Once in a while, the art that society needs to help it pull through collective dark times comes along right at the precise time. In another life, that album would have been a new album from a reunited Rage Against The Machine, the legendary rap-rock band. However, what we’ve got instead is the début full-length album from Prophets of Rage, the supergroup with members of Rage, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill added in for good measure. After an EP and a slew of singles telegraphing the powder keg of potential greatness to come had dropped, the full meal real deal thing is here. Forget about the quarter of the album already released, and the hype train pulling into the station. Prophets of Rage, may not save the world, but they coming out swinging, making damn sure they will try.
Since they already proved the formula works by taking RATM minus their former frontman and adding in two of the greatest names and groups of Hip-Hip; POR has spent the last year and a half honing their songs, killer live performances and their message. Notice, I said Hip-Hop and didn’t say Rap, there is a difference between the two. There will be no mention of bling and swag and degrading women here. Only messages of class warfare and urban politics in the finest tradition of protest music and 40 years of the style, all with the fire Rage always had. The dominant bassy voiced Chuck D is the finest, fiercest voice ever in the genre, and B-Real’s nasal tenor contrasts perfectly. As for the rest of the group… well it’s Tom Morello, Timmy C. and Brad Wilk, backed up by DJ Lord just channeling those Sabbath, Zeppelin, Parliament Funkadelic, Prince, War!, and other influences into a powerful salvo you cannot deny.
Opening with the cleverly named ‘Radical Eyes’, the band offers a mission statement in line with their collective manifesto. The riffs are straight out of Morello’s bag of tricks: slick, harsh, and tight all at once. Funky in the verses, rough on the chorus, it lays a great foundation for Chuck and B-Real and their word-play. It’s pretty much what you hoped would happen with this group, a great headbanging, jam fest with some patented Morello Digitech Whammy-Pedal greatness in the solo. Back in like it was 1992, indeed.
‘Unfuck The World’ is the second track and even though we have lived with it for a few months, there could be no better musical mission statement. It’s like the disaffection of a nation summed up in a song right about now. Especially in the wake of Charlottesville, VA, it’s a message of zero tolerance for racists, and apologists we need to keep. Next track ‘Legalize Me’, however, is on the weak side. Although the sweet riff and 70s Blues and R&B bop has a summer vibe I like, some of the B-Real sung versus has me bumming. Great lyrics about weed and anti-immigration policy coming to the fore, but the track just holds it back. Still, I can see people loving this song in concert.
After that false step, it’s back on the offensive. ‘Living On the 110’ has an opening riff and cadence that I swear Prince could have written. The lick is pure badassery, and the lyrics are amazing, a straight up hymnal to class struggle. Chuck and B-Real trade fiery verses that make Los Angeles, seem like a standing for Anytown USA. It will pull on your heart and your conscious if you still have one.
After the bridge track, ‘The Counteroffensive’, the album continues with a scathing send-up of President Trump in ‘Hail To The Chief’. The track shares some DNA with two classics: RATM’s ‘Wake Up’ and P.E.’s ‘By the Time I Get To Arizona’, without plagiarizing either. Great lyrical flows throughout, and a refrain of “he didn’t even run…” will stay with you for a long time. ‘Take Me Higher’ should wind up on the next soundtrack of a Quentin Tarantino movie, because it has that quality of a modern track, with a callback to the past. It also plays on an unhealthy sense of paranoia about drones, wiretapping, and big government. Staying in the grinding mid-tempo ‘Strength In Numbers’ will remind you that before Korn, Deftones, Limp Bizkit, Slipknot and Linkin Park crawled out of their respective hoods, they studied at the altar of Mr. Morello. Do you ever just hear his guitar and ask yourself “How? How the fuck does he do this?” I do.
‘Fired A Shot’ is another solid track and a reminder of what a killer rhythm section Brad and Timmy make. ‘Who Owns Who’ is a more uptempo affair, with a sound in common with later day Rage tunes. The great urgency in the vocals helps sell the message they are pushing. ‘Hands Up’ is all about victims of racially motivated police shootings in America. There are a few songs on here where the track breaks down and Chuck just goes off, his flows telling truths that can’t be denied. This is the best on the album here. ‘Smash It’ is another screed against those in power and the powerless rising up to fight them.
I know I wished and prayed for an album to come along like this in 2017, considering everything we’ve seen and been through culturally. You can argue politics on social media all day long, and not really understand the topics or a read reasonable solution, or learn how to affect positive change. Prophets of Rage express all of this eloquently in every facet of this album. The formula may be familiar, but the results are great.
Neo-cons, neo-Nazis, and one-percenters: you have my permission to skip this one. You’re not the demographic for this release.