Rage Against the Machine, The Battle of Los Angeles (1999)
Since Rage Against the Machine debuted some eight years ago, their mix of hard rock, grunge and rap has inspired a rap-rock cottage industry. However, the likes of Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit don’t possess Rage’s integrity or political activism. On The Battle of Los Angeles, the quartet continue to use their music as a propaganda tool for radical organizing, and prove adept at making thrash breakbeats. On cuts like “Maria,” lead vocalist/rapper Zack de la Rocha throttles the track with his trademark intensity, burning brightly during the chorus. Amazingly, Tom Morello replicates turntable scratches and theremin sounds on his guitar as drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Y.tim.K back him up. Meanwhile, Zack rhymes with the intensity of an MC. “My word war returns to burn/Like Baldwin home from Paris,” he shouts on “Calm Like a Bomb,” a homage to Public Enemy’s “Louder than a Bomb.” Rather than focusing on guns, hoes and clothes, he addresses the barbarity of America’s capitalist system and its’ victimization of the underclass. Sometimes he speaks upon it directly (“Maria,” “Testify”), other times he refers to it via boasts of lyrical prowess (“Mic Check”). Like Chuck D., the prototypical hard rhymer and Black Power advocate, Zack fashions himself as a guerilla. “I be walkin’ god like a dog,” he raps. Still, Rocha’s approach lacks subtlety. On The Battle of Los Angeles, everyone is a “vulture,” a “rebel,” or “survivor.” Frequent comparisons are made between slavery and modern times: On “Calm like A Bomb,” Rocha says, “There’s a field full of slaves/Some corn and some debit/There’s a ditch full of bodies/The check for the rent.” Despite the graphic imagery, his rhymes rarely explore the complexities of a capitalist society that builds governments – and undermines revolutions. Rage Against the Machine should be lauded for their courage to address America’s social, political and economic deficiencies. But their reduction of U.S. politrix to a war between the haves and the have-nots is simplistic. Comparatively speaking, their songs lack Public Enemy’s detailed references to current events, Consolidated’s innovative subject matter or Disposable Heroes of HipHopocrisy’s wry commentary. The Battle of Los Angeles is a memorably furious testament that needs more nuance. Epic.