Prophets of Rage is, for all intents and purposes, a supergroup consisting of key members of Rage Against the Machine (Tom Morello – guitar, Tim Commerford – bass, Brad Wilk – drums), Cypress Hill (B-Real – vocals), and Public Enemy (Chuck D – vocals, DJ Lord – turntables). On paper, this sounds like it could make for a dope collaboration.
Going into this self-titled debut album, I had high hopes since all of these guys have demonstrated great talent in other projects and Prophets of Rage was chosen to headline this year’s Louder Than Life Festival. There are good and bad points on the record but, for the most part, it falls short of what each member has created back in their prime.
The self-titled album starts off with the track “Radical Eyes.” Sounds like “radicalize.” Clever, right? The first thing I noticed is that the pace is much slower than I had expected. It sounds like a mellowed-out RATM, minus the venomous delivery and poignant lyrics of Zack Dela Rocha. Where a song like “Guerilla Radio” makes you wanna punch a politician in the fucking mouth, this song makes you feel like kicking back, smoking a joint, and nodding your head. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though. The song has a laid-back, stonery vibe while B-Real and Chuck D deliver their lines in good form. During the bridge, B-Real brings the rage level up for a moment as he menacingly shouts, “They didn’t hear my cries, they said fuck my crisis!” The bridge flows seamlessly into the chorus as the beat smooths out again and both MCs shine here with a back and forth chant, “They say I’m radicalized. See my radical eyes” over a funky, on/off muted riff by Tom Morello. The lyrics aren’t anything special, but the song overall is one of the high points of the album.
The second track is “Unfuck the World.” This one is noticeably more aggressive than the previous song, delving closer to groove metal territory during the chorus. During the verse, Commerford delivers a decent bassline that takes the forefront while Morello adds some additional flavor with a simplisitic, effects-drenched lead melody. The lyrics are laughable at times on this one with phrases like “too many cooks in the kitchen” and “exploding phones.” And as a general rule, it’s probably usually not a good idea to invent your own word such as “Unfuck.” Morello provides and interesting solo but overall not very memorable.
“Legalize Me” is a more upbeat, funkier song. Morello’s riffing stays within his typical, comfortable scale for the most part. B-Real sounds more nasally than ever this time due to an unfortunate utilization of the all-too-common “telephone effect” on his vocals. Lyrically, it’s your basic fun-loving, pro-marijuana stuff until Chuck D’s verse toward the middle of the song. He raps authoritatively over a brooding, Black Sabbath-esque, stoner-rock riff that comes in to introduce a more serious tone as D talks about how fucked up the world is. The song then transitions back to weed-party vibe until the end. This is an odd one that will likely polarize listeners.
Next up is “Living on the 110,” a reference to the main highway that runs through Los Angeles. If a song on this album could be considered a ballad, this would be it. The track takes on a more thoughtful tone while B-Real comes in with what is seemingly intended to be a moving verse about the struggles of extreme poverty in the inner city. It ends up feeling a bit pretentious and sappy for a band like this. Where is the rage? While not a terrible song, it seems out of place and watered-down with phoned in lyrics.
The fifth track is “Counteroffensive.” Basically just an interlude but actually a sick little jam. It’s a shame it wasn’t turned into a full-fledged song. The bass line is dope, the beat and samples are too. The biggest problem with this song is that it’s only about forty seconds long.
“Hail to the Chief” is next and comes in like another slow-paced RATM song. The verse uses a bassline that sounds like a downtuned “Bombtrack” while the lead guitar whines like a siren. Basically a similar formula, tone, and melody as most of the songs of the album. Again the lyrics are phoned-in and don’t convey true “rage” or authenticity. It’s a decent jam at face value, but that’s about it. Nothing memorable here.
“Take Me Higher” is the next song and this time the mood shifts into funk/rock territory, very reminiscent of Red Hot Chili Peppers. It sounds like a weaker “Apache Rose Peacock,” minus Flea’s signature bass sound, but with paranoid, pseudo-political lyrics talking about being afraid of drones. “Drones in the hood like wow” is literally one of the lines. This one is laughable at best.
“Strength In Numbers” starts off with a riff that sounds deceivingly similar to “Bulls on Parade” by RATM (there’s a lyric in the song that even references “rally round the family”), then immediately transitions into a lead that can only be best-described as sounding like a chicken clucking. Lyrically, this song is talking about people stuck in a nine-to-five lifestyle. At the end of the day, the words ring hollow coming from middle-aged, multi-millionaire rappers who probably can’t even recall what working a normal job is like anymore.
Next is “Fired a Shot.” Repetitive and uninteresting – just filler.
“Who Owns Who” is finally one of the more aggressive songs on the album with what seems to be a take on the Black Lives Matter movement. The verse uses a squealing, harmonic-heavy, dissonant lead riff while Chuck D delivers lines reminiscently as powerful as his Public Enemy days. This one is definitely mosh-worthy with lyrics like “gasoline that rag, burn that fuckin flag” to introduce a chorus. D sounds like he’s not fucking around on this one but unfortunately, B-Real is largely reduced to the “telephone effect” again and is outshined by D. Overall, one of the better songs on the album and likely will become a favorite for live audiences.
“Hands up” – filler.
“Smashit” is the final song. The riffing here is reminiscent of “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath. It does showcase some of the better lyricism of the album with lines like “you’ll never read my American mind” which brings to mind the different parallels we deal with as Americans living in today’s politically-charged climate. Aside from the step-up lyrically, and a well-executed verse from D, the song is standard-fare compared to the rest of the album with similar tempo, riffing, and song structure.
Morello’s guitar melodies on this album, for the most part, sound like recycled, lesser versions of RATM. They are almost all played in the same scale. I know this for a fact because I’m somewhat of a guitarist myself and to play any Tom Morello song your hand stays in the same spot on the fretboard every time. There’s nothing wrong with having your own sound, don’t get me wrong, but you gotta mix it up a bit otherwise you’re just recycling your own ideas.
Overall, this album suffers from three glaring issues – Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill. These bands achieved groundbreaking success with their music and Prophets of Rage will inevitably be continually compared to them. At the end of the day, Prophets just doesn’t measure up. There are a few good moments but they are far between. On the upside, however, Chuck D delivers a solid performance here.
For a band with the word “rage” in the title, these songs conveyed very little actual rage for the listener. The pacing is too slow and the lyrics are neither inspiring or provocative. Instead of taking the opportunity to go toe-to-toe with Chuck D, which would have made for an enjoyable listen, B-Real seems comfortable taking the backseat for most of the record. Where is the venom he has shown he is capable of in songs like Cypress Hill’s “No Rest for the Wicked?”
It seems more like this record was created in an effort to build hype for the band to be able to go on tour and play covers of their older material. If that was the case, then none of this review really matters considering they can easily build a set list of nineties hits that will have the fans going nuts every night.