Prophets of Rage - Prophets of Rage

by Kyle Kersey Rating:3 Release Date:2017-09-15

In 1999, Bowling for Columbine filmmaker Michael Moore directed the music video for “Sleep Now in the Fire”, the second single off Rage Against the Machine’s The Battle For Los Angeles. Over the course of filming, Moore was arrested as the group stormed and ultimately shut down the New York stock exchange. Internet commentators picked back up on the video due to the presence of a tongue in cheek “Donald J Trump for President” sign in the background, a joke that became a reality during the last election. In response, Moore directed another music video titled “Unfuck the World”, this time for a group called Prophets of Rage. However, instead of presenting a comedic yet anarchic view of capitalism at work, “Unfuck the World” is a lazy mix of live performances,  news headlines, and videos that haven’t been viral since the turn of the decade, cobbled together so haphazardly you’d expect Zack Snyder is taking notes.

This is emblematic of deeper issues.

More than 25 years after Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet and Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled debut, the two universes collide. Public Enemy’s Chuck D and DJ Lord, along with Cypress Hill’s B-Real, combine forces with the self-described “most lethal rhythm section in rock n’ roll”, forming what could be the most radical lineup in the history of supergroups. Or to put it shortly, Prophets of Rage is just Rage Against the Machine in a new hat. They play some loud riffs, rant against the system, and provide our eardrums with a means of execution.

So why isn’t it fun this time around?

Perhaps its guitarist Tom Morello’s self-righteous diatribes about how Prophets of Rage isn’t merely a supergroup, but an “elite task force of revolutionary musicians determined to confront this mountain of election year bullshit, and confront it head-on with Marshall stacks blazing.” He throws this line around in seemingly every interview, testing my gag reflex with each repetition. Continuing the hype in an interview with Loudwire, Morello states “we’ve never played better together and we’ve never felt more accomplished musically than on this record.”

To be fair to good ole’ Tom, the music isn’t exactly the album’s biggest problem. Sure, not much has changed since the 1990’s – molasses thick riffage combined with foot tapping drum and bass interplay between Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford color a majority of the content – though the they take more liberties with their influences such as 70’s funk. In truth, there’s a lot here that plays similar to the third Audislave album Revelations (Rest in Peace Chris Cornell).

Cracks in the hype begin to show, however, in the lyrical content. Chuck D and B-Real open the lead single “Unfuck the World” with the line “no hatred, fuck racists”, delivered as though it’s some revolutionary ideal on par with the “I Have a Dream” speech by Martin Luther King jr. “Legalize Me”, the third track on the album, had me rolling over laughing at its completely blunt chorus of “get free, get free (c’mon), legalize me”. The track is an unintended parody of the pot anthems B-Real made famous during his days with Cypress Hill.

Maybe the worst lyrical offender comes on “Take Me Higher”, where the chorus is “Drones/They got you tapped, they got your phone/Look out/Drones/They got ya trapped, they spot your home/'Cause you're a target”. Instead of masquerading as a militant political zealot, Chuck D comes off as a conspiracy theorist; the leftist answer to Alex Jones and InfoWars. Almost everything they have to say lacks any sort of nuance. Further compounding this issue is the feeling that Chuck D and B-Real are but guests on a new Rage Against the Machine album. They never really gel with what the instrumentals are delivering, and thus feel like separate entities as opposed to a cohesive group.

The closest the Prophets of Rage comes to striking gold is “Hail to the Chief”; a cut that’s deceptively catchy and shows off Tim Commerford’s grooving bass lines. It’s also about as close as B-Real and Chuck D come to displaying any true chemistry on the mic. Even so, nothing on the album compares to the earlier work of Public Enemy, Rage Against the Machine, and to a lesser extent, Cypress Hill.

And that’s a shame, because the pieces are here for a great protest album. For all intents and purposes, Public Enemy is probably the most prolific politically charged rap group to ever exist. Merging lyrical forces with musicians from possibly the best rap-rock outfit of all time should be a successful combination.

And let’s not forget that Donald Trump has acted as the perfect catalyst for some of the best political music of the past decade. Within the past year, we’ve had multiple great protest albums. Jazz-rap legends A Tribe Called Quest released one of the best rap albums of the past decade in We Got it From Here...Thank You 4 Your Service; an album built upon “fighting the power” and utilizing  fantastic features from up and coming artists. Meanwhile, Algiers, a gospel fusion trio out of Atlanta, released the most intense album I’ve heard all year with The Underside of Power; a socio-political statement of unity against the ideology of the incoming administration.

There’s not much of a place in 2017 for Prophets of Rage. Other artists are on the proverbial front lines with sounds and messages that are much more unique and nuanced. Instead of raising the bar, Prophets of Rage come off as dinosaurs, proselytizing empty platitudes that don’t really speak for anybody.

One must wonder if they’ll visit Cuba during their upcoming “Make the World Rage Again” tour. It would be the best piece of anti-capitalist propaganda. After all, who wants to live under a system of government that influences albums like this?

 

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