Election-year politics getting you down? Fear not, music fans of America: a new supergroup featuring members of Rage Against The Machine, Public Enemy and Cypress Hill is set to tour the country just as the 2016 presidential race gets into full swing. This new group is here because, as it says on Facebook, "injustice needs a fist in the face." They're here to, as the tour's cleverly crafted, hashtag-friendly slogan boasts, "make America rage again." Simply put, they're here to disrupt the political status quo.
And, perhaps more importantly for the six-member group, they're here to collect your money.
Following a handful of bi-coastal concerts last week, Prophets of Rage -- or POR, which is one vowel short of accurately describing the type of music fans who will be unable to buy tickets to see the band claiming to be fighting the system on their behalf -- have announced a 35-date summer/fall tour. Their glossy debut came at the start of the month, complete with a calculated advance media campaign and debut-concert poster designed by go-to political artist Shepard Fairey. And now, the group is ready to take its show on the road. It wants to send a message of revolution... but in reality, this tour is full of irony, and seems to be more about bank statements than political statements.
Planning on buying a ticket? Better start saving up. For most venues, ticket prices are going to run close to $100 on the high end; naturally, the band's tiered pricing system ensures that those with more money to spend will enjoy the show from a better seat. Prophets of Rage? More like Profits of Rage.
Most shows will occur at venues contracted with ticketing giants Ticketmaster or Live Nation, understandable given the buzz surrounding the group; a handful of shows will be taking place at casinos, though, including at least one owned by Penn National Gaming, which is currently partnering with a Native American tribe near San Diego to develop gaming on its land. Which might not seem like a big deal, until you remember that Rage Against The Machine's 1992 single "Freedom," and its accompanying music video, railed against the trivialization of the social injustices faced by Native Americans. It's almost as if, by playing at St. Louis's Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre in September, Prophets of Rage are taking literally the song's sardonic lyrics: "What does the billboard say? Come and play, come and play -- forget about the (American Indian) Movement."
While Rage Against The Machine's three instrumentalists and Public Enemy's Chuck D are no strangers to political activism and outspokenness, trying to make sense out of the inclusion of Cypress Hill's B-Real is enough to make someone, well, insane in the brain. His gimmicky, playful nasal delivery led to Grammy nominations and chart success for Cypress Hill, but rap fans know B-Real as much for taking hits as making them. Much of Cypress Hill's lyrics are either chest-puffing, gangsta-rap bravado or pro-marijuana party anthems.
In the late 1980s and early 90s, a big reason Public Enemy was able to break through to the mainstream was that it had Flavor Flav's court-jester shenanigans to offset Chuck D's abrasive vocals and no-nonsense vocals. Perhaps the intent was for B-Real to fulfill a similar role with Prophets of Rage, but then again, the supergroup's stated purpose is to pose a political challenge. Encouraging listeners to get high is probably the least-motivating approach to political change there is.
When he's not rapping about smoking marijuana, B-Real likes to perform songs about shooting people. Prophets of Rage's first few shows have included the Cypress Hill songs "Hand on the Pump," "How I Could Just Kill a Man," and "I Ain't Goin' Out Like That," all of which glorify gun violence. How ironic, then, that Prophets of Rage are already promising to stage a show in Cleveland during next month's Republican National Convention, considering that the GOP is probably the more likely of the two parties to support gun ownership in the first place. Plus, when isolating the band's anti-establishment message, presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump -- a Washington outsider -- is probably a less reasonable target for its vitriol than Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton. (Extra irony points for the supergroup having included the Rage Against The Machine classic "Know Your Enemy" in its gigs thus far.)
Rage Against The Machine built its career on empowering listeners with songs like "Take The Power Back," and Public Enemy with tracks like "Fight The Power." At Prophets of Rage's June 1 show at Los Angeles's Whisky a Go Go, however, fans were strong-armed into surrendering their cell phones to venue security personnel, who then put them under lock and key for the duration of the concert. Of course, cell-phone use is also discouraged at places like the opera and cinema, but not strictly outlawed. In fact, if you really want to see some rage, trying telling movie patrons they have to hand over their phones before entering the theater. It is nothing if not ironic that fans who had gathered around a theme of non-conformity, anti-censorship and self-empowerment were forced to accept such a draconian policy, especially once they had already bought tickets.
Even if the Prophets of Rage tour is based on capitalism, mixed messages, poorly targeted adversaries, a questionable (if not flat-out counterproductive) lineup, and an overall theme more iconic than substantive, at least the band is taking advantage of the current political climate, right? Wrong. Despite grabbing headlines that surely generated interest and online traffic -- on the day before voters in seven states headed to the polls, no less -- the band's new web site makes no mention of any advocacy groups, provides no direction on how to register to vote, and in fact bears no political overtones whatsoever beyond hollow and trite platitudes like, "This historical moment demands a historical soundtrack."
Want to really take the power back this year? Educate yourself on the issues. Attend a rally. Vote. And when a musical group wants you to drop triple digits on a ticket to what amounts to Rage Against The Machine karaoke, put your foot down and say, "F*** you, I won't do what you tell me."