Prophets of Rage are a rap-rock supergroup formed in 2016 by members of Rage Against the Machine (RATM), Public Enemy and Cypress Hill.
Guitarist Tom Morello describes the group as “an elite task force of revolutionary musicians determined to confront this mountain of election year bullshit, and confront it head-on with Marshall stacks blazing”.
Their debut album contains elements of each group flowing through, with the heavy funk rhythm of RATM remaining the dominant feature alongside the punchy hooks from Public Enemy and simple but strong messages of Cypress Hill’s B-Real.
The artwork on the album was designed by Shepard Fairey, famous for his “Obey” motif and the Obama “Hope” posters. His distinctive style is a nod to the revolutionary posters of the early 20th century and the fist, red star and black triangle convey the message without even having to listen to the music.
The album opens with “Radical Eyes”, a very powerful anti-establishment message reminiscent of RATM’s album The Battle of Los Angeles. There should be plenty of opportunity for a new energy and sound with Chuck D rapping alongside B-Real, but the track never fully reaches the levels it could.
The next track tries to step up to where “Radical Eyes” left off; the funky basslines and heavier guitar riffs are matched with the catchy hook “Un-fuck the world”. However, the third track steps the tempo back down again and it feels like the album (and the band) is a bit disjointed.
Rather than the powerful anthems to be used as a call to arms, the album feels like a throwback to the era which made each of them famous. The 90’s rhythms and clichéd lyrics aren’t necessarily bad things. However, if the album is supposed to be aimed at catching a mood of radicalisation against a new enemy — in young people who have probably never listened to any of the band members’ previous work — then it doesn’t fit the bill.
They have a powerful sound and it is a welcome addition to the arsenal of creative weapons against Trump. As an openly anti-racist, self-proclaimed revolutionary group, they are the kind of thing that is desperately needed in the US where neo-Nazis are making ground under the new administration.
There were a few times during the album where the lyrics were overshadowed and reduced to soundbites in tracks such as “Strength in Numbers” and “Smash It”. It felt at times like the songs were backing tracks rather than leading the calls to arms.
What might have helped the album — or for future albums — is to work with contemporary artists who have been involved in activism, such Kendrick Lamar, Joey Badass or YG and Nipsey Hussle who wrote “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump)”. Otherwise they risk missing an opportunity to politicise the anger felt by millions across the US, and internationally, and could end up sounding simply nostalgic.
Overall Tom Morello’s promise of “confronting election year bullshit” feels unfulfilled. The album promises revolution but feels a bit outdated.