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20: RATM

Photo By Rage Against The Machine

“Drop And Don’t Copy, Yo, Don’t Call This A Co-op…”

The American system cannot escape its core exchange: finite amount of time for potentially infinite freedom. The power of the dollar; a fractional reserve note, an omnipotent strip of paper, one that dictates the very fabric of perception, and therefore reality. It separates the population between the strong and weak, winners and losers. As the world becomes more accessible, the strength of the monetary system is at its apex, and those on the liberal side of the political spectrum view the machine as a tyrannical force that cannot be stopped, with capitalism as the main target of their ire. Liberals today suggest that the fires of revolution have been sparked, as they follow through carrying the torches from previous revolutionaries and freedom fighters. Cap.

Before this age of Metaverse and digital law, the main tool for change were the arts. Writers, musicians, and artisans were echoing similar perspectives with aggression and sheer will. None more than the iconic, pioneering Nu-Metal band, Rage Against The Machine.

Rage Against The Machine were an offshoot of the Orange County based hardcore punk band “Inside Out,” whose lead man Zack De Le Roche wrote the song titled in the band’s name.

Tom Morello gathered the band members for a casual jamming session as he was looking to form a new group after the breakup of his former band “Lock Up.” The name of the band was decided quickly based on each of the band members’ critical viewpoints on the world, from wage slavery to anti-immigration. This was an easy decision, as both Zack and Tom were born into activist families, influencing, and shaping the bands political beliefs. They would start to appear in the public eye shortly after. With the small amount of exposure, they already had small labels clamouring for their signatures. They were the definition of authentic artists, and Epic Records recognised this, allowing them the creative freedom and expression they desired. Via their newly found partners, RATM would release their self-titled debut album.

Cover Art for RATM's "Rage Against The Machine"

An iconic album. It was so versatile and revolutionary for its time because of its powerful musical delivery and the strong convictions that lay behind it. Incorporating innovative musical techniques, racism, politics, fusing rap and metal whilst adding hints of blues to their music was impressive and incredibly innovative. The album gave hope to a younger generation of musicians because of how different it was. Nothing like this had ever come before. Musicians listened to the band and were introduced to something original, something that would make them never view music the same way again.

"On the strength of the album, they must be viewed as one of the most original and virtuosic new rock bands in the nation..."

Through 93’, they would tour alongside heavy hitters House Of Pain and Cypress Hill, and headline multiple benefit gigs from Anti-Nazi to “Rock For Choice”. They were everywhere, stoking the fires of rebellion for the youth, taking it to levels unheard of. In July, they underwent a silent protest during a live show against censorship by standing naked with only duct tape around their mouth spelling out “P-M-R-C.” The Parents Music Resource Centre’s committee, led by Tipper Gore, ruled that after 1985 all albums containing objectionable content must exhibit these warning stickers. Rage Against The Machine didn’t like this and stayed true to their identity.

Making waves and crashing them, their success was solidified with their debut album reaching certified platinum status for sales in several countries, and two times platinum in New Zealand. They would use this power to up the ante in terms of activism and philanthropy. The single “Freedom” supported the imprisoned Indigenous activist Leonard Peltier, who was convicted of a double murder of two Federal agents in 1975. He has proclaimed his innocence on several occasions, writing a memoir about his time incarcerated.

“Innocence has a single voice that can only say over and over again, "I didn't do it." Guilt has a thousand voices, all of them lies…”

A defence fund was raised for the convicted Peltier together with Cypress Hill, Thee Midnighters and Lighter Shade Of Brown, among others. A force to be reckoned with, their crusade against injustice was in full affect. Using live concerts to provide financial aid to victims of perceived inequity. The next beneficiary was a special case.

Mumia Abu-Jamal was a political activist and journalist, a former member of the Black Panther Party, convicted of the murder of a Philadelphia state police officer in 1981. Sentenced to death in 1982. After numerous appeals, the sentence was overturned. (He joined the Black Panther party at the age of 14 and left in 1970). Since 1982, his trial has been seriously criticised for constitutional failings with many thinking he is innocent and the victim’s family members obviously arguing the opposite. Another benefit concert was organised at the Capital Ballroom in DC, with more than $8,000 raised for the family and friends of the political activist.

They pushed forward with their next album, “Evil Empire.” The reviews were generally positive with the band fine-tuning their agenda, moving from a call to arms to an all-out declaration of war. Within four months, the album was already platinum, their second album on the trot to achieve this feat.

