Commentary: America needs a band like Rage Against the Machine now more than ever
A Silent play in the shadow of power
A spectacle monopolized
The camera’s eyes on choice disguised
Was it cast for the mass who burn and toil?
Or for the vultures who thirst for blood and oil?
Yes a spectacle monopolized
They hold the reins and stole your eyes
These words were first released to the world in the summer of 1999 by the controversial hit-makers Rage Against the Machine.
This song is 16, soon to be 17 years old, but the meaning behind these words, and most of the words Rage released back in their heyday, still hold true today.
Except today the musical landscape has changed.
Political hip hop has lost favor in the public. Instead of standing for things that shine attention on system-wide corruption, a lot of musical lyrics today stand on superficial premises.
In fact, in a 2013 interview with NPR, Talib Kweli, one of the few political conscious musicians still relevant today, said that because so much hip hop, a genre that’s naturally ripe for political consciousness, was what he called “empty” he felt that when someone creates music that stands for something powerful, people soak it up.
“People feel like nowadays hip-hop is so empty — the hip-hop they hear on the radio — that when they hear someone have a little bit of substance or content, they’re drawn to it,” he said.
Now, the other part of the equation with Rage Against the Machine was the fact that they were never considered just a hip hop group.
Zack De La Rocha rapped, yes, but he did so in front of a collection of talented rock-oriented musicians. It was music that defied genre labels in a way that hasn’t been matched since.
Beyond just genres, and please forgive the language, but where the fuck is this generation’s political anthem?
Where’s the music that encapsulates the anger, the angst, the urging for the youth to rise above the corruption and do something worthwhile about it?
Why aren’t artists such as Kweli, Plan B, Rachel Kilgour or Outernational receiving more attention?
If you remember when Rage’s last studio album “The Battle of Los Angeles,” came out in 1999, it debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 20o list, selling 420,000 copies in it’s first week alone.
Gone are the days where ANY album sells that much, but, that’s not the issue here.
For some reason, mainstream music has not created something that gets behind the message of saying, “Fuck the system. We don’t need your power, we don’t believe in your lies, we don’t want your corruption standing for us.”
However, this is the baffling part, the need for those sentiments still exists. The need for those ways of viewing the world still needs to be shown to the young people of America.
When Rage Against the Machine died, it should not also have killed our desire to hear the type of political messages to die with it on a widespread level.
Because, yes, I’m fully aware that there are still those types of songs being produced. In fact, Tom Morello himself has remained active, first in the less-political band Audioslave, and then on his own as The Nightwatchman, where he’s done some of his most focused work maybe to date.
It’s just that it’s been on a smaller scale with far fewer ears absorbing it. But why?
What do you think? Why has the mainstream musical landscape shied away from political music? What are some of your favorite songs with a political message behind them?
Will we ever see someone like Rage, Bruce Springsteen or Woody Guthrie ever gain prominence again?
Leave us a comment below.