The Republican National Convention will have an unwelcome soundtrack this week from activist supergroup Prophets of Rage.
The recently formed band began their Republican convention residency in Cleveland this week by playing a free show Monday at the "End Poverty Now! Rally." A march for economic justice followed, which brought the band to the Cleveland Public Square, where they are playing another show. Other events, both scheduled and unscheduled, will be announced as the week progresses. Their goal is to "represent people who need a cultural voice to express their displeasure with the coronation that's going to be happening in the good working class town of Cleveland."
Prophets Of Rage vs RNC: Public Square Parkhttps://t.co/QzUoUpReM9
— Prophets of Rage (@prophetsofrage) July 18, 2016
Cleveland police car & van parked across the street from @prophetsofrage concert which may end & become a march soon pic.twitter.com/U7VfvN9igQ
— Unicorn Riot (@UR_Ninja) July 18, 2016
The band released their first single just a few hours ago in tandem with their RNC appearance.
The "Prophets of Rage" name comes from a Public Enemy song. The group includes Rage Against the Machine's bassist and backing vocalist Tim Commerford, guitarist Tom Morello, and drummer Brad Wilk, together with Public Enemy's Chuck D and DJ Lord, and B-Real from Cypress Hill.
The band's members have sold more than 20 million albums worldwide in their respective careers. Bloomberg Politics described them as "the most provocative and outspoken acts in the history of hip-hop and heavy metal."
Boing Boing spoke to Tom Morello about the legacy of Rage in the Machine, and why it matters in 2016:
Maureen Herman: As RATM, the band took many stands of action and ruckuses, including shutting down the New York Stock Exchange for two hours–the only time in history–during your performance and Michael Moore-directed video shoot for "Sleep Now In The Fire." Of all those times, what is the accomplishment or action you are most proud of, or you feel had the most real impact?
Tom Morello: I think the greatest impact that RATM had, was not a specific political action or stunt, but rather the catalog of material that has made its way into the DNA of rebels across the globe.
News of the Prophets of Rage project first surfaced earlier this year, when a mysterious website launched on May 31 with a countdown clock. The site seemed to be officially linked to the band Rage Against the Machine, which has not performed since 2011. On the website, only this statement and nothing more: "Clear the way for the Prophets of Rage: The Party's Over – Summer 2016 #takethepowerback"
When the clock ran out, the site announced their first show: a small club gig in Los Angeles later that day which sold out within an hour despite requiring in-person sales. At this same moment, the band also announced a 35+ city tour, kicking off Tuesday, July 19 at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland.
Ticket price at all shows is $20, and a portion of proceeds benefit homeless-related charities in each city.
Tickets and VIP packages are available here.
In an interview with Bloomberg, guitarist Tom Morello said, "The last time RATM played in Los Angeles, we out-drew Trump, Sanders, and Clinton by a margin of 3 to 1, so I think the general electorate is ready for our message."
What is the message? Since their first performance last month, the violence and strained race relations in our country have intensified. Prophets of Rage say their message is the same one that guitarist and Harvard grad Tom Morello has been saying for years.
"Feed the poor. Fight the power. Rock the fuck out."
Prophets of Rage vocalist B Real (formerly Cypress Hill) says, "The message conveys that we're done with the lies that are told to us for our votes. The party's over. We're standing up, we're making our voices known. There's not music that speaks to what's going on right now, nothing with substance."
Chuck D agrees.
"The two-party system has been over for a long time," says the activist and former Public Enemy frontman.
"We have to come up with something that looks forward into the 21st century, that makes sense to these new generations that have come into the voting marketplace," Chuck D says. "What we want to try to represent right with Prophets of Rage is the songs, they're timeless, they're even beyond us as individuals, and there's an atmosphere that we want to confront.
"The songs travel the world. How would you like your country to be looked at from the outside looking in? Because these songs, we're going to be worldwide, we're on a wavelength with the rest of the planet, looking inward. Something's gotta be said, something's gotta be done, what better thing than music?"
In the same interview with Bloomberg last month, Morello spoke about the 2016 political landscape:
"It's an unprecedented moment in history, and one of the things that has irked me greatly is that the media has talked about the Trump campaign and the Sanders campaign as, both of them are 'raging against the machine. We're going to set that record straight once and for all: what it really means to 'rage against the machine.' I think that both those campaigns have tapped into something very, very real. That people right, left, and center believe the system as it currently stands does not serve their needs, but what they're being offered up through the tiny funnel of the electoral process, is a racist demagogue on the one hand, and a great dreamer on the other hand, and in the middle is the lesser of three evils. None of those choices are good enough for us. There needs to be an alternate voice, one that's unfiltered, uncompromising, and stands unapologetically with the people."
