Prophets of Rage – the supergroup featuring members of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill – are poised to release their eponymous debut album on September 15. Based on what fans have heard already (the band played a blistering rendition of their socio-political single “Living on the 110” on The Tonight Show September 11), the set is certain to go down in history as a classic, no-holds-barred resistance statement for the Trump era.
The group sat down with BUILD series in New York City to discuss their approach to creating the record, which they see as a much-needed platform to spark an activist urge in listeners.
“I don’t think we should just talk about [activism] in the world of music,” noted Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello. “I don’t think you should leave your convictions behind no matter what your vocation is. How change happens in the world is average everyday ordinary people stand up against injustice where they work, where they go to school, wherever their place is in the country at that time.”
“I remember seeing a headline: ‘Donald Trump rages against the machine,'” he added, with a laugh. “I said ‘Oh, hell no, you’re not the decider of that!’ When the band began, we were like, we just have to play in front of as many people as possible. We have to be a megaphone during these times and be a counterpoint view to those being shoved down our throats — by politicians, by corporations.”
“It’s just that now we agree that things are so bad that we want to encourage other musicians to be fearless and come up with something too,” explained Public Enemy’s Chuck D. “Try to burn the stage if you can.”
“I think a lot of artists in the past 10-15 years have stepped away from putting out any sort of conscious type of music,” mused Cypress Hill’s B-Real. “Because, let’s be realistic about it, the industry has pretty much shunned it. It’s not marketable, they don’t make money off it, they want to dumb music down so you have a bunch of mindless music out there. Now that people are more awakened and you have the Internet out there, I think we’re going to see a lot of new artists as well as artists considered veterans catching a spark from things like this, and speaking out.”
“Make no mistake, Trump is horrible, Republicans are horrible, the system which produced them is horrible,” added Morello. “But often Democrats are horrible. There are fundamental injustices woven into the system before Trump was president, during Trump and afterwards. That’s the bad news. The good news is that before, during and after there will be resistance to those injustices. That resistance requires a soundtrack, and this record is our audition to be that soundtrack to the resistance.
“Dangerous times demand dangerous songs, and bad presidents make for great music, so the formula’s there. It’s an ocean of gasoline waiting for a match.”
While the group agrees that the overall process of working on the record was an “awesome ego-free creative situation,” they admitted there were challenges putting together a cohesive sound combining a collection of musicians with extremely strong, established and revered sounds.
“It’s not easy nor was it meant to be easy,” Chuck D. said, practically. “These are very difficult, challenging songs to record and to come off and play them live. Nobody’s going to sound like [former Rage Against the Machine vocalist] Zac de la Rocha at 26, dude sounds like he got a knife turning in him.”
Overall, it was the underlying social message that knit the record together. “It was about taking it on and smashing any perceptions to give it a platform—for 2018, 2019, 2020,” he explained. “The mantra is, the world isn’t going to fix itself, and garbage won’t walk to the trash can by itself. If you’re talking about changing the world, if you can’t even change your own damn mind, how are you going to change anything else? We’re about making that commitment for this musical, cultural and social change.
“This is the beginning of Prophets of Rage,” stressed Morello. “This is our first record. There’s a lot of work that’s yet undone, on the stage and on the streets.”