Prophets of Rage are old, yo

Protest music hasn’t been mainstream for a while, which could be a sign of improving times, or more likely a sign of increasing malaise towards the injustice imposed by the ruling class. Whatever the case, whenever I think about protest music, I default towards Reagen-era hip hop and punk, partially because Reagen was the first American politician to bring out the fury in musicians, but mostly because Reagen-era protest music was a lot more effective than any songs we got during the Clinton, Bush, and Obama eras.

But now we have Donald Trump, and with Trump a potential Trump presidency, and with a potential Trump presidency some fantastic protest anthems. You might be wondering, what better time to reunite some of the best protest groups in American history than right now? Wonder no more, Prophets of Rage are here.

The latest supergroup features Public Enemy’s Chuck D and DJ Lord, Cypress Hill’s B-Real, and the members of Rage Against the Machine minus Zack de la Rocha, and on paper this is a union made for protest march subwoofers and college festivals nationwide. Rage Against the Machine wrote the angriest music of the 90s while Chuck D lead the most influential protest group of all time, and while Cypress Hill was more known for its marijuana advocacy than its fight for social justice, B-Real’s addition gives the group a righteous Latinx voice lost from de la Rocha’s absence. Time to kick out the jams, right?

Except there’s a problem: they’re old. Not in normal human years, mind you, but definitely in musician years. The youngest of the group is 41-year old DJ Lord, the replacement for Public Enemy’s original DJ Terminator X. No one else is under 46 years old, and Chuck D checks in at a musically ancient 55. That all of these artists were alive during the Vietnam War gives them a credibility most young acts don’t have, but it also allows us to question whether they can still be effective voices against social injustice.

That’s not to say that old people can’t be effective megaphones simply because they’re old. Pete Seeger was performing his old stuff well into his 90s, and he was still great. Joan Baez still performs, and she’s still great. But the 60s-era protest anthems were often folk songs, low-energy ditties that could be repeated at any campfire or concert. 80s-era protest anthems were loud, fast, and required a ridiculous amount of energy that only a select number of youthful bodies could provide. There’s a reason punk bands don’t stay together for long (and when they do…), and there’s a reason only a handful of rap acts stay relevant past their 40s (Run The Jewels, MF Doom). The approaching-AARP protest act is certainly possible, but history shows that it’s unlikely to hit. Case in point, Prophets of Rage’s eponymous debut single:

Rage still shreds, Morello especially, but the band is missing the zest that made Public Enemy fun and the kick that made Rage Against the Machine such a force. Basically, they’re missing de la Rocha and Flavor Flav, though their additions wouldn’t necessarily make them better (they’re also old, after all).

I don’t think this is as self-serving a reunion as we’re seeing from Guns ‘n Roses or LCD Soundsystem, but I do question the motivation of a hasty union made during election season. There’s nothing wrong with selling tickets, and hey, maybe Chuck D and B-Real can inspire some folks in the process, but fast and loud protest music kinda has to be fast and loud, and Prophets of Rage may be too pooped from their peerless careers to make that happen anymore.

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