I was lucky to have received the first album about a month before its release, when I received an advance tape from Columbia Records. I had no idea who they were, there was no buzz for them, but it was sent to me for review. I popped the tape in. As a fan of hip-hop, punk, hardcore, and heavy metal, this was more than the casual crossover bands that were rampant back then. The music did not sound like “white kids trying to be black” or “black kids trying to be white”, or anything like that. In many ways, while the ethnic mixture of the band was not as important (or at least not heavily pushed/promoted) as their music, for a lot of people like myself, that was as powerful as seeing Sly & The Family Stone in the late 60’s and early 70’s. They told people “hey, there’s a riot going on”, and in the middle of the Vietnam war, people dared to ask “what riot?” The struggle was still “their” problem, or someone else’s problem. With Rage Against The Machine, it wasn’t just saying that a riot was happening. It wasn’t the problem of others, it was everyone else’s problem, so by the way… here is the riot, the war, the struggle, the horror, the hatred, and the need for balance: in music form.
When the album was finally released, people started to see the cover of the monk burning in the streets. The fact that it was a real and not doctored photo, I think people started to sense that this was different. It was heavy music, but it wasn’t promoted with a heavy metal-type illustration of a victorious demon, or vikings welcoming the people onto the ship of the unknown. It was a snapshot of someone protesting in the honor of love and pride, it was him showing the world his rage against “the machine”. It wasn’t until recently that we finally saw the moving footage of him lighting himself up, but that image is as powerful and as moving.
The Who were called Maximum R&B. There’s a punk fanzine called MaximumRockNRoll. Rage Against The Machine were and are very much hip-hop as well, you can’t deny that influence. Could this first album be called MaximumHipHop, as a way to say that if the music rooted in the creativity of the poor, being motivated to make music from their parent’s record collections out of necessity, could this be the next step? From Sugar Hill Gang to Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five to Run-DMC to UTFO to Public Enemy to Eric B. & Rakim to… what’s next? The music was a true force and it seemed the mainstream didn’t want that force to be seen, heard, or experienced? Hip-hop music was already the sponge byu taking in any and all influences. Take a progressive rock or country rock beat, and make it funky. Rage Against The Machine, to my ears, was very much a part of that but because of how different they were, or simply they made music that was “more than” or “less than”, as in “theyr’e more than hip-hop” or “they’re not black”, that lead some to crying foul. Yet for anyone who was listening to a wide range of music, associating themselves with different people, ideas, and concepts, Rage Against The Machine is essentually the true follow up to “It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back”.
When I played the tape in my car, I loved every song. There was a period where I constantly rewound the tape to play “Killing In The Name” over and over. I live in a very conservative town, and as someone who had some level of motivation, direction, and ways of doing things, rolling down my window with my stereo on blast, singing along “FUCK YOU, I WON’T DO WHAT YOU TELL ME” was a mantra. I felt like I got caught in the machine, and needed a way to escape. That in itself is a struggle and of my own doing, but the music was a means to hear some of my struggles in song, which also related to some of my views of the world and how it is run.
I loved “Freedom” from the start, but when the band released a video for it, I was overwhelmed. That is exactly how I felt, as if one of my favorite bands decided to come jam at a local VFW hall and brought in as many of my friends as possible to see them. It reminded me of the struggles of Hawaiian people and how they have had to fight for rights and civility in a land that is no longer theirs. Some of the struggles of Hawaiians parallel that of Native Americans, and at a time when you heard about political prisoners in hip-hop and rock’n’roll, I felt as angry as that song, the emotions, and the quotes that were shown. However, the last 90 seconds of the “Freedom” video floored me, as that was my rage seen in video form. It brought back what I was taught when people were of the Earth and community was important, along with a trust system which says “what you take, you always give back”. Everything is reciprocal. When you hear Zack scream out that first “FREEDOM” when the band kicks in and I saw that kid in the crowd yell out a mean “YEAAAAAAAHHHH”, I felt that was me. When the words “JUSTICE HAS NOT BEEN DONE” was shown, and you see Peltier walking in slow motion, I broke down. It was a combination of songwriting and musicianship, along with what some call “knowledge, wisdom & understanding”, a need to “kick the truth” when truths are covered up for the benefit of someone’s pocket book. For people of my generation, that first Rage Against The Machine album was a kick in the face for those who knew not everyone in the world was like that, but having to deal with the machine as part of the game of life when life is much more than that game board we play during the holidays, only to store into a closet until we toss it out. We condemn its existence, we exist not only to fulfill the needs of the creator of the machine. Or at least the music was a way to say “there’s much more than the machine, know that it exists before we cease to exist.” It still remains one of the most important albums of the last 20 years.