Formed in Los Angeles in 1991, Rage Against the Machine are critically acclaimed for their aggressive, politically charged rhymes. During the 1990s, they found huge success with their politicised image, broad array of influences and punk attitudes. The band represents an important intersection in 90s culture – between the musical expression of urban black rebels (hip-hop, funk) and their white counterpart (metal, punk rock).
Accompanying a musical fusion of punk, hip-hop and metal, the lyricism of frontman Zack de la Rocha provides a fiery critique of corporate America, government oppression, and cultural imperialism. Both de la Rocha and guitarist Tom Morello were born into activist families, influential to shaping the band’s political views and activism. De la Rocha’s father devoted his artistic work to Chicano causes, and Morello was raised by a civil rights activist mother and a Kenyan rebel-turned-diplomat father.
Rage Against the Machine view their music as a vehicle for social activism, and de la Rocha has explained this by saying:
I’m interested in spreading those ideas through art, because music has the power to cross borders, to break military sieges and to establish real dialogue.
Over their career, Rage Against the Machine have championed numerous causes, including death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal’s fight for a new trial, the Zapatista freedom fighters in Mexico, and the treatment of sweatshop workers. The band’s leftist and revolutionary political views are further represented in almost all of their songs, and this politically fuelled commentary is key to their identity. Notable examples of these beliefs are discussed in “Killing in the Name” (addressing racism and police corruption), “Wake Up” (addressing racism in the American government), and “Freedom” (supporting imprisoned American-Indian activist Leonard Peltier).
Rage Against the Machine split up in 2000, with three of the band members joining Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell to form rock supergroup Audioslave. They reunited in 2007, and since then have sporadically performed major live events, but are yet to record any new material. In May 2016, it was revealed that Tom Morello, Brad Wilk and Tim Commerford had united with Chuck D of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill to form the supergroup, Prophets of Rage.