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Prophets of Rage And Their Soundtrack To Resistance

by Denise Sullivan

Prophets-of-Rage6

 

It’s the one year anniversary for Prophets of Rage, formed last May with a specific musical message: “Make America Rage Again.” Since then, the supergroup, featuring Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford, B-Real of Cypress Hill and DJ Lord, has brought the noise to an audience hungry for resistance music. With one ep,The Party’s Over and a full-length album produced by Brendan O’Brien in the can, as they say, the band has crisscrossed North and South America and is taking its mission to the next phase:  “We’re about to make the world rage,” Morello told LA Weekly.

Given its core membership, you’d be right in thinking Prophets of Rage are a hard-hitting, unrelenting combination of hip hop and hard rock. Their timing, and thus the return of rap metal with last year’s equally unrelenting presidential campaign wasn’t as much planned as it was spontaneous (the music isn’t about endorsing candidates) and necessary. Besides, a meeting of music’s great open minds makes perfect sense: Chuck D and Morello are two of the most tireless advocates for justice on the planet and their music has reached the masses, from Bangladesh to Buenos Aires. If a “musical leader” isn’t an oxymoron, these are the guys who can take the lead and make some sense of our present state of nonsense: Both have a strong track record of benefitting the public interest and in this age of alternative facts, the public interest could benefit from some clear thought and their music with a message.

Founded in Long Island in 1982, Public Enemy were among the first bands during the Golden Age of Hip Hop to not only break ground with samples, production, and beats but to inject an African American history of resistance into its music and make that focus on education part of its identity; that contribution is owed to chief lyricist and frontman, Chuck D. The group’s  beloved and critically accepted 1988 album It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back dealt in themes as serious as the crack cocaine epidemic and the prison industrial complex. The group’s logo, a Black man in a shotgun’s site, underscores years of abuses of Black lives before and since its first appearance on a hoodie (Prophets of Rage have an impressive logo of their own, designed by street artist Shepard Fairey of Obama “Hope” poster-fame).  In addition to committing to teach through music, books and lectures, Chuck D is also on top of the fight for artist’s rights, for the collection of overdue and unpaid royalties; he also resists the commercialization and luxurification of rap music and he advocates for more female involvement in hip hop. Lest it be forgotten, Public Enemy also exists for entertainment: Fourteen albums on, it is a heavyweight, influential recording entity which earned its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013.

L-R: Brad Wilk, Chuck D, DJ Lord, Tim Commerford, B-Real, Tom Morello

L-R: Brad Wilk, Chuck D, DJ Lord, Tim Commerford, B-Real, Tom Morello

 

Rage Against the Machine formed in 1991 and immediately became known for their uncompromising revolutionary politics and hard rock attack, heavy on Morello’s dizzying guitar-technics. Both Morello and singer Zack de la Rocha were and remain politically informed and engaged. Interestingly, Rage called it quits for the first time in 2000 and wasn’t making music in the post-9/11 George Bush years which saw Hurricane Katrina and the beginning of the Iraq War, among other reasons to rage. But in that gap, Morello started to work as a quasi-folksinger, calling himself The Nightwatchman, a troubadour styled on Woody Guthrie and Joe Strummer. He formed the Street Sweeper Social Club with kindred politico, Boots Riley of the Coup, and he went out on the road with the people’s Boss, Bruce Springsteen; RATM also made a comeback. Morello and Serj Tankian of System of a Down formed the nonprofit Axis of Justice, to aid musicians and fans who want to organize for social justice; he also participates with Jail Guitar Doors which among other services, provides instruments to prisons. Morello heads Fire Brand Records, characterized as “artist friendly” and is likely at work on dozens of other projects under the radar. And he still manages to show up on the front lines for justice with a beat up guitar, particularly when the cause concerns union workers.

Both Chuck D and Morello are active Tweeters:  You can find them tweeting music and sports news in between covering the  social, environmental, economic, and racial justice beats. Let’s just say that when they hashtag something, it isn’t armchair activism but a real opportunity to educate the fanbase on causes and concerns that are real. So when Prophets of Rage formed in 2016,  its core members had a pretty unimpeachable track record. One of the first gigs the band played was a free concert for residents of LA’s Skid Row home to the country’s largest population of individuals living houseless, in the shadow of Hollywood.  They followed with an appearance for the inmates of Norco Penitentiary, also in California, and played in solidarity with the protestors at the Republican Convention in Cincinnati last summer.  Chuck D told Rolling Stone last year, “We hope to do these things throughout the United States.”  As for the persistent problem of mass incarceration and the lives inside and outside prison walls it impacts he said, “Something’s gotta be the antidote and we think music and culture can provide that.”

Following their dates in Germany, Sweden and Italy this summer, Prophets of Rage return to the US; they’ll appear at Chicago’s Riot Fest alongside the politically-minded  M.I.A. and hip hop legends, Wu Tang Clan.  The kind of band that shines hardest in the live setting where crowd energy contributes to stoking an already considerable fire, Prophets of Rage, named after the Public Enemy song, are less about upending rap, metal, or rap metal than they are about setting an example. It’s about musical leaders and alliances, between Black, White, Brown, and artists of all backgrounds collaborating in one group, which is a political statement in itself.  

In times like these, artists and musicians supporting freedom of speech, musical expression, and resisting the powers that be take a risk commercially, but their efforts are well-appreciated by people of conscience, by changemakers and fans.  In a perfect world, the hip hop-hard rock alliance between Public Enemy, Cypress Hill and Rage Against the Machine just might have the momentum to change some hearts and minds. At the very least, it will provide listeners with what Morello calls a “Soundtrack to the Resistance.”

 

Prophets of Rage on Tour

June 2 Nuremberg, Germany Rock Im Park Festival

June 4 Vulkaneifel, Germany Rock Am Ring Festival

June 5 Landgraaf, Holland Pinkpop Festival

June 7 Berlin, Germany Zitadelle

June 9 Donington Park, England Download Festival

June 11 Paris, France Download Festival

June 16 Nickelsdorf, Austria Nova Rock Festival

June 18 Clisson, France Hellfest Festival

June 20 Esch /Alzette, Luxembourg Rockhal

June 22 Copenhagen, Denmark Copenhell

June 24 Madrid, Spain Download Festival

June 25 Florence, Italy Firenze Rocks

June 26 Zagreb, Croatia Zagreb Rockfest- SRC Salata

June 29 Werchter, Belgium Rock Werchter Festival

June 30 Gdynia, Poland Open’er Festival

July 1 Norrkoping, Sweden Bravalla Festival

Sep 15-17 Chicago, IL Riot Fest- Douglas Park

Denise Sullivan 7Denise Sullivan is a California-based author of books on music including Keep on Pushing:  Black Power Music From Blues to Hip HopThe White Stripes:  Sweethearts of the Blues and Shaman’s Blues:  The Art and Influences Behind Jim Morrison and the Doors.  She is an editor-at-large and the political columnist at No Recess! Follow her @4DeniseSullivan and at her blog.



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