On Tuesday night, the walls outside L.A.’s Whisky a Go Go were covered with politically charged posters announcing the arrival of a new band on an urgent mission: Prophets of Rage, gathering former members of Rage Against the Machine with hip-hop superstars Chuck D and B-Real. In the hours before showtime, someone spray-painted an additional scrawl: “#MakeAmericaRageAgain.”
It was a potent promise for a chaotic political year, as Prophets of Rage made their live debut to a packed room on the Sunset Strip, unleashing the combined power of RATM’s guitarist Tom Morello, drummer Brad Wilk and bassist Tim Commerford, quiet for too long. From their beginnings in 1991, Rage were a politically militant force during the Clinton years, a group fueled equally by hard rock and hip-hop. It was no small irony that after their initial breakup in 2000, the band went silent just as the Bush administration and a long season of foreign wars began.
With RATM silent again (after two brief reunions), Public Enemy’s Chuck D and Cypress Hill’s B-Real are ably filling the space left by absent RATM singer Zack de la Rocha. Morello arrived for the occasion Tuesday dressed in revolutionary red, slashing at a guitar reading “Arm the homeless,” as the group opened with PE’s “Prophets of Rage.”
On “Guerilla Radio,” the rappers shouted together, and Chuck D recited the song’s central challenge: “It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime/What better place than here?/What better time than now?”
The timing of this collaboration was not incidental, with a presidential election coming fast. On his black T-shirt, Chuck D placed a sticker reading: “Vote Rage.” Proceeds from the show were to go to the California-based homeless charity PATH.
Both rappers made a point of praising the founding Rage frontman, with B-Real calling De La Rocha “our brother.” Chuck D said the band would always “keep a seat warm” for him. Following the confrontational funk of “Bombtrack,” the Public Enemy MC smiled and added of De La Rocha’s original lyrics, “You can sing it, but you can never change the song.”
The set leaned heavily on the RATM catalog, but also included two new songs, “Shut Them Down” and “The Party’s Over.” There were also hits from both Cypress Hill and Public Enemy, each player and rapper finding spots where the new collaboration could thrive.
During PE’s “Miuzi Weighs a Ton,” Morello’s guitar was largely silent until he suddenly ripped open a molten lead, then followed with another on the RATM classic “People of the Sun.” The beat and heavy bass of “Take the Power Back” sent fans moshing and bouncing into the air, while Chuck D roared through the lead vocal like it was written for him.
“It’s good to see people stand up,” B-Real said to the crowd during a pause. “You missed these songs, right? We did too.”