Monday, February 11, 2013

Rage Against the Machine, "People of the Sun"

Saying that Zack de la Rocha can't rap is kind of like saying that Lou Reed can't sing.

I didn't realize how simple Rage Against the Machine's music was until I heard Audioslave, the easy listening project that the Zackless band formed with Chris Cornell. Listening again to "People of the Sun," it's basically just an E scale bass line and one power chord hammer-on, but with de la Rocha's vocals in the mix, it sounds like jazz. His rhyme schemes are not particularly deft, and his lyrics, including muddled messages about the Zapatistas and Aztec history, are no more profound than anything by Monster Magnet. But two things here make de la Rocha the greatest rap-rock frontman in history, and the only one who deserves a spot among the all-time metal greats.

The first is his tone, a clear and articulate spit that sounds furious at any level. Next to the mumbling grungers on '90s FM radio, it was a shock to hear anybody this intelligible. The second is his rhythm, an unpredictable, off-kilter delivery that changes verse by verse but always fits in the song. There are many ways that a rapper could approach music this easy, decades of sub-Run-D.M.C. flow to cash in on. But Zack's method was to write his own idea of hip-hop vocals. I'd bet that his voice convinced more people to care about Zapatistas than his lyrics did.

For Richard in Chiapas.

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