‘Dangerous times call for dangerous songs’: Chuck D and Tom Morello vent their rage
For the uninitiated, Prophets Of Rage is a supergroup of the highest order.
Public Enemy’s Chuck D and DJ Lord, and Cypress Hill’s B-Real hook up with Rage Against The Machine members Tim Commerford, Tom Morello and Brad Wilk, to make unapologetically powerful, political, heavy-hitting hip hop and hard rock.
“It was during the election cycle of 2016 which was absolutely crazy and I saw on the bottom of the screen, ‘Donald Trump Rages Against The Machine’. I thought, ‘Oh hell no! You don’t get that. That’s not for you.’” Morello told Double J’s Zan Rowe of the band’s origins.
“I furiously tweeted about it and then checked myself, because it wasn’t going to be enough. A social media assault wasn’t going to be enough. We were going to have to put a band together and Prophets Of Rage was born.”
One of the most controversial takes around the election of Donald Trump has been the suggestion that music and art will become better with someone so polarising in the top job. Morello believes that it's true.
“Bad presidents make for great music,” Morello said. “Dangerous times call for dangerous songs, and that’s what forged this band.”
There’s no political litmus test to being a fan or being in the crowdTom Morello — Double J, 2018
Chuck D, who is a prolific tweeter, acknowledged that activism in 2018 is very different to when both he and Rage Against The Machine were coming up, but stresses the importance of keeping the tried and true methods of protest alive.
“Activism today has to be adjusted into a reality electronically too,” he said. “So, you can have electronic activism but you also need real people doing real things in real places.”
“It remains to be seen the strategies that are going to change the world for the better,” Morello added. “Some of the ways that’s it’s happened before may or not be successful. But there’s new challenges.
“The two constants are injustice and resistance to injustice.
"I have a lot of faith in young people and we’re trying to provide a soundtrack that helps to put wind in the sails, people are willing to stand up and be on the frontline and be willing to take risks for a more decent and humane planet.”
The echo chamber nature of social media can lure people into a bubble. It can feel like everyone in the world has the same opinion as you. And that’s why Chuck D suggests an in-the-flesh approach to activism is still so important.
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“You have to define who you are as a person and sometimes step out of the bubble by being able to look people in the eye and have a discussion that you might not feel comfortable about and let them know your point of view,” he said.
“I tell people in the United States all the time that the world doesn’t start and stop there. But, increasingly, as we go into the future, the rest of the world doesn’t count.
“The majority of the country has voted for somebody who has cut the rest of the world off, who wakes up with 85 percent of the world not digging him. You gotta come out of that bubble, today’s population is different from 35 years ago, a lot of people that have been born are growing into adults into a totally different time.
“It takes new methods to tell people how to totally wean themselves off a gadget, new methods to say you don’t have to learn about this so much but you do have to know about that a little more than 40 or 50 years ago, it takes a total world effort.”
While all members of the band have been heavily and unabashedly political, they will always have fans who care only about the music. But Chuck D reckons there comes a time when everyone gets political.
“Our initial language is the music,” he said. “Banging it in the pit, banging and burning that stage.
“But there comes a time when a 29-year-old says, ‘You know what? I want to get an apartment in Sydney and I can’t afford it. I’m locked out of getting it.’ That’s the moment when you become politically inclined to pay attention.”
“Yeah, the rent is politics,” Morello said. “There’s no political litmus test to being a fan or being in the crowd, we go and we play music that we feel really passionate about.
“Once they’re drawn in by the music – the aggression, the guitar solos, the flow or whatever – then they’re exposed to a different set of ideas. What they do with that set of ideas is up to them.”
While the band are certainly no fans of US President Donald Trump, his presidency isn’t the only thing they’re rallying against.
“We were not partisan in that regard during the campaign,” Morello said. “We were raging against the idea that it’s a corrupt system and the people that own and run the plant don’t deserve to. That can be said over the Republican and Democratic candidates that are running.
“While Trump is a particularly egregious, neo-fascist, racist, sexist clown show-monster, no matter who’s in office there are always going to be dragons that need to be slayed.”
The band will continue to preach, but Morello says that the potential for change is all in the hands of the masses.
“We can do so much as musicians, in our vocation we preach our truth but at the end of the day you have to turn the microphone around the other way and say, ‘What are you going to do about it?’”