Though he's clearly referencing Trump, Sanders, and Clinton, respectively, he says, "The underlying problems are systemic. The songs that we've been writing for decades attack the system, not the individual candidates."
If only more people would heed Prophets of Rage's call to unify, motivate, and activate.
A most un-Civil War has broken out among Democrats and other left-leaning Americans. Social media has largely replaced significant face to face political discussion among friends–the kind we normally have in an election year, conversations that involve a little civility, listening, facts, and maturity.
Not online, and not this year. I've seen long-term friendships implode in a series of ardent, endless, self-righteous comment threads. I've seen solid professional colleagues reduced to GIF wars. I've seen once-friendly acquaintances block each other over memes.
You can feel the rage on the internet, but internet rage doesn't usually accomplish much. The #ImWithHer devotees and the #FeeltheBern followers have turned their Democratic vitriol away from #DonaldTrump supporters. Bernie and Hillary fans are facing off on Facebook like besties in a catfight, pecking lengthy arguments into their keyboards, desperate to be heard and understood, while Trump supporters giggle in delight at the arms-crossed grudge that could hand Republicans the White House. The bitterness is everywhere. Prophets of Rage have tapped into something real.
The guys in "Prophets" aren't coddled rock stars dabbling in election-year politics for exposure and record sales. They just played three sold-out shows in LA and New York to benefit the homeless, and last week played a free and unannounced show on Skid Row, the vast and seemingly permanent homeless encampment in Downtown LA.
These are longtime activists and artists who built decades-long careers producing masterful bodies of work and taking on challenges others would run from, showing little concern for who might be offended. They have not been writing love songs that make you cry, they've been writing protest songs that make you think, and radical anthems that unify and consolidate a scattered body of the voiceless. Their muse is the world's discontent, and they are masters at crafting it into constructive action.
Delivering the rock
With three big catalogs to draw from, the band unleashed the power of their music in their recent live shows, with a crowd surging palpably with energy–a rhythmic, visceral whole. A community. People hungry for something to connect to.
Video: Prophets of Rage covering RATM's "Killing in the Name" at the Los Angeles Palladium
I saw their LA show at the Palladium, and the band members looked like they had been dying to play those songs again. I asked bassist Tim Commerford what it felt like.
Maureen Herman: Watching you play the Los Angeles Palladium show, you seemed unleashed–as though you'd been dying to play some of these songs again, and the crowd seemed like they were dying to hear them–did it feel like you were "back" or did it feel like a totally different thing? How is the songwriting process different from RATM in this band?
Tim Commerford: Prophets is a new musical experience for me. New songs, old songs, new catalogs, covers, mash-ups, there are so many possibilities, it's endless, but really, it's just fun to be together. The feeling I get playing music with my idols and my brothers is something I will never forget. That was the tenth time I've played the Hollywood Palladium and it felt like the first. The thing about it that never changes for me is the enthusiasm of the amazing audience. They went off! That enthusiasm was my fuel, I had to try and keep up with them. In other words they are just as important to me as we are and once again, they didn't let me down. Thank you Los Angeles, you killed it!
I asked Public Enemy's DJ Lord about the intimidating task of being the opening act:
Maureen Herman: You warmed up an enormous and very eager crowd at the Los Angeles Palladium, where the show sold out in an hour. What did you think when you saw the sea of people? How did it feel when the rest of your bandmates took to the stage?
DJ Lord: When I saw the sea of people at the palladium I was AMPED! It gave me a huge sense of UNITY that the people would come out and support the message (#RiseUP #TakeThePowerBack). When my bandmates joined in, it felt like we were The Avengers taking on a worldwide attack of Ultron…well in this case let's say "Ignorance & Inequality" are Ultron..heh.
Why isn't Rage frontman Zach de la Rocha in the band?
Chuck D addressed the question on most fans' minds directly at the LA Forum during their second show. Where was RATM frontman Zach de la Rocha? Chuck D praised de la Rocha's "lyrics of revolution" and extended an open invitation to him, with the audience as his witness, that "there's always a seat warm for him. Long live the music of Rage Against the Machine!"
In an interview with Albuquerque radio station 104.1 The Edge, Chuck D elaborated, "We'll always keep the seat warm for Zach de la Rocha, who is a fantastic, rebellious hero of ours. We can't make Rage Against the Machine come back together, but if Zach shows up you've got Rage Against the Machine. And the shows live on, and he's given us the blessings to do it, which is the greatest thing."
The original breakup of Rage ended abruptly with Zack's departure after an incident at the MTV Music Video Awards in New York in 2000. They reformed a few times, notably once for the 2008 Republican convention.
At that time, in an interview with Ann Powers in 2008, Zack said, "So much has changed. When you get older, you look back on tensions and grievances and have another perspective on it. I think our relationship now is better than it's ever been. I would even describe it as great."
