Prophets of Rage needs no introduction. The supergroup comprises rapper B-Real from Cypress Hill, DJ Lord and rapper Chuck D from Public Enemy, and serial supergroup members Tim Commerford, Tom Morello, Brad Wilk of Audioslave fame and Rage Against the Machine infamy came together in 2016, and last month they released their first album, the take-no-prisoners fury of Prophets of Rage.
There’s something exciting about elder statesmen of radical political music returning to the stage, and an almost palpable sense of disbelief on the album; on topics as diverse as drone warfare (‘Take Me Higher’), historical justice (‘Hail to the Chief’) and urban deprivation (‘Living on the 110’), you’re hearing the sound of a well-honed band who can’t believe they still have to protest this stuff. But the creative minds behind political hip-hop’s first youth aren’t done – there’s a wiry insistence to Prophets of Rage that can’t be faked.
Following the release of the debut single Prophets of Rage back in January 2016, the band embarked on the ‘Make America Rage Again Tour’, before releasing the first single from Prophets of Rage – ‘Unfuck the World’ – followed by ‘Living on the 110’ and ‘Radical Eyes’, and then releasing their debut album on September 15th.
Two weeks in it’s fair to say that the album has struggled to land with critics and fans. It’s clear that Prophets of Rage really did need no introduction, and that might have been a problem. How do you follow It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back? Where is there to go after The Battle of Los Angeles or Black Sunday? The consensus has been that the group needed to be more than the sum of its parts; and that it hasn’t really succeeded.
The album strives to bring back the kind of groundbreaking and revolutionary music of the past, and in some places, it really does succeed. For instance, Chuck D’s call of ‘Get free! Get free!’ in the chorus of ‘Legalize Me’ brings back memories of Rage Against the Machine’s ‘Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me’, and it’s a rush; but there’s a problem with being a legend, and it’s that everyone knows what you do. The rest of the album has too many moments where you see the seams between the chunks of Morello-Wilk-Commerford riffing, the flow of Chuck D and B-Real’s deceptively meandering vocal whiplash.
The disappointment is understandable. But perhaps looking to be excited the way you were when you first heard ‘Bring the Noise’ is both unavoidable and a fruitless errand; the reason a supergroup is so promising is very often the very same thing that makes it disappointing. The fact is, music has moved on since the early 90’s, largely as a result of the earthquakes in culture set off by these artists. Prophets of Rage might be disappointed to discover they’re no longer at the cutting edge, but if that’s true, it’s because their message truly was bigger than their music. If you’re coming to Prophets of Rage to relive 1988 or 1991 or 1993, you’re likely to be disappointed. But if you’re coming to remember how long this voice has had something meaningful to say, you’re in for a treat. It’s not a classic. But it’s still got something vital to say; and for that alone, it’s still exhilarating to see masters at work.
Photo courtesy of Silver Tiger Media