All four band members' interest in hip-hop and hard rock, coupled with similarly held leftist political views, creates a strong but sometimes volatile bond. Tensions in the group have contributed to its sporadic recording; in six years, Rage have released just two records (1992's Rage Against the Machine and last year's Evil Empire). Morello claims that relations among the members of Rage are as good as they've been in four years; De la Rocha says the relationships are often still rocky. "It's a tense little family, and we internalize a lot," he says. "We all have different thresholds for what we can deal with. What Tom may be experiencing, or his perception of what's going on, a lot of the times is different than mine. [But] it isn't something that stops us from doing the work that we do." Rage don't spend much time together when they're off the road, so Morello says the only new material the band has prepared for this tour is two covers: Bruce Springsteen's "Ghost of Tom Joad" and a version of KRS-One's "Sound of da Police."
Despite band tensions, both De la Rocha and Morello are ecstatic when they talk about hitting the road with Wu-Tang Clan. "You know what the greatest thing about Wu-Tang is?" De la Rocha asks excitedly as he bounds into a hotel lobby the next day. "Wu-Tang are more concerned with protecting and defending hip-hop culture than they are anything else. They're radical in the sense that these experiences aren't told by everyone, especially in the realm of hip-hop, where political consciousness has taken a back seat to big willie-ism."
Sitting down and lighting a cigarette, De la Rocha perches nervously on the edge of a large overstuffed chair. During the next 75 minutes, he never seems fully relaxed, but as the conversation shifts from him to the state of hip-hop, De la Rocha becomes more engaged. "There is a particular formula that is used in the hip-hop market now: the verse, the R&B chorus, followed by the funky worm and the big Parliament beat," he says. "It's the redundancy in hip-hop that's destroying it. That's where the Wu-Tang come in. You listen to the Wu-Tang record, there's not a single song on it that's a marketable single. There isn't a single hook on it. It's just straight-up, controlled chaos that can only come with nine people kicking it with their unique styles."
De la Rocha has no interest in the gangsta postures of rappers like the late Biggie Smalls and Tupac Shakur. He says: "What happened to [Smalls and Shakur] is a tragedy, but I don't relate to people on the Riviera in speedboats." He doesn't support some of Wu's misogynous lyrics, particularly on tracks like "The Projects," from the group's new Wu-Tang Forever. But De la Rocha hopes the tour will provide a chance for his band to start a dialogue with the members of Wu-Tang about songs he feels are degrading to women. "Straight up: There's got to be a more creative way to express the tension that sometimes arises between men and women than to dehumanize a woman by calling her a bitch," he says.
Morello, too, bristles at some of Wu-Tang Clan's material, but says that Rage Against the Machine should not be the guardian of political correctness. "We don't have an ideological litmus test you have to pass to share the stage with Rage," he says. "There are few groups filled with saints. Wu-Tang makes a lot of great music, but the misogynous content is something we're not into at all. It ruffles the Alan Alda side of my personality, but I'm not going to call off the tour.
"All of the great rap groups, from Run-DMC and Public Enemy, have come at a time when naysayers have been counting hip-hop out," Morello continues, sitting in his maroon Chevy Astro van in the IHOP parking lot after breakfast. "Wu-Tang has come in and completely reinvigorated the genre. We're psyched to be able to bring Wu-Tang to places like North Carolina." He pauses, rapping his hand on the dashboard: "Knock, knock, Jesse Helms. We're here."
This story is from the September 4th, 1997 issue of Rolling Stone.
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