The last show RATM played was in 2011 at the LA Coliseum. It was celebratory, triumphant, and united. After the show, Zack seemed happy, content, and whole. They all did. Apparently Zack is sitting this one out, for reasons we don't know.
For Morello, the apple fell to the right of the tree
Morello believes music is a powerful agent of change. "My view is that progressive, radical, or revolutionary change always comes from below, not from above, so even if you've staked all of your hopes for yourself and your family on 'hope,'" Morello said, referencing the Obama campaign's winning slogan.
"Well, sometimes that doesn't work out, you know? If you base them on this sort of xenophobic, fear-based racism, that's not going to work out, either. How people change the world–it starts around people's kitchen tables, it starts in their classrooms, wherever people gather to talk about making the world the one they want to see."
Morello knows ideas that begin at kitchen tables or in classrooms. The son of a white high school history teacher and a Kenyan revolutionary who divorced when he was a child, Morello was raised by his single mother. He studied political science, and graduated from Harvard. Sound familiar? Maybe a little like Obama's own story? That's where the similarities end. Morello has earned Grammys with Rage Against the Machine, and accolades for his activism. He is an Industrial Workers of the World member, and in 2006 received the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award. In 2014, he won the Spirit of Courage Award, which the Courage Campaign presents to someone fighting for a fair and just world.
Morello says the real radical in the family is his mom, Mary Morello. She earned a master's degree in African and Latin American history, and spent many years teaching English in Germany, Spain, and Japan while circling the globe on a freighter. She lived and worked in Kenya in the early 1960s, where she met and married Ngethe Njoroge, a Kenyan revolutionary who eventually became the first Kenyan delegate to the United Nations. He was a guerrilla in the Mau Mau Uprising (1950–1960) that arguably led to Kenya's independence from British rule. Though his father did not participate in his life until recent years, the revolutionary blood runs deep.
In 1987, Mary Morello quit her teaching job of 22 years and founded the anti-censorship group, "Parents for Rock and Rap" for which she won the 1987 Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award. She has long been an advocate for the innocence of death row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, who is convicted in the 1982 shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer.
Maureen: You have given credit to your mother as being the real radical in the family. Was there a core guiding principle that you were taught early on that drove Mary's activism and world view, or did it seem to evolve over her lifetime?
Tom Morello: My mom, Mary Morello, has had an internationalist perspective for much of her 92 years. While hailing from a tiny coal-mining town in central Illinois, she traveled the globe as a single woman in her twenties and thirties and was exposed to ideas, political ideas, and diverse cultures, which certainly have shaped her worldview. At the core of her essence, though, is a relentless belief in standing up for the underdog, whoever the underdog may be. That is what I believe, informs her morals and politics, and was a strong voice in my home growing up, and remains a strong voice around our dinner table.
Maureen: How would you describe her core philosophy and do you share it?
Tom Morello: My mom fearlessly self-identifies as a socialist/communist and anti-racist, anti-imperialist, and anti-bullshit purveyor. She has both the life experience and the internal moral barometer, which reveal strong opinions on many issues, but the core guiding principles are a love of the poor and downtrodden, and humanism–a belief that a more humane decent and equitable planet is possible.
At the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, Rage Against the Machine was scheduled to play a free show in protest of what frontman De La Rocha called "the power abusing party. As told to "Suicide Girls," by Morello:
"They showed up at exactly the time we were scheduled to perform, and as soon as we got out of our vehicle we were immediately surrounded by riot police who told us if we approached the stage we'd be arrested for playing music. They said that we were not on a permit for the day's show. We produced the permit and showed them that none of the artists that had already been playing for the previous four hours, including Anti-Flag and Michael Franti, were listed on the permits. They just tried to use that as an excuse to stop us from playing. We were there right on time to play and they physically barred us from getting onto the stage because they were afraid of the music we were going to play."
"Imagine if in Beijing during the Olympics a Chinese band whose songs were critical of the government was told they'd be arrested if they attempted to sing those songs in a public forum—there would have been an international human rights outcry. But that's exactly what happened in Minnesota. But this is a band that has made a living singing a song that goes 'fuck you, I won't do what you tell me,' so we weren't about to go back to the hotel with our tails between our legs. So we out-flanked the police line and went into the middle of the crowd, and played a couple of songs passing a bull horn back and forth, and it seemed to go over pretty well."
The next day, the band surprised the crowd when they silently stood on stage while wearing orange Guantanamo Bay-like prisoner suits with black hoods over their heads. They played "Bombtrack" and soon the crowd protested in the streets. Riot police ended the uprising with the arrests of 102 people.
I hope that this week, whatever happens at the RNC in Cleveland, those who have gathered will be able to exercise their right to freedom of speech without harm. Given the state of the country, it's risky to stand up against the RNC and rock out for the poor and powerless in an open-carry city.
