Hip Hop’s New Anarchists: Prophets Of Rage

Originally published at Hip-Hop DX on July 15, 2016.

The world needs bad men. We keep other bad men from the door.

This line served as a thesis of sorts for the acclaimed first season of HBO’s “True Detective.” It may well be the thesis of the Make America Rage Again tour that will kick off Monday in Cleveland just in time for the Republican National Convention. The tour in question will feature a new “supergroup” comprised of the bassist Tim Commerford, drummer Brad Wilk and guitarist Tom Morello, all of Rage Against the Machine fame, accompanied by Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Cypress Hill’s B-Real in lieu of Zack De La Rocha on vocals.

Earlier this summer, as this new alliance delivered the iconic lyrics to Cypress Hill’s 1991 hit “How I Could Just Kill A Man,” war cries shook the small concert venue Warsaw in Brooklyn after a rain out of Governor’s Ball forced the surprise show to relocate.

Under the nomenclature “Prophets of Rage,” this supergroup has built its buzz from a countdown website, two intimate Los Angeles shows benefitting hunger, and now a full-fledged summer tour. When on stage, this collection of artists, who rose to fame in the 90s, plays the role of villains.

And the black hat fits them perfectly.

Hearing them belt out mission statements from “Take The Power Back” to “Fight The Power” brought an electricity and synergy to the group, complemented by quintessential fists in the air. Their rebelliousness seemed not for the sole purpose of chaos but filled with overtures meant to send a message.

When they announced their tour dates, that energy took on a direction. The three shows they have rocked so far are warm-ups for what will surely be a historic performance a few blocks away from where the RNC is going down.

Early on, the group used the hashtag “#MakeAmericaRageAgain” — a clear send-up of Donald Trump’s campaign slogan — and even made hats similar to those the demagogue’s followers wear across the country.

This is just the latest in a long list of examples of Hip Hop counter-culture clashing with conservative culture.

Earlier this year, TheBlaze host Tomi Lahren delivered a fervent sermon on her show railing against Beyoncé’s Black Panther-inspired Superbowl performance that mentioned Jay Z’s checkered drug-dealing past. In response, Hov teamed up with Pusha T for a track entitled “Drug Dealers Anonymous” that used her soundbite and mocked the anger and accusations so common of the right wing when talking about Hip Hop.

On July 19 in Cleveland, there is sure to be some turmoil. It might not even take a rap or rock concert to incite it — many Trump gatherings have featured violence already and this will be the coup de grâce of those rallies. The presumptive Republican nominee and his followers will be under the same roof as the #NeverTrump crowd, a few blocks from where the Prophets are launching their tour. That’s decades of anti-establishment sentiment in the form of some of the most famous personalities in music, possibly setting the stage for a battle between Hip Hop and the right wing.

For now, the tour and ideas behind it are somewhat confined to the group’s following, who joined the mailing list months ago without being able to fathom what was to come. Since then, the group has been on Bill Maher’s program and performed three shows. Trending hashtags and the like have pushed the movement forward and it’s growing slowly but surely.

With young, fed-up followers, Prophets of Rage aims to make themselves felt. Part of the conversation and equation going forward, they represent those who are tired of choices like Hillary or Trump and the bigotry many critics see as being so obvious in the messages of the latter. Entering the political fray, the group follows in the footsteps of Killer Mike who broke down barriers for hip-hoppers with his close involvement in the Bernie Sanders campaign over the past year.

The message is clear in a macro sense: “It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime, what better place than here, what better time than now?” Those lyrics from RATM’s “Guerilla Radio” ring as true today as they did when written in 1999 (when the president was named — you guessed it — Clinton). Many are tuned in to see the more micro ideas that are behind this group. They seem to be clearly against the status quo, but are they for some other idea? Tom Morello gave some insight, albeit predictable, doubling down on the vitriol the group has for Trump. A month ago, he compared him to a “Frat-House Rapist” in the intro to an anti-Trump song by Ryan Harvey. We are sure to get more and more messages from the group as the summer heats up.

When listening to Prophets of Rage rap about killing, revolting and rebelling, it is tough to imagine them as the good guys. However, in these times they may be just the bad guys we need. In Cleveland in July, the lesser evil may be a rap-rock collaboration pounding out rebellious and anarchistic messages.

 

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