Prophets of Rage
The Prophets of Rage emerged last year in the tumult of a wild, unpredictable presidential election. The supergroup resurrected the '90s anthems of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill against a rising tide of racism in making good on their promise to "Make America Rage Again." But then, the unexpected happened. Trump won. The Prophets of Rage became, in the words of Dr. Cornel West, "long-distance runners" for freedom and armed themselves with a new self-titled debut to carry onward into uncertain times.
The musicians celebrated the collection released this month with an intimate record store show Friday night at Fingerprints Music in Long Beach. The sold-out event proved to be the latest coup for owner Rand Foster. A faithful legion lined up around the block before filling every corner of the establishment once let inside. The older Gen X crowd sported graying facial hair and faded Rage Against the Machine shirts when their heroes took the stage. With Chuck D and B-Real handling mic duties, the band set off the show with an energetic, re-imagined rendition of "Prophets of Rage," the Public Enemy song they take their name from.
The walls of Fingerprints Music rattled with more rap-rock when the duo delivered a deft performance of "Testify" that remained faithful to the Rage Against the Machine original. But the Prophets of Rage recording a new album proved they didn't assemble to become a museum act of '90s nostalgia. They delved into new material starting with "Living on the 110," a funky, infectious track taking aim at the explosion of homelessness in the wake of the Great Recession. Prophets of Rage predicted the fall of Trump next but wasted no time in offering a cautionary tale against his Vice President Mike Pence with "Hail to the Chief." Morello's guitar scratching on the song traded off with DJ Lord's own on the wheels of steel making for an epic solo battle.
Prophets of Rage's new songs, rounded out Friday night with performances of "Unfuck the World" and "Radical Eyes," captured the funkiness of Rage Against the Machine's Evil Empire and melded it with the more pronounced hip-hop aesthetic of its cover album Renegades. Tim Commerford's bass lines kept the concoctions grounded in a standout performance. The end result is rewarding, both on wax and live.
But being a supergroup, and all, the Rage Against the Machine musicians stepped back to let Chuck D and B-Real anchor the middle of the show with Cypress Hill's "Insane in the Membrane," Public Enemy's "Bring the Noise," and House of Pain's "Jump Around." When the musicians returned, Morello's calm harmonies hypnotized the audience before the blistering riffs of "Bulls on Parade" sounded off. The band had one more Rage Against the Machine anthem left in the festival-ready set to close the night, one that brought Morello, Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk to a familiar place before they ascended to become the premiere protest group of the 90's.
Back on March 29, 1992, Rage Against the Machine crammed into Zed Records in Long Beach for an in-store performance like Fingerprints; only they didn't have an album or single out yet. The band readied songs for their eponymous debut. A young Morello sported sideburns and a CCCP hat. Commerford tied his black mane into a ponytail. Wilk still looked like Wilk. The band delivered an impassioned 40-minute show that hinted at the rage to come. After Morello blitzed through his epic solo during "Killing in the Name," frontman Zack de la Rocha ditched his malfunctioning mic to scream "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me" with the frenzied crowd.
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Twenty-five years later, Zed Records is long gone but the legacy of Rage Against the Machine continued in Long Beach at Fingerprints with new seasoned hip-hop prophets at helm bringing it all full circle. "Dangerous times call for dangerous music," B-Real told the crowd. "This is who we are so we'll play the most dangerous song for you now." Prophets of Rage tore into "Killing in the Name." But halfway through the song, Morello signaled a "time-out" to his band after seeing something wrong in the crowd. The song abruptly stopped, but it wasn't because of Nazis in the pit.
The legendary guitarist halted security from throwing a fan out who raged a little too hard in cramped quarters. Morello brought him up to the front to rock out to their closing song. The whole scene recalled the song's music video from long ago where a defiant de la Rocha stopped a bouncer dead in his tracks from yanking a fan from the stage who then escaped with a leap into the mosh pit. This time around, the thunderous opening chords sounded again. Fans lifted middle fingers to the sky, screaming the song's recalcitrant refrain.
Enraptured by the moment, Morello bolted to the front of the stage and tossed back his guitar in the air at the song's end. The furious crescendo and the fists in the air that followed accentuated the urgency of now in these very dangerous times desperately in need of freedom songs.