But that's what Prophets of Rage signed up for.
PROPHETS OF RAGE 2016 TOUR DATES
All dates, venues and cities below subject to change.
• July 19 Cleveland, OH venue TBD
• Aug. 19 Fairfax, VA, EagleBank Arena
• Aug. 20, Camden, NJ, BB&T Pavilion
• Aug. 21, Mansfield, MA, Xfinity Center
• Aug. 23, Hartford, CT, The Xfinity Theatre
• Aug. 24, Toronto, ON, Molson Canadian Amphitheatre
• Aug. 26, Holmdel, NJ, P.N.C. Bank Arts Center
• Aug. 27, Brooklyn, NY, Barclays Center
• Aug. 28, Wantagh, NY, Nikon at Jones Beach Theater
• Aug. 30, Noblesville, IN, Klipsch Music Center
• Aug. 31, Burgettstown, PA, First Niagara Pavilion
• Sept. 1, Clarkston, MI, DTE Energy Music Theatre
• Sept. 3, Tinley Park, IL, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
• Sept. 4, St. Louis, MO, Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre
• Sept. 5, Kansas City, MO, Providence Medical Center Amphitheater
• Sept. 7, Morrison, CO, Red Rocks Amphitheatre
• Sept. 10, Auburn, WA, White River Amphitheatre
• Sept. 11, Ridgefield, WA, Sunlight Supply Amphitheatre
• Sept. 13, Mountain View, CA, Shoreline Amphitheatre
• Sept. 15, Los Angeles, CA, The Forum
• Sept. 17, Phoenix, AZ, Ak-Chin Pavilion
• Sept. 25, Dallas, TX, Gexa Energy Pavilion
• Sept. 27, Nashville, TN, Bridgestone Arena
• Sept. 29, VA Beach, VA, Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheater
• Oct. 1, Tampa, FL, MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheater at Encore Park
• Oct. 2, West Palm Beach, FL, Perfect Vodka Amp
• Oct. 4, Alpharetta, GA, Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre
• Oct. 5, Cincinnati, OH, Riverbend Music Center
• Oct. 7, Tulsa, OK, BOK Center
• Oct. 8, Houston, TX, Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion
• Oct. 9, San Antonio, TX, AT&T Center
• Oct. 11, El Paso, TX, El Paso County Coliseum
• Oct. 12, Albuquerque, NM, Isleta Amphitheatre
• Oct. 14, Las Vegas, NV, Mandalay Bay Event Center
• Oct. 16, Chula Vista, CA, Sleep Train Amphitheatre
"Prophets of Rage"
by Public Enemy
With vice I hold the mike device
With force I keep it away of course
And I'm keepin' you from sleepin'
And on stage I rage
And I'm rollin'
To the poor I pour in on in metaphors
Not bluffin', it's nothin'
That we ain't did before
We played you stayed
The points made
You consider it done
By the prophets of rage
(Power of the people say)
I roll with the punches so I survive
Try to rock 'cause it keeps the crowd alive
I'm not ballin', I'm just callin'
But I'm past the days of yes y'allin'
Wa wiggle round and round
I pump, you jump up
Hear my words my verbs
And get juiced up
I been around a while
You can descibe my sound
Clear the way
For the prophets of rage
(Power of the people say)
I rang ya bell
Can you tell I got feelin'
Just peace at least
Cause I want it
Want it so bad
That I'm starvin'
I'm like Garvey
So you can see be
It's like that, I'm like Nat
Leave me the hell alone
If you don't think I'm a brother
Then check the chromosomes
Then check the stage
I declare it a new age
Get down for the prophets of rage
Keep you from gettin' like this
You back the track
You find we're the quotable
Brothers, sisters that's beautiful
Follow a path
Of positivity you go
Some sing it or rap it
Or harmonize it through Go-Go
Little you know but very
Seldom I do party jams
About a plan
I'm considered the man
I'm the recordable
But God made it affordable
I say it, you play it
Back in your car or even portable
Describes my scenario
Left or right, Black or White
They tell lies in the books
That you're readin'
It's knowledge of yourself
That you're needin'
Like Vescey or Prosser
We have a reason why
To debate the hate
That's why we're born to die
Mandela, cell dweller, Thatcher
You can tell her clear the way for the prophets of rage
(Power of the people you say)
It's raw and keepin' you on the floor
Its soul and keepin' you in control
It's pt. 2 'cause I'm
Pumpin' what you're used to
Until the whole juice crew
Gets me in my goose down
I do the rebel yell
And I'm the duracell
Call it plain insane
Brothers causein' me pain
When a brothers a victim
And the sellers a dweller in a cage
Yo, run the accapella
(Power of the people say)