Prophets of Rage sound rallying cry against social injustice

It was the hip-hop equivalent of the garbage can hurled through a pizza shop window during the climactic scene of the movie it soundtracked.

First released 27 years ago, Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” served as the musical encapsulation of Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing,” every bit as disruptive, in-your-face and enduring as the film in which it was featured.

The song became a worldwide anthem of insurrection, a call to arms answered around the globe.

“ ‘Fight the power’ was whispered during the fall of the Berlin Wall between the East and the West,” says Chuck D, the man who gives stern, impassioned voice to the song in question. “It was mumbled and murmured during the so-called disappearing and unionizing of apartheid in South Africa and the freeing of Nelson Mandela. It was whispered and sang in the division between the Croats and the Serbs in the former Yugoslavian Republic. It was also in Chile during (the reign of Augusto) Pinochet.

“To have a song that meant what it had to mean to people fighting against the thing that was holding them back is very important,” he adds. “They can actually say, ‘Hey, this speaks to me at this moment in my movement.’ ”

 

Two and half decades later, that song’s voice has become newly amplified.

“Fight the Power” is but one of a couple of dozen tunes reborn in Prophets of Rage, a hard rock/hip-hop supergroup featuring members of Rage Against the Machine (guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford, drummer Brad Wilk), Public Enemy (Chuck D, DJ Lord) and Cypress Hill (B-Real).

Together, they “Rage-ify” cornerstones from the respective catalogs of all three acts, most heavily mining Rage’s repertoire, with Chuck D and B-Real tag-teaming vocals originally handled by Rage frontman Zach de la Rocha.

“This is not karaoke. This is not putting metal mash-ups to rap songs,” Chuck D says. “With the writings and vocals of Zack de la Rocha, you cannot fall short in a situation like that. You’ve got to hit them differently, yet hard. There’s no way anyone can match a 21-year-old Zack de la Rocha who sounds like he has a knife turning in him. We didn’t attempt to do that. But there’s things that Zack can’t do on the mic that I can. There’s things that Zack can’t do on the mic, that B-Real can.”

The bedrock of the Prophets is all Rage, with Wilk and Commerford’s playing as interlocked and momentum-generating as the links in a motorcycle chain and Morello alternating thunderclap riffs with his inimitable solos, which often sound as if they were generated by a turntable, or perhaps a police siren, as opposed to a guitar. Chuck D and B-Real then trade rhymes atop it all, teasing the funk out of P.E.’s “Miuzi Weighs a Ton,” supercharging Cypress Hill’s “(Rock) Superstar” and adding a new dimension entirely to Rage standards like “Bombtrack,” “Bulls on Parade” and “Testify.”

Prophets, which formed earlier this year, released their self-titled debut EP in August, pairing a couple of new tunes, the incendiary “The Party’s Over,” the Beastie Boys-indebted “No Sleep ’Til Cleveland,” with re-worked versions of Public Enemy’s “Prophets of Rage” and “Shut ’Em Down” and Rage Against the Machine’s “Killing in the Name.”

Together, the tracks are bonded by confrontation.

The Prophets see a world embroiled in class warfare, and they’re eager to man the front lines, music their munitions.

“We’re in a time when the Big Brother of media and the Big Brother of government are so intertwined with satisfying the haves and the have-yachts that the have-nots are increasingly looking around, finding that, ‘Nobody seriously gives a (crap) about me,’ ” Chuck D says by way of explaining his interest in joining the group to begin with. “So, to be able to engage myself in the culture of music to spark people to create and make those changes in their lives and in their surroundings is something that I felt should be a no-brainer to be part of.”

Chuck D was first approached about potentially joining the group by Commerford, who called him while he was on a European tour with Public Enemy, opening for The Prodigy.

“We went over three to four months of figuring out what the chemistry was,” Chuck D recalls. “Nothing was automatic. It’s not as simple as just saying, ‘It’s a mash-up.’ Tom Morello is a perfectionist, and he said, ‘Look, in order to have this work, we have to blend the alchemy of these things together and see where we go from there and really put it through a very hard scrutiny of testing. It really seriously became a real thing once B-Real came aboard.”

From the jump, the Prophets immersed themselves in the boiling crucible of election-year politics, swan-diving into the thing by making one of their first public appearances during the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this past summer, where they took to the streets alongside various activist groups and performed in a public square.

The footage is electric: Bracketed by police during their march, engulfed in a mass of protesters, they made themselves indivisible from the people they were trying to reach.

“It has to start somewhere / It has to start some time,” Chuck D barked on “Guerrilla Radio,” calling for action during the band’s performance. “What better place than here? / What better time than now?

Those questions were rhetorical, of course.

Read more from Jason Bracelin at reviewjournal.com. Contact him at jbracelin@reviewjournal.com and follow @JasonBracelin on Twitter.

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