By: Michael DePietro
Last month, legendary hip-hop/metal pioneers Rage Against the Machine (RATM) announced a worldwide reunion tour, including the band’s first visit back to Buffalo since 1993. The ‘Public Service Announcement” tour, which also features hip-hop supergroup Run the Jewels, will mark the first time the band has performed together in nearly a decade.
Unfortunately, tickets for most of the tour dates— including the band’s first show in the Queen City in over 26 years— sold out almost immediately.
The continued popularity RATM enjoys may, at first, seem remarkable considering the band’s relatively low-volume creative output. The group’s discography includes a mere three full-length releases (excluding the covers album, ‘Renegades’) in just over nine years before the band first called it quits in 2000. Yet the band’s songs and legacy have endured in a way that many of their 90’s alt-scene peers have not.
Simply from a sonic standpoint, it’s easy to understand why. Consider the music environment that existed at the time when the band’s self-titled debut was released in 1992: Nirvana’s “Nevermind” had only just opened the alt-music floodgates. In their wake, a slew of white male fronted, flannel encrusted copycats rushed to fill the public demand.
Suddenly, an ethnically diverse, politically charged explosion of aggressively blended hip-hop, metal, funk and punk went off in Los Angeles. Guitarist Tom Morello matched head stomping riffs with otherworldly, disc jockey inspired effects and techniques, while energetic vocalist Zack de la Rocha, combined biting hip hop lyricism and larynx shredding screaming to create some of the most iconic songs in rock and hip-hop. Accompanied by one of the tightest rhythm sections in music history in the form of bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk, RATM was simply unlike anything that had come before them.
Yet, the reason why their legacy and influence persists today while others have faded into obscurity is a depressing one.
Throughout the 90’s, RATM’s music provided the soundtrack for a news cycle defined by political corruption and scandal, police brutality, bigotry and racism and wars in the middle east. Sound familiar?
Sadly, the world that de la Rocha’s lyrics so vividly and so angrily railed against is alive and well in 2020. As such, the political messages of RATM’s decades old music continue to connect with a new generation who are as fed up with the current political scene as the band was during the Clinton years. Today, a new crop of artists across musical genres have been inspired by the band’s ethos. For evidence, look at themes across Run the Jewels releases, or check out rapper Denzel Curry’s amazing cover version of ‘Bulls on Parade’ for the YouTube series “Like a Version.”
Make no mistake, the band’s music has always been inexorably linked to its political message. Just ask former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who took a thorough public shredding a few years ago for saying he was a fan of RATM music but not their message. Morello even responded in an op-ed for Rolling Stone calling Ryan “the embodiment of the machine our music rages against.”
Simply put, RATM makes American protest music. They always have. Harkening back to the protest-folk music scene that flourished in America throughout the 1930s to the 1960s, the band members have often taken part in numerous social justice movements and protests.
Their overt politics have often gotten the band in trouble. Famously, while filming the video for “Sleep Now in the Fire” (directed by filmmaker Michael Moore) band members were arrested after attempting to gain entry into the New York Stock Exchange. Elsewhere, they were condemned by Fox News for suggesting that members of the Bush Administration should be tried as war criminals.
Even today, RATM is using their status to help raise money for charities and activist organizations located in each city the band visits on their current tour. In a statement posted to the band’s website, the group announced “WE are holding in reserve 10% of the seating (random seats throughout each venue) to sell at a higher ticket price (but low enough to undercut the scalpers). We will donate 100% OF THE MONEY over the fees and base ticket price to charities and activist organizations IN EACH CITY.”
The plan seems to be working. Last week, Morello announced via Twitter that the band has raised over $3 million so far through ticket sales.
But the sad truth is that as long as Americans continue to be complacent about the ever-declining state of their country’s institutions, RATM’s music of the 1990’s will continue to be relevant to the systematically disenfranchised people affected by those institutions.
Fortunately, it seems people are starting to get fed up. In the last decade, images of protestors taking on police brutality and oil pipelines began to dominate the news feed. More recently, grassroots political activism has led to an upending of the Democratic party, while growing worldwide environmental movements have taken increasingly ‘radical’ measures to tackle the issues of climate change.
Hopefully the conclusions of these moments lead to a world where RATM’s music no longer has relevance.
Until then, let the band provide the soundtrack for the revolution.
The Public Service Announcement Tour will land in Buffalo on July 27 at the KeyBank Center. For more details on tickets and tour dates, please visit, https://tour.ratm.com/