In 1992, Los Angeles’ Rage Against the Machine (RATM) released their iconic and groundbreaking self-titled debut album. Now, twenty-five years later, RATM has rightfully been nominated to enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. This legendary band consisted of vocalist Zack de la Rocha, guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk. Though many bands before RATM had used their music to advocate for their political and social beliefs, none had done so with such rage, intensity and consistency before. Rage Against the Machine paved the way for bands like System of a Down to create music to protest American systems and practices and the powers at large.
If RATM were brought up, most people would think of the classic “Killing in the Name.” But “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” only touches the surface of the incredibly powerful and bold arsenal of music and lyrics that the influential band has created since 1992. After its first album, Rage Against the Machine released three more perfect albums: Evil Empire in 1996, The Battle of Los Angeles in 1999, and Renegades in 2000. Unfortunately, RATM broke up prior to Renegades’ release, but their legacy continues to shape rap metal and hard rock even today. Some of the most iconic and best guitar riffs and openings come RATM’s collection of songs are nearly impossible to beat or mimic.
All that Rage Against the Machine is about can be best summed up in the lines from one of my favorite songs of theirs “Know Your Enemy”: “The finger to the land of the chains / What? The land of the free? Whoever told you that is your enemy!” RATM spent its entire existence as a band shedding light on and highlighting the endless injustices they took note of in America’s past, its current system and its way of life. De la Rocha’s lyrics hold nothing back, directly calling out racism, injustice, ignorance, unjust wars, police brutality, corporate greed and corruption, among other issues. Rage Against the Machine was never afraid to voice their opinions and challenge authority in the name of political and social justice.
One example of RATM’s defiance is in their 1996 SNL performance. Rage Against the Machine was the musical guest the same night that ex-Republican presidential candidate and billionaire Steve Forbes was hosting. RATM wanted to make their own statement in the face of a person who stands for everything they hate and rage against. For every performance, RATM would hang upside American flags on their amps to symbolize that the country is in distress. Before their SNL performance, RATM hung upside down flags. But SNL forced them to take them down seconds before they took the stage to perform what would be an explosive performance of “Bulls on Parade.” After their first song, SNL and NBC officials ordered that Rage Against the Machine leave the building — no second performance or goodbyes at the end of the show. It was RATM’s persistence to stand up for their beliefs that contributed to their expulsion from the SNL show.
Not only is the content of their lyrics painfully relevant and explosively dynamic, but they’re also brilliantly written. Every Rage Against the Machine song is a beautifully crafted poem. When read rather than listened, their lyrics could be award-winning poems on civil rights issues, racial injustice and so much more. “Take the Power Back” is one of the greatest works of poetry in RATM’s collection with lyrics such as, “The present curriculum, I put my fist in ‘em / Eurocentric every last one of ‘em / See right through the red, white, and blue disguise / With lecture I puncture the structure of lies.” Rage Against the Machine combined anger and poetry in a way that produced some of the most impactful, politically driven music of all time.
Every time I put on a RATM song, my head automatically bobs along with the insane guitar work of Morello and the rapping of De la Rocha — no matter where I am, I bang my head and tap my fingers to the addicting beat. And every time I listen to a RATM song I want to start a political movement, protest in the streets and help fix the problems in the world — especially the severe ones in America. The rage seeps into your skin, flowing in your veins as the song blasts in your ears. Some may think that rap and metal could never go together, but the marriage of these two genres is the greatest musical union invented. And Rage Against the Machine is the master of this combination.
Aside from the genius lyrics, RATM’s music is an unforgettable culmination of the best qualities of rap and metal. De la Rocha’s vocals are so powerful that with each song, listeners can hear and even feel his emotion and passion. Morello is arguably one of the greatest guitarists of all the time, or at least of the last thirty years or so. The sounds that Morello is able to make with his guitar shouldn’t be possible, but his otherworldly skills prove otherwise. His manipulation of his instrument never ceases to amaze, and it shows the versatile nature of the guitar. Without the talented Commerford and Wilk, there would be no foundation in any of their songs.
Even years after their break-up, RATM still held an impact on their fans. In December 2009, a British couple campaigned for “Killing in the Name” to win the Christmas number one slot in the UK Singles Chart. This slot usually went to The X Factor hit of that month, but the couple wanted to end The X Factor’s four-year monopoly. Against the odds, “Killing in the Name” won the number one slot, and RATM donated the proceeds to charity. In this win, the band set a record for the largest total download sales in a single week ever in the UK charts. To celebrate their victory, Rage Against the Machine played a free concert in Finsbury Park, London on June 6, 2010. More than 40,000 people attended this historic concert. Sadly, I was not one of them.
Rage Against the Machine deserves more than any other band that is nominated this year (Bon Jovi and Radiohead to name a couple) for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We can only hope that with their induction, a reunion tour would follow to celebrate — it would be a dream come true. Though Prophets of Rage is an excellent product of Rage Against the Machine, America truly needs RATM back during this extremely toxic time. Rage Against the Machine’s music and message has carried on and maintained its relevance twenty-five years later and will continue to do so until true equality, justice and peace reign. With their powerful lyrics and incredible music, RATM will forever be an influential rap metal and hard rock icon and deserves to have Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees added to their legacy.
To vote go on https://www.rockhall.com/fan-vote/2018-fan-vote
Recommended Songs (still listen to every song):
• “Know Your Enemy”
• “Take the Power Back”
• “Bullet in the Head”
• “Wake Up”
• “Mic Check”
• “Township Rebellion”
• “People of the Sun”
• “Bulls on Parade”
• “Guerrilla Radio”
• “Calm Like a Bomb”
• “Born of a Broken Man”
• “Sleep Now in the Fire”
• “War Within a Breath”
• “No Shelter”
• “The Ghost of Tom Joad”
• “Killing in the Name”
• “Fistful of Steel”