The politically charged band, Rage Against the Machine, embodies the youth rebellion of the 1990s and early 2000s. The band, made up of Zach de la Rocha, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford, and Brad Wilk, used it’s on stage antics and political lyrics to wage war on the government. De la Rocha, son of a well-known Chicano political artist, sang for the band. Morello, who played lead guitar, is a Harvard graduate. Commerford played the other guitar, while Wilk was on drums. Each member of the band contributes to the writing of lyrics and their political demonstrations. The band possesses a hard rock style, with a hip-hop and metal influence. Rage plays their shows at a fast pace and loud volume so no one will miss the message they are sending.
The name of the band plays a big part in the message they are sending and how they wish to portray themselves. Morello has been quoted saying:
“The machine can be anything from the police on the streets of Los Angeles that can pull motorists from their cars and beat ‘em to a pulp and get away from it to the overall international and capitalist machinery that tries to make you just a mindless cog and to not think critically and never to confront the system and to just behave and look forward to the weekend and your next six pack of beer.”
Armed with a microphone and freedom of speech, the band wages war on everything that’s wrong in society. Rage uses their lyrics and popularity to influence the youth to stand up for numerous causes – such as racism, corporate America, human rights and equality.
Rage Against the Machine has released four studio albums – Rage Against the Machine (1992), Evil Empire (1996), The Battle of Los Angeles (1999) and Renegades (2002). Each album consists of lyrics that represented what Rage Against the Machine stood for.
Their self-titled debut album has been labeled a “total masterpiece,” by Sputnik Music. BBC has dubbed it “the ultimate teenage rebellion album” (Jones). The opening song on the album, “Bombtrack,” takes a stand against big business with the lyrics, “Instead I warm my hands upon the flames of the flag/as I recall our downfall/ and the business that burned us all/see through the news and the views that twist reality.” Rage believes the corporations of America are responsible for everything wrong in the country. Morello states, “I would say that the things that our corporate-controlled government has done at best are shameful and at worst genocidal.” The albums second track on the album, “Killing in the Name,” exploited the fact that past and current police officers and political figures are white supremacists and even participate in the Ku Klux Klan. The song contains the lyrics, “Some of those that work forces/are the same that burn crosses,” which he often changes to “Some of those that burn crosses/are the same that hold office,” while playing live. The Ku Klux Klan is widely known to burn crosses at their gatherings. The song ends with de la Rocha shouting, “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me!” several times.
On this album, the band also takes a stand against the idea that government uses media to attempt to control the population. In the album’s heaviest track, “Bullet in the Head,” de la Rocha resonates, “No escape from the mass media mind rape/play it again jack and then rewind the tape/and then play it again and again and again,” and then continues to, “Believin’ all the lies they’re tellin’ ya/buyin’ all the products that they’re sellin’ ya.” This alludes to the theory that government is using propaganda to control how everyone thinks and reacts. During a Saturday Night Live episode hosted by Steve Forbes in 1996, Rage Against the Machine planned to play this song while hanging American flags upside down from their amplifiers. Producers of Saturday Night Live rejected the idea, citing objectionable lyrics and possibly offending corporate sponsors. Before Rage was kicked out of the building, drummer Tim Commerford showered Forbes, who was a presidential candidate at the time, with torn up shreds from the flags the band attempted to use. In regards to this incident, Morello is quoted saying, “SNL censored rage, period. It should come to no surprise that GE [General Electric], which owns NBC, would find “Bullet” particularly offensive. GE is a major manufacture of US planes used to commit war crimes in the Gulf War.”
Rage Against the Machine’s second album, Evil Empire, “lambastes government corruption, media manipulation, big business, complacency and ambivalence” (Wiederhorn). “People of the Sun,” the first track on the album, is an ode to de la Rocha’s Mexican heritage. The lyrics “Since 1516, minds attacked and overseen/now crawl amidst the ruins of this empty dream,” elude to the persecution of the Aztec way of life by Spanish explorer, Hernán Cortés, in 1516. The Zoot Suit Riots of 1943, a series of riots between Mexican Americans and military servicemen that happened in Los Angeles, are also referenced in this track – “Troops strippin’ zoots, shots of red mist.” Zoot suits were a suit consisting of high-waisted trousers and long coats that were popular among Latino and Mexican communities during the 1940s. During these riots, mobs of service men invaded the barrios and assaulted any and all young Latino males who were wearing zoot suits. In the end, nearly approximately 500 Mexican Americans were jailed for rioting, but the servicemen got off scot free (“Zoot Suit Riots”). The video also contains footage of Zapatista Army of National Liberation, or otherwise known as the EZLN. Morello states, “The Zapatista's are a guerrilla army who represent the poor indigenous communities in southern Mexico who, for hundreds of years, they have been trodden upon and sort of cast aside and which really are the lowest form on the economic social ladder in Mexico.” The flag of the EZLN has served as the primary backdrop for numerous live performances and Rage has included informational cards inside the album.
