Prophets of Rage – Prophets of Rage
In a few buzzsaw riffs, one or two snare hits, it feels like there is something worthwhile in this group, some squandered potential that could have produced a very different album. In that respect, if in no other, this is incredibly apt to the times.
Prophets of Rage consists of Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk of Rage Against the Machine; Chuck D and DJ Lord of Public Enemy; and B-Real of Cypress Hill. In other words, Prophets of Rage will be exactly what that combination suggests to any given listener: Either they’re the soundtrack to tomorrow’s revolution, or they’re a mixtape made from yesterday’s empty promises.
Chuck’s very dated Humpty Dumpty flow works fine over 90s beats – PE, A Tribe Called Quest, and Grandmaster Flash stuff. It wouldn’t have made sense dropped into a Rage Against the Machine song, and it never quite feels natural on these new tracks, either. This rhythmic discomfort calls attention to something superficial – or just plain awkward – in the lyrics. On the opening track of the project’s eponymous album Chuck D is 'ducking your drones' – they’re after him because he’s "rageified.” He urges us to 'give a damn, because evil can’t stand – yeah! – when the people take a stand!'
In a 2016 interview with Rolling Stone, Morello said: "We're an elite task force of revolutionary musicians determined to confront this mountain of election year bullshit, and confront it head-on with Marshall stacks blazing." Eyes, not heads, are rolling. The RATM members still manage to stir genuine, potentially powerful emotions, but the tracks never get too far before ruinous effects, puerile 'all right' choruses, and chiming end rhymes cause them to collapse. Pairings like 'hypocrisy' and 'democracy,' or 'explosion' with 'emotion' put in mind the notebook scribblings of some 2000s-teen-without-a-cause, and don’t at all cut it as anthemic rap-rock for 2017, for a species that totally, unquestionably has a cause right now.
Tellingly, the Prophets of Rage online store sells merchandise capitalising on some Los Feliz cynic’s idea of the political moment. For $100 you can get a Deluxe Resistance Party Pack, which includes, among other things, a shiny black 'Unfuck the World' windbreaker, a breathable 'Unfuck the World' ski mask, and a four-pack of protest buttons, one of which says 'Stay Woke'.
Which all seems far less “radical” than this group should be. Remember the music video for Public Enemy’s Can’t Truss It? That which lyrically and visually laid bare the parallels between the slave trade and proto-globalist working class life, in a series of corresponding scenes that skipped across two centuries and ended in just one still, changeless, and equally applicable image – a black man hung from a tree. And remember when Zach de la Rocha screamed at us to Wake Up? Even one note of that song still provides chills. That’s a sea-change in messaging, from Wake Up to Stay Woke. We can’t explain that shift, but we can say that most people will feel simultaneously too “woke” and too tired to care much for, or about, these new prophets.
Tim Commerford’s bass on Hail to the Chief is pretty nasty. And there are moments of honesty, as on B-Real’s there-but-for-the-grace-of-capitalism tale, Living On the 110. In a few buzzsaw riffs, one or two snare hits, it feels like there is something worthwhile in this group, some squandered potential that could have produced a very different album. In that respect, if in no other, this effort is incredibly apt to the times. We can only hope this is a product – of futility, of shame, of shallow feeling, of Harambe 2020 – and not a prophecy.