an example of a genre that might actually be too violent for popular culture. The fusion of hardcore rock and underground rap, with lyrics heavily influenced by religion, is an enigma in the world of music. At the same time that our society has proven to enjoy violent music, we have not taken a shine to music that combines violent tendencies and religious influences. For example, at the end of Immortal Technique's verse, he spits "Killing in God's name, cuz war is my destiny."

The reasons why this type of music hasn't caught on in our culture are obvious. One, Technique and Ill Bill take one of the oldest institutions in our society, one that is presumably a good thing, and literally smear it with the blood in their lyrics. Second, some artists in this genre of music actually have Islamic extremist roots. Groups like Jedi Mind Tricks, who have songs titled "Death Messiah", "Butcher Knife Bloodbath", and "Razorblade Salvation", enthusiastically rap against Western ideals. Their extremist inclinations are most evident in this song:

While I admit that I do have Immortal Technique and Jedi Mind Tricks on my iTunes, and that I do enjoy both of their production value, I feel like their lyrics are actually harmful to relations between religions. These artists use violence as an outlet for their woes, mainly pertaining to religions.


  1. Religion and underground rap is an interesting contrast because usually the different messages they preach. When one thinks of rap and hardcore underground music, one thinks about angst, violence, heated rage, etc. etc. Most religions (well, most accepted major religions like Christianity and Buddhism) tend to preach lives of self-denial and peace. Extremist Islam does the complete opposite, and that is probably why it meshes so well with underground hip hop. However, music and art in general is so broad and has so much room for creativity that ideas can be expressed in anyway. Meaning, underground hip hop and hardcore rock could be used to express more positive virtues and feelings.

    Yet, aside from their Extremist Islamic roots, I think Jedi Mind Tricks and Immortal Technique often have much other agendas in mind. Most mainstream rap today talks about money, fame, and bit*hes. A rapper like Immortal Technique talks about politics and poverty and the problems that the middle class citizens in America seems to want to ignore. Therefore, they use horribly violent outlets such as that stream and intense underground rap beats and lyrics to get their message across. How else will people listen and follow through if they're not shocked and disgusted by what they see?

  2. That's a good point. Shock value seems to be a recurring theme in Immortal Technique's music. His song "Internally Bleeding" is a great example of how he uses grotesque imagery ... "Ay yo the things I've seen in life will make you choke by surprise like an aborted fetus in a jar that opened its eyes" ... However, I do feel that these artists have good intentions, they are fighting for the people in the ghettos who can't make it out because of various circumstances. Yet, the violence in their songs actually hurts their cause. It is incredibly hard for them to attempt to spearhead any sort of viable social change when they call for death and violence. No one will take them seriously and will probably just write them off as dumb thugs (which is certainly not the case, some of Technique's lyrical poetry is outstanding).

    It's interesting if you compare Technique and Jedi Mind with artists like Lupe Fiasco, Blue Scholars, and others who call for change without blatant violent tendencies. They are essentially fighting for the same things that these violent underground artists are, but they are much more effective in getting their point across. I think when dealing with such prominent social problems, you cannot use violence as an outlet. Why would I want to endorse an artist who essentially is calling for the death of the institutions by which I am surrounded? Artists like Lupe can get their message across while still maintaining a solid fan base. You have to remember that most of the people who listen to this music, and thus the people who are going to be essential in creating these changes, do not live in the hard circumstances that Technique raps about. Taking that into account, creating a movement based on violence would not be as effective as one grounded on beats and rhymes that could catch the public eye without alienating any one group of people.

  3. Interestingly, the opening verses to "War is my Destiny" basically present a synopsis of the movie "Conan the Barbarian" starring young Arnold Schwarzenegger:

    "They killed my entire family, murdered and tortured, raped and pilliged
    i was only five and i was the only survivor witness
    My entire village burned to the ground
    He wore a serpent in his crown
    Unhappily commited murder with a frown
    In an army of black hooded fiery skulled generals
    And a sorceror that could cast spells in the change of genitals
    Held me at slavery until I was eighteen
    Killed my slave master, five years later; became king."

    Movie Trailer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d1XmZ9_ckdw

    I cannot say I know much about Immortal Technique's roots or rap in general, but perhaps he drew some inspiration from the movie? Call it a long-shot, but it would make sense because the theme of “Conan” is fairly nihilistic and violent like his lyrics. In fact the opening quote to the movie comes straight from Nietzsche: "That which does not kill me, makes me stronger" reminding me of the “might makes right” theme of these rhymes.


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