Review: Prophets of Rage’s Debut Album

By | January 18, 2018

If you’re one of those nostalgic counterculture revolutionaries wondering where all the protest music has gone, Prophets of Rage is for you. It’s an old-school supergroup formed by members of three of the most radical, politically outspoken acts of the ’80s and ’90s: Rage Against the Machine’s guitar-slinging Harvard alum Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk; Public Enemy’s Chuck D and DJ Lord; and Cypress Hill’s B-Real.

The result marries Rage’s heavy-metal/hip-hop hybrid, fueled by Morello’s turntable-esque guitar stylings, and the OG rap of East Coast rabble-rouser Chuck D and West Coast bud-banger B-Real. Multiracial (like Morello himself) and politically to the left, Prophets of Rage—the name comes from a Public Enemy track on their groundbreaking It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back album from 1988—hark back to both the ’60s rock’n’roll call for rebellion and the ’70s punk howl for anarchy.

They first teamed up to make a political statement during the 2016 presidential campaign, touring from May to October. Without an album out or any new material, the tour featured a mix of Rage, PE and Cypress songs, with a few covers like the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep ’Til Brooklyn” sprinkled in. Now they have their eponymously titled debut album to play and promote.

Prophets of Rage

From left: Tim Commerford, Tom Morello, B-Real, Chuck D, DJ Lord and Brad Wilk (Photo by Travis Shinn)

On Prophets of Rage, Chuck D and B-Real form a two-headed lead vocalist that recalls the give-and-take dialogue of Run the Jewels’ El-P and Killer Mike, with a similar eye towards the political zeitgeist. The album’s opening salvo, “Radical Eyes,” is a vehement call to arms, as Chuck D delivers the rallying cry, “If you need anything else to make me bleed/That you wanna blame me for what I read.”

The band takes on hot topics like racism (“Unfuck the World”), marijuana (“Legalize Me”), homelessness (“Living on the 110”), Trump (“Hail to the Chief”), police brutality (“Fired a Shot,” “Hands Up”), government invasion of privacy (“Who Owns Who”), income inequality (“Strength in Numbers”) and even the presence of drones (the “Fame” meets “Mama Said Knock You Out” funk of “Taking Me Higher”).

Given the stakes, Prophets of Rage prove more subversive than treasonous, their approach better suited to ranting about grievances than necessarily offering workable solutions. But that doesn’t spoil the fun of hearing B-Real drawl on “Legalize Me”: “They smoke in Colorado/They smoke in Cali too/They smoke all night/But that’s all right/We still fight on tomorrow.” In other words, the battle is just beginning, even if the first step—legalization—is at hand, at least in a number of states.

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Chuck D paints a similarly blighted sentiment on “Living on the 110,” rapping: “There’s no end to the poverty, stopping me/You pretend there’s democracy, hypocrisy.” B-Real chimes in, “This is the reality,” as Morello scratches his frets like a vinyl album.

The thudding “Fired a Shot” begins with a Native American tom-tom war beat before Morello surrounds it with a circular police siren riff on the Public Enemy-style track that promises imminent conflict. “Who Owns Who” is all feverish paranoia and anti-xenophobia, with B-Real proclaiming, “Gasoline that rag,” and Chuck D insisting, “Burn that fuckin’ flag.”

Prophets of RageNot since 1969, when the Jefferson Airplane declared “Up against the wall, motherfucker” on “We Can Be Together” and the MC5 urged listeners to “Kick Out the Jams,” has a rock band sounded so defiant, so outwardly opposed to the status quo. Whether they can gain any traction is another story altogether. Still, these hip-hop/heavy-metal jammers are a kick, regardless of their efficiency in channeling that anger for real social change.

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