I’d like to start this review by saying that I won’t personally be sharing my specific political views or opinions. I’ll do my best not to make this overly political, but it’s impossible to divorce the music from the message with a band like Prophets of Rage. Anyone familiar with Rage Against the Machine or Public Enemy knows that these guys do NOT shy away from speaking their minds or speaking truth to power. Lyrically this is album is relentless, restless, and brash. Musically, this could very well be considered the new Rage Against the Machine album.
Prophets of Rage has been together for more than a year now. This super-group is made from the remnants of Rage Against the Machine, paired with two emcees: Chuck D from Public Enemy and B Real of Cypress Hill. And both rappers make their mark on this debut album.
Socially-conscious hip hop has become much more mainstream in the last few years – with emcees like Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole selling millions and winning awards. As a casual fan of hip hop and rap music, I think that’s a really good thing for the genre. As a white kid who grew up in middle class America, I’m well aware that I’m merely a spectator to a lot of the issues in these songs, but I can certainly appreciate the authenticity on display. It’s been a while since the last Rage Against the Machine studio album, which came out in 2000, and it’s good to see these guys get back into the whole political rap game instead of doing something more radio-friendly (à la Audioslave).
From the first song, it’s clear that Morello and co. have not lost a step on what made them famous in the first place. Funky grooves and weird-ass guitar sounds abound. And each song seems to be drawing from that same well that fans from the ‘90s love so much. I’ve listened to a lot of RATM over the years and I don’t notice any real change in the overall guitar tone or overall feel of the riffs from those old albums. That’s why I’m inclined to believe that this should be considered the de facto new RATM album.
I’ve also noticed subtle nods to some famous Rage songs; whether this is homage to one’s past or Morello just stealing ideas from himself unwittingly, I think it’s gleefully nostalgic. “Strength in Numbers,” for instance, is a song with an opening riff that instantly recalls the thundering main riff from “Bulls on Parade.” That could be a coincidence, until I hear Chuck D rap “And you forgot a motherfucker be on soc med/and you rally ‘round the family/feds left for dead.” In fact, it’s uncanny really how much this album sounds like it could have come from the year 1998.
Of course the main difference here is the vocalist situation. Zach de la Rocha was a single voice, and his angry shrieks were one of the defining characteristics of the Rage Against the Machine sound. It’s all absent here. I think that Chuck D’s vocals and lyrics are a bit stronger than B Real, but the playfulness of the latter serves as a nice balance to the former who seems incensed with black rage.
It’s hard to pick the standout tracks here. Each one has a few simple but effective grooves and more than enough calls to action to shake your skinny fists to. Political or not, this is a fucking catchy-ass album that is sure to please large crowds at huge festivals. Every song clocks in at about two to four minutes, and that adds to the accessibility of the album as a whole. The lyrics aren’t for the overly sensitive, but if you’ve been waiting 17 years for a new Rage Against the Machine album you could do far worse than this.