think that being a popular, major-label band would be
incompatible with holding extreme left-wing political
views. The Los Angeles-based hip-hop/thrash quartet Rage
Against the Machine does both -- in RATM's world, big
money and radical politics are not necessarily exclusive.
Against the Machine was formed in 1991 by four established
musicians from throughout the United States who met on the
L.A. music scene: vocalist Zach de la Rocha, a native of
wealthy Irvine, Calif., who once fronted the punk group
Inside Out; dreadlocked guitarist Tom Morello, a Harvard
graduate from suburban Libertyville, Ill.; bassist Tim
Commerford, also from Irvine; and drummer Brad Wilk,
originally from Portland, Ore.
unique sound that combined rap, heavy metal, punk rock,
and dance music, extreme stage energy, and outspoken
lyrics about politics (often taboo in modern music), RATM
quickly won over fans throughout southern California,
selling more than 5,000 copies of a self-produced cassette
to Epic Records, RATM released their eponymous major-label
debut album in 1992. Initially marketed as a rap group,
RATM toured extensively with House of Pain and Cypress
Hill, pushing Rage Against the Machine into the
Billboard Top 50. Frequent MTV play of the video
"Freedom" in early 1994 put sales of the album
into platinum territory, securing Rage Against the
Machine's position as one of the more popular alternative
rock bands of the mid-1990s, and establishing rap-core as
a genre unto itself.
preparation for the April 1996 of their long-awaited
follow-up album Evil Empire, Rage Against the
Machine appeared on "Saturday Night Live," where
they fabricated controversy by hanging upside-down
American flags on their amplifiers. Evil Empire
debuted at No. 1 and quickly went platinum, spawning the
hit single "Bulls on Parade." Though their
records have sold millions of copies, Rage Against the
Machine has stayed true to their socialist views, speaking
out in favor of the EZLN uprising in Chiapas, Mexico and
against the jailing of African-American journalist Mumia
Abu-Jamal and Native American activist Leonard Peltier.
Though they crossed union picket lines to perform at a
1996 U2 concert in Oregon, members of Rage Against the
Machine have appeared on picket lines, protesting the
exploitation of workers by several garment manufacturers.
RATM is living proof that wealth and privilege can
facilitate activism rather than serve as a force against
November 1999, Rage released their third album, The
Battle of Los Angeles, on Epic Records.