Tom Morello‘s fervor for a just planet is the hallmark of his music, earning him a place as one of popular culture’s loudest social consciences. Monday night, the Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, and the Nightwatchman guitarist received the Harry Chapin Humanitarian Award from WhyHunger?, an organization dedicated to eliminating famine and poverty across the globe. Morello joined fellow honoree Kenny Loggins for a ceremony at New York City waterfront venue The Lighthouse.
“Poverty and hunger are not these facts that just came with the universe,” Morello told Rolling Stone before taking the stage to accept the honor. “They’re man-made, and they’re a crime. I feel that WhyHunger? are crime fighters of the highest order, and it’s my pleasure to be affiliated with them.”
Morello looked every inch the freedom guerilla in red star-embroidered military fatigues. For years, he has used his live performances to educate fans on ways that a non-rock star can support charity organizations. “There’s a food bank or a food coalition in almost every community around the country. My kids, at their school—they’re five and six—make monthly meals for the West Hollywood Food Coalition. And that’s for preschool. So you’re one Google search away from finding out how you can help.”
In addition to the fight against hunger, Morello weighed in on a different kind of battle: the one between N.W.A and KISS. The ongoing feud stems from Gene Simmons’ controversial comments about rap’s place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Russell Simmons took aim at the KISS frontman during N.W.A.’s Rock Hall induction speech in early April, and the war of words was reignited by the ceremony’s recent television broadcast.
Morello, a massive KISS fan, inducted the band into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014. This, plus his rap-rock background, puts him squarely in the center of the Simmons vs. Simmons verbal scuffle.
“[Gene] actually reached out to me to ask my thoughts,” he says of the matter. “I personally like the idea of rock and roll being a big tent.” For proof, consider Morello’s musical resume. He’s currently working with leading EDM figures like Bassnectar, Skrillex, and Knife Party. “I think genre is basically meaningless and that people should just follow their muse. In the beginning of Rage Against The Machine there were hostile camps of hip hop and rock and punk, and never the ‘twain shall meet.”
But now the ‘twain has met—or at least it’s getting closer. Morello cites the widespread availability of music through streaming services as a major factor. “It’s certainly more democratic. I have Pete Seeger and Bassnectar back to back on my playlist.”
As diversity moves closer to becoming the cultural norm, he challenges rock fans—including Gene Simmons—to follow suit. “While N.W.A may not be in line with the letter of rock and roll, they are certainly in line with the spirit of rock and roll. Much more so than many acts in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame who play guitars through Marshall amps. I think N.W.A. is rock & roll as fuck and deserves to be there.”
After N.W.A’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Gene Simmons and Ice Cube have been sparring over the definition of rock.