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Where’s Zack de la Rocha? A Guide to MC’s Work Beyond RATM

As ex-bandmates launch Prophets of Rage, we look back at fiery rapper’s low-profile output over the years

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LONDON, UK - JUNE 6: Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine performs on stage in Finsbury Park on June 6, 2010 in London, UK. (Photo by Christie Goodwin/Redferns)

Christie Goodwin/Redferns/Getty

When rap-rock supergroup Prophets of Rage officially announced its lineup on Tuesday, as rumored, one name was conspicuously missing: Rage Against the Machine frontman Zack de La Rocha. In his former band, the fiery MC was the center of attention, but ever since RATM originally disbanded in 2000, his output has been sparse. While guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk went on to make three albums in six years with Audioslave, and Morello launched his Nightwatchman project, the world still waits for De La Rocha's full-length statement as a non-Rage artist.

As rumors of a De La Rocha solo album swirled, RATM reunited in 2007, playing 50 shows in four years, including massive performances such as a Coachella headlining slot and the free 'Battle of Britain' show in London's Finsbury Park. During that time, De La Rocha said, "I think our relationship now is better than it's ever been." RATM thrived off that energy until July 30th, 2011, when they played their final show to date at the L.A. Coliseum.

Outside of Rage, One Day as a Lion – a stripped-down collaboration with drummer Jon Theodore – has been De La Rocha's highest-profile project, resulting in a thunderous EP that dropped amid the RATM reunion in 2008. (Commerford told Rolling Stone in 2015 that the MC had been "working his ass off" on a follow-up, but no further details have emerged.) Otherwise, De La Rocha has remained strangely elusive, popping up only occasionally to work with artists like DJ Shadow, Saul Williams and Run the Jewels. Now that he's staying on the sidelines while his bandmates revive their incendiary songs with help from Chuck D and B-Real during a politically fraught election year, the mystique surrounding De La Rocha has only intensified. As we await official word on the rap-rock luminary's next move, here's a breakdown of his activities outside of RATM.

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LONDON, UK - JUNE 6: Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine performs on stage in Finsbury Park on June 6, 2010 in London, UK. (Photo by Christie Goodwin/Redferns)

Christie Goodwin/Redferns/Getty

2011: Los Tigres del Norte, “Somos Más Americanos”

In 2011, Los Tigres del Norte became the first Mexican artists to be featured on MTV's Unplugged series. As they recorded their performance at Los Angeles' Hollywood Palladium, the mega-selling norteño outfit invited a number of guests to the stage. Among them was De La Rocha, who made a rare appearance to sing "Somos Más Americanos," a song that addresses discrimination against Mexican immigrants living in the U.S.

It's a topic that the MC takes quite seriously. His appearance with Los Tigres followed his effort to combat unusually strict immigration policies in Arizona. In 2010, De La Rocha issued a statement where he proclaimed, "Just minutes from my home I can quickly get to the 10 Freeway, a freeway that connects the communities that I have called home my whole life to the state of Arizona where decades ago my grandfather first crossed the U.S./Mexico border." 

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LONDON, UK - JUNE 6: Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine performs on stage in Finsbury Park on June 6, 2010 in London, UK. (Photo by Christie Goodwin/Redferns)

Christie Goodwin/Redferns/Getty

2013: Deltron 3030, “Melding of the Minds”

For their second album, 2013's Event 2, Deltron 3030 – the trio of MC Del the Funky Homosapien, producer Dan the Automator and DJ Kid Koala – recruited a variety of guests, including Faith No More's Mike Patton, Gorillaz mastermind Damon Albarn and comedy trio the Lonely Island. The group also invited Zack De La Rocha to contribute vocals on "Melding of the Minds." Del and De La Rocha alternate lines on the track's chorus, dishing out brainy lyrics with potency and poise. "No casual contact, so fuck the format/Crowd get rushed when I crush this beat flat," De La Rocha exclaims, before Del fires back, "Consider this a melding of the minds/A secret-message transmission to all kind."

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LONDON, UK - JUNE 6: Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine performs on stage in Finsbury Park on June 6, 2010 in London, UK. (Photo by Christie Goodwin/Redferns)

Christie Goodwin/Redferns/Getty

2014: Sherman Austin, “Zack de la Rocha on the FBI Persecution of Sherman Austin”

In 2003, musician and anarchist activist Sherman Austin was sentenced to 12 months in jail for posting content on his website that could potentially inspire terrorist attacks. Many believe he was a wrongfully targeted political prisoner, however, and among these skeptics is Zack de la Rocha. The MC spoke on the case at a benefit show that took place just a few days before Austin pleaded guilty to avoid a Patriot Act clause that would enforce a 20-year minimum sentence.

De La Rocha's words from that night were sampled on Austin's 2014 album, Gunz Up, on the aptly titled track "Zack de la Rocha on the FBI Persecution of Sherman Austin." The nine-minute affair utilizes De La Rocha's speech as spoken word, laying the statement atop a powerful hip hop beat: "Was he a murderer? Did he kill anybody?" De La Rocha asks. "Or was it that he was a young, black anarchist, and an activist who refused to be silent?"

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LONDON, UK - JUNE 6: Zack de la Rocha of Rage Against The Machine performs on stage in Finsbury Park on June 6, 2010 in London, UK. (Photo by Christie Goodwin/Redferns)

Christie Goodwin/Redferns/Getty

2014: Run the Jewels, “Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)”

De La Rocha's voice was heard most recently on the sophomore album from Run the Jewels, a duo whose harsh, fiercely topical rhymes echo the RATM frontman's signature style. On "Close Your Eyes (and Count to Fuck)," De La Rocha delivers a full verse of 18 bars that rivals the power of El-P and Killer Mike's raps. "I bumped into Zack on the way to the studio while getting a juice," El-P said of the collaboration. "Two days later he was in the studio with us recording. It was one take. No bullshit." De La Rocha performed the track live with the duo at Coachella and Pitchfork Festival, each time eliciting a frenzied response.

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