Acoustic artists and soft strumming are the usual ingredients of protest music, as evidenced by artists like Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, and Pete Seeger who sought peace, free speech, and civil rights. Prophets of Rage lives in this same vein of musical activism, but in the face of a Trump presidency, they’ve decided to be loud to have their message heard. Tim Commerford, Brad Wilk, and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine bring the noise on bass, drums, and guitar, while Chuck D of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill’s B-Real deliver the protest on the eponymous Prophets of Rage.
The band began their career playing covers of Rage and Public Enemy songs and played outside the Republican National Convention in 2016. Eight months into Trump’s presidency, they have released an album of originals, and it is very clear what they think of this administration. “By George, he’s the new Wallace,” Chuck D raps of Trump on “Hail To The Chief,” likening him to the former Governor of Alabama famous for being an enemy to civil rights and for promising “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” B-Real joins Chuck for the chorus of “Unfuck The World,” which feels like it was written solely to have an arena full of people chant the lyrics, “No Hatred, Fuck Racists.”
Subtlety is not one of the band’s strong suits.
But, the crassness suits the bruising musical attack led by Morello’s guitar. “Living On The 110,” “Smashit,” and “Strength in Numbers” all feature riffs akin to their Rage Against the Machine forebears. With Wilk’s thunderous drums and Commerford’s steady hand filling out the bottom, the beat is locked in for the politicking of the MCs, but that is where something is just a bit off. Chuck D’s deep booming delivery could not be more different from B-Real’s sneer, and both of them fail to work with the music the same way Zack de la Rocha could when he fronted Rage before the band’s breakup in 2000.
The subjects Prophets addresses are as important as they were when the band members first tackled them individually in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Poverty (“Living On The 110”), money in politics (“Who Owns Who”), and marijuana (“Legalize Me”) are not new subjects for the band members, and their opinions have not changed. Chuck D has been rapping against racism since Reagan was president, and Rage released their first album the day Clinton was elected.
That is one problem with this group. As satisfying as it is to hear these legends making music with a message again, they have done it better before. While this album is all originals, the cover band mentality they started with has persisted. The riffs and rhymes are not that different from their predecessors. Even the band’s name is just the title of a Public Enemy song from It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back.
There’s plenty of good music already for this presidency. Rap duo Run the Jewels (who have featured de la Rocha on more songs than Morello has recently) is made up in part by Bernie Sanders surrogate and progressive activist Killer Mike . Kendrick Lamar’s recent releases about race in America are already being put on the same level as Public Enemy’s classics. Philadelphia based Sheer Mag are working class punks whose riffs sound fresher than Prophet’s, and whose message is about political mobilization, and not simply anti-Trump rhetoric. What these three provide, and what good protest music has, is hope that a change is going to come, and that as bad as the world is, it can get better.
Still, while this album sounds like a Rage rip-off with MCs not suited for this kind of music, it is fun to listen to. Booming riffs and chantable choruses make for catchy hooks, and sometimes you just need to yell, “Fuck Racists.”
Voice’s Choices: “Unfuck The World,” “Hail To The Chief,” and “Strength In Numbers”