Shout it LOUD

If you were an American historian trying to pinpoint the best time to start a politically radical, sonically ferocious, no-holds-barred band, you’d pick 2016.Folio Weekly readers know full well the disgusting depths to which this year’s political campaigns have sunk. Two-thirds of voters love one candidate and loathe the other; the other third figures that, no matter who wins, America will plunge into chaos.

 

Yet most musicians, many of whom (newsflash!) have liberal tendencies, are either too hesitant to wade into the political fray clusterfuck or too confident in the prevailing spirit of America’s humanity to entertain the possibility of Trump being elected. But for Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, Tim Commerford, Chuck D, DJ Lord and B Real — that’s three of four Rage Against The Machine members, two dudes from agit-rap icons Public Enemy, and one quiet yet supremely talented MC from Cypress Hill — sitting back and waiting this one out was not an option. In May, the five disparate artists followed up a guerrilla marketing campaign (discreet fliers posted around LA, an apocalyptic countdown clock on Rage’s Twitter account) by announcing the formation of Prophets of Rage. And a band member nailed the brief bio perfectly: Describing the Prophets to Rolling Stone, guitar wizard Morello said they were “an elite task force of revolutionary musicians determined to confront this mountain of election year bullshit and confront it head-on with Marshall stacks blazing.”

Progressive activists and rap-metal fans rejoined when livewire frontman Zack de la Rocha announced his retirement. But Morello couldn’t get the impact of Rage’s songs out of his head, so he organically built the new supergroup one by one. After everyone signed up, Tim and Brad got de la Rocha’s blessing, then scheduled one star-studded LA show after a week of rehearsal. “I’ve been doing Pilates the past two years,” 55-year-old Chuck D told Rolling Stone, “[and] I don’t know if the Pilates prepared me for [those] rehearsals. It was five hours of relentless speed and energy. Four hours of yelling and loud and bringing the noise for five, six days a week. I don’t think normal people could do this shit.”

Live, it was a jaw-dropping display of righteous aggression and sonic fury: Rage anthems like “Killing in the Name” and “Take the Power Back,” classic Public Enemy cuts like “Prophets of Rage” (hence the band name) and “Fight the Power,” subtler social commentaries from Cypress Hill like “How Could I Just Kill a Man,” and a few choice originals. Some pretended to be shocked, but how could these five men get together and not deliver some of the loudest, fastest, most-hard-hitting music on the planet? Creatively transformed and imbued with extra vigor, these exhortations against racial injustice, structural inequality, and humanity’s darker ills somehow seem more pertinent and ferocious in 2016 than when written in the ’80s and ’90s.

At first, the band didn’t plan on playing more than a handful of site-specific shows, including a much-celebrated protest performance outside the Republican National Convention in Cleveland. But in August, the Prophets’ avalanche started — and it hasn’t stopped. The group released a thought-provoking, eardrum-pummeling five-song EP, The Party’s Over. They didn’t let a canceled gig inside a Northern California prison stop them; they set up a guerrilla show outside the fence. They melted the faces off late-night TV, then announced a nationwide Make America Rage Again tour, raising money and awareness at every stop for a local social justice nonprofit.

If you know Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy or Cypress Hill, you know what to expect from Prophets of Rage when they storm St. Augustine Amphitheatre Sept. 30. But if you’re unsure about going to the show, consider this: Every band member seems personally invested in this little-known Martin Luther King Jr. quotation: “The hottest place in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in times of great moral conflict.”

As Morello told RS, “We can no longer stand on the sidelines of history. Dangerous times demand dangerous songs. Both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are constantly referred to in the media as raging against the machine. We’ve come back to remind everyone what raging against the machine really means. It’s a voice that’s been missing too long in the national/international dialogue, and it’s back. What better place than here? What better time than now?”

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