In the second track on the album, “Bulls on Parade,” de la Rocha criticizes the decision of American government choosing to take military action instead of helping people in poverty – “Weapons, not food, not homes, not shoes/not need, just feed the war cannibal animal” he sings. With the war in Iraq and the War on Drugs, excessive military spending is something that is still relevant in our everyday lives.
The third studio album by Rage Against the Machine, Battle of Los Angeles, continues “pushing an agenda as strong as any religion” (Strauss). The second track on the album, Guerilla Radio, Rage confronts censorship that is taking the United States by storm at this time. De la Rocha roars, “A decade of the weapon of sound above ground/no shelter if you’re looking for shade/I lick shots at the brutal charade.” At the release of this album in 1999, the band had been using their music as a weapon, in which they “lick shots” from, for about a decade. A slang definition for “lick shots” is to shoot a gun. He implies democracy in the United States is an illusion with the phrase “brutal charade.” One of Rage’s most notable stands against censorship was in 1993 at Lollapalooza in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. All four members of the band stood on stage naked for nearly 15 minutes with duct tape over their mouths and the letters “PMRC” scribbled across their chests (“Rage”). PMRC, Parents Music Resource Center, is one of the groups responsible for the “parental advisory” stickers placed on albums that require individuals to be 17 years of age to purchase the album. Rage Against the Machine did not play a single note that day, but came back to Pennsylvania later in the year to play a free show.
For the song Sleep Now in the Fire, Rage chose to employ Michael Myers, controversial film director, to script the video. The video was to be filmed outside of the New York Stock Exchange. As the band concluded shooting and breaking down their equipment, they attempted to enter the NYSE and an altercation broke out with New York Police and security of the NYSE (Basham). The lyrics, “So raise your fists and march around/just don’t take what you need,” allude to the fact that we have the freedom to protest, but if the government doesn’t agree with what you’re saying they’ll be quick to shut it down. As a large crowd gathered outside, the NYSE was shut down for the day.
. Renegades, the fourth studio album by Rage Against the Machine, is the first cover album the band recorded. The album is compiled of songs by the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Eric B. & Rakim, EPMD and the Rolling Stones, among others. Each song Rage covered for the album has the same qualities as their own – fueled by politics and daily issues in society. Rolling Stone Magazine stated that Rage, “[executed] each with the roaring fearless spirit that’s been missing in action since these songs were new” (Moon).
Not only has Rage Against the Machine performed at large festivals all over the world, they have played at several political conventions. The band played a free concert at the 2000 Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, in protest of the two party government systems. During their performance, de la Rocha proclaimed, “Brothers and sisters, our democracy has been hijacked,” and “we have a right to oppose these mother fuckers.” Shortly after Rage left the stage, a riot broke out causing the concert to be shut down. Police forcibly dispersed the crowed using pepper spray, tear gas and rubber bullets (Asch).
Rage planned to perform at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. As they arrived at the venue, on time, they were told by police officers that they did not have the proper permit the play the show. They produced the permit but the officers informed them that if they approached the stage they would arrested. So instead of playing with instruments on stage, the band played a cappella with megaphones in the middle of the crowd (Gregory).
Rage Against the Machine is credited with being one of the greatest artists of all time. With their fearless writing style and head-banging sound, Rage led the youth rebellion of the 1990s and early 2000s. They relied on their freedom of speech to express their views on politics, racism, corporate America and human rights. Being one of the most politically charged bands ever to receive extensive radio airtime, Rage was able to spread the knowledge and expose all the wrong doings of society with raw emotion and explicit lyrics. They influenced people to speak their mind, stand up against government and refuse to be told what to do. Rage Against the Machine exemplifies what rebellion means.