Rock/rap super-group Prophets of Rage fight the power
By Gary Spencer
Photo: (l-r) Tim Commerford, Chuck D, Brad Wilk, B-Real, and Tom Morello of Prophets of Rage; photo: Kevin Winter
Rock super-groups are hardly a new thing. Cream was arguably the first back in 1966, and they might have set the precedent, only lasting a few years, as many super-groups since have lasted even less time than that, whether because of too many inflated egos in the same room at the same time or myriad other reasons. However, one of the newest and biggest super-groups that’s come along in some time may just buck those trends: the rock/rap collective known as Prophets of Rage, which features members of legendary ’90s groups Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill.
The formation of Prophets of Rage was largely a mystery until earlier this year, with Rage Against the Machine’s website featuring an ominous clock ticking down. While a lot of fans thought this indicated a reformation of RATM, what was announced thereafter surprised nearly everyone. What the music world got instead was the musical melting pot of three-fourths of RATM (guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford, drummer Brad Wilk) along with MCs B-Real from Cypress Hill and Chuck D from Public Enemy, along with Public Enemy’s DJ Lord on the wheels of steel. The formation of the band came in off-the-cuff fashion, with the idea just popping into Morello’s head, taking the name Prophets of Rage from one of Public Enemy’s most legendary songs and turning it into a living, breathing thing very quickly.
“Morello was the catalyst,” Wilk says. “Tom called me, Nick, and Chuck. Then, B-Real wanted to join in. It was very recent – four or five months ago.”
With members of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill, Prophets of Rage found themselves with hundreds of songs with which to rework and shape into their own – much of it with a political, revolutionary “fight the power” bent. Despite a seemingly overwhelming task, Wilk says the super-group didn’t have a hard time deciding what songs from each group’s catalog to include in their repertoire.
“We looked at the songs that had a huge impact,” he says. “Everyone in the band has favorite Public Enemy songs, favorite Cypress Hill songs, favorite Rage Against the Machine songs. We put it all in a pot and picked the best.”
According to Wilk, the formation of the band with members of these ’90s heavy-hitters makes a lot of sense in the year 2016, especially politically.
“We have music that has as much meaning and intent as it did when we wrote the songs,” he explains. “It’s an election year, and we got a lot of people disenfranchised with the country. They feel like they have no voice; they’ve got nobody to vote for other than the lesser of two evils. Donald Trump is a complete racist. Hillary Clinton is tied into big business. The country is run by big business, the 1 to 3 percent. We live in a dangerous time in this country.”
With these sentiments in mind, Wilk says the Prophets of Rage have a mission behind their music.
“We want to be a voice for the disenfranchised,” he says. “We want people to stand up for their communities, stand up for injustices, stand up for what they believe in – use their voice and be heard. We want people to be engaged in this time of the country’s history. Most revolutions have been pretty violent. We’re hoping we can aid in a peaceful revolution in our society. It’s time to make that change. It’s time we get people in power to make that difficult change.”
Despite the serious intent of the Prophets’ existence, Wilk says that both fans and band alike are having a great time with what they’re doing.
“I’ve been completely blown away by fans’ reactions to this group, and playing shows has been incredible,” he continues. “It’s been awesome, fun, and creative. To play with these guys is amazing. Writing Prophets of Rage songs is even more awesome.”
Indeed, the Prophets’ first-five song EP, The Party’s Over, contains both re-workings from members’ former bands as well as new, original material. Released on Aug. 26, the record debuted at number five on the Billboard Top Rock Albums chart. Wilk says issuing music in this fashion will be the band’s modus operandi going forward.
In the end, Wilk says staying vital, creatively and politically, and inspiring others is what Prophets of Rage is all about.
“We want people to feel like they are part of something – part of a movement,” he explains. “I want to influence people in a positive way. If just one person in the audience sees us play and goes, ‘Fuck yeah, I want to pick up an instrument and write songs that inspire people,’ we’re doing something right. If we can be a thought in a person’s head to be inspired to do something on a musical or activist level, then we’ve done our job.”
Prophets of Rage perform at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Oct. 5 at Riverbend Music Center, 6295 Kellogg Ave. in Cincinnati. Tickets range from $20-$69.50. For more information, please visit ProphetsOfRage.com.
Gary Spencer is a graduate of Miami University and works in the performing arts, and believes that music is the best. Contact him at GarySpencer@DaytonCityPaper.com.