Cover Art for RATM's "Evil Empire"

A more disjointed effort however, with the project taking a whole two years to write and produce. Friction between Zack and his bandmates started to escalate due to creative differences. The proverbial call to arms that the band had anticipated hadn’t materialized and the cache they had built up on the political front hadn’t had the desired effect, further putting the band’s existence into question.

“Disaffected teens rallied behind the cries of ‘Fuck you/I won’t do want you tell me’, from ‘Killing In The Name’, but they seemed to view Rage’s appeal as an ex-cuse to skip school and take drugs…”

The year was 1997. The grind had finally paid off in terms of recognition. They would win the Grammy for “Best Metal Performance” for “Tire Me”. This was an indication that the genre of “Nu-Metal” was finally recognized by the mainstream metal community. It ended with Tom Morello arrested for civil disobedience during “March of Conscience” against the alleged sweatshop labour of the clothing brand GUESS? But their magnum opus wasn’t close to being completed.

Battle Of Los Angeles” was released on election day, which was typical. It debuted #1 on the Billboard 200 and received critical acclaim, and it seemed that the band had regained what had brought them to the dance in the first place.

Cover Art for RATM's "The Battle Of Los Angeles"

Fully established as the voice of the voiceless, members of Rage Against The Machine would take the fight directly to the state. Frontman Zach De La Roche would be gifted the opportunity of speaking before a full session of the international commission of the UN. The death penalty verdict of Muma Abu-Jamal was in his thoughts, but this time he had the influence needed to be heard. This would prove to be a door that the corporatocracy would have left shut in hind-sight because of the bands attempt to gain access to the trading floor of the stock exchange, forcing the institution to close its doors for the day. Trading would remain uninter-rupted though.

In the wake of the stock exchange disruption, RATM would aggressively negotiate to stage a politically charged concert in front of the Democratic National Committee at the Staples centre in Los Angeles. During the concert, De la Rocha said, "Brothers and sisters, our democracy has been hijacked", and later also shouted "we have a right to oppose these motherfuckers!". As a result of the performance, a small group of attendees assembled at the protest area closest to the DNC, facing police officers, throwing rocks, and possibly engaging in more violent behaviour, including throwing glass, concrete, water bottles filled with "noxious agents", spraying ammonia on police, and launching rocks and steel balls. The police turned off the power and disrupted Ozomatli shortly after declaring the gathering unlawful. They also informed the protesters that they had 15 minutes to disperse or face arrest. The protesters remained, including two young men who climbed the fence and waved black flags were pepper sprayed in the eyes. Police then forcibly dispersed the crowd, using tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. At least six people were arrested in the incident.

Their ascendancy had been realised, pulling off unparalleled acts of revolt and advocacy. I suppose they had accomplished their goal of shining a light on the injustices that occur in all sections of the global infrastructure because they would unexpectedly split. Zack had abandoned the band, cit-ing a fall in creative unity. The remaining three would form the rock supergroup “Audioslave” with a new vocalist, an offshoot of the traditional RATM sound.

With the world becoming smaller with the natural boom of the internet through the omnipotent asset that is social media, there was no better time for the most incendiary band of the 90s to make their return. The 8th Coachella announced RATM plan to re-unite and headline the final day of the festival for the well-off and ironically closed the show to the larg-est crowd of the weekend. As the faces of political dissent, an internet anarchist decided to form a campaign against the proverbial conveyor belt named “The X-Factor” and push for the 2009 Christmas #1 to be given to the single that started it all, “Killing In The Name”. This was a momentous occasion since the winner of this talent show was almost guaranteed the top stop on the charts.

“Now You're Makin' Your Political Statement Or Are You Trying To Add To Your Financial Statement...”

Now, the charity work/activism that RATM has undertaken during their career is nothing short of extraordinary. Placing themselves at the forefront of a silent war many people are ignorant of is commendable. But with all of this said, the very system they are up against has also in turn benefitted them immensely, in terms of capitalism. All the band mem-bers became millionaires from their art and iconic figures truth be told. So, the argument about their hypocrisy in the message of wage slavery isn’t as hollow as some may think. The left and capitalism shouldn’t be able to coexist, and the legendary band didn’t try to change the world for free. Yet, this brings us back to the system itself and the power of the dollar. It’s extremely difficult to exist in this world without paying mind towards one’s financial situation. So, to me, RATM’s work against anti-immigration, police brutality, systemic racism and cultural imperialism is completely equitable. It’s the awkward battle against corporate America that is the one that’s found wanting given their monetary success. But they are a success and have done a lot more than many of their contemporaries. That should be all that matters.

Written by: @Arriv3r

Edited by: @Whosaria