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Review: Prophets of Rage (2017 LP)

Kevin Taghabon

November 29, 2017

“No hatred. Fuck racists. Blank faces. Time’s changin’. One nation. Unification. The vibration. Unfuck the world!” These chants in the second track of Prophets of Rage’s eponymous album are a rallying cry that summarizes the stories on the album. Given the DNA of the group and their political aesthetic, anticipation for this album was high. The result is a mixed, mostly positive bag.

In early 2016 political rock icon Tom Morello reunited with his former Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine (RATM) bandmates to form Prophets of Rage. Prophets was launched—like most of Morello’s post-RATM musical projects—with the aim of once again mainstreaming leftist politics into popular music. The hideous spectacle of politics in 2016 only made his mission more urgent.

Absent RATM’s lead singer Zack De La Rocha, Prophets of Rage instead brings in legendary emcees B Real of Cypress Hill and Chuck D of Public Enemy, as well as DJ Lord (also a Public Enemy alum). “We've been musical comrades for a very long time. They're my idols and friends,” Morello said of Chuck D and B Real, who he pitched the project to via phone last year.

Despite not being named once, Donald Trump looms large in the album. “All hail to the chief/ Who came in the name of a thief/ To cease peace/ And he didn’t even run” on track 6 is an obvious dig at Trump and Steve Bannon. The opening song has Chuck D remind listeners “You’ve been distracted again/ You fell asleep and when you woke up/ 45 for the win.” This line is relatable on a literal level for millions who went to bed November 8, 2016 calmly banking on pollster Nate Silver’s omniscience, only to wake up to disaster.

There are some more insightful moments on the album too. “Know your rights/ But you should understand/ Who, owns, who?”, the hook for track 10 shows that Prophets of Rage’s lyricists understand the limitations of legalism. In essence, it is not enough to be well versed in the law. The problem is the system itself, not the imperfect enforcement of the system’s rules. “Strength in Numbers” urges throughout that the power to dismantle injustice exists only in a unified people.

There is some levity in the album as well. The anti-security state anthem that is “Take Me Higher” opens with banter between the emcees: “Yo Chuck is that a drone up there, man?/ They fly over, they fly over/ Let me go get Timmy C’s gun and shoot it out the fuckin’ sky.” (Tim Commerford is the band’s bass player). The song fits nicely alongside El-P’s “Drones over BKLYN” and ANONHI’s “Drone Bomb Me”.

Instrumentally, the rap rock supergroup sounds great—about on par with Audioslave and RATM. A notable absence on most tracks is Tom Morello’s signature guitar solos, which sometimes became obnoxious during Audioslave tracks.   

Prophets of Rage has its foundations firmly planted in acclaimed projects of the past. Inevitable comparisons arise. Prophets of Rage must have especially anticipated RATM’s legacy breathing down the neck of their new project from day one. Here, even the most die-hard fans of Morello & co must admit that Prophets feels light by comparison.

While the songs are universally political, they lack De La Rocha’s trademark historical references and ferocious conviction. There is no “mainline adrenaline from Gaza to Tiananmen” or “cinema, simulated life, ill drama/ Fourth Reich culture, Americana” moment. De La Rocha’s powerful growls, recently heard on Run the Jewels tracks and other side projects, are sorely missed. De La Rocha is currently recording a solo album with Run the Jewels emcee and producer El-P, though this project itself has earned infamy for being almost two decades in the making in various forms.

Given the popularity of recent works by artists as varied as Pussy Riot, Run the Jewels, and A Tribe Called Red, it is clear that there is hunger for music laden with political content. This ache will only become more acute as years pass under austerity regimes and a revitalized left. Prophets of Rage has the potential to be something great. Time will tell if they take advantage of their unique talent and our historical moment.

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