Can a supergroup ever be more than the sum of its parts? Has there ever been a band comprised of members of other successful, popular bands, that has made music that could be considered to be better, more important, more inspired than their older work? These aren’t things we usually think about, but after watching the Prophets of Rage, the latest supergroup featuring members of Public Enemy, Cypress Hill, and Rage Against the Machine, they’re questions worth asking.
The Prophets of Rage features Rage Against the Machine members Tom Morello (guitar), Brad Wilk (drums), and Tim Commerford (bass), Public Enemy’s Chuck D and DJ Lord, and Cypress Hill’s B-Real. They played their first show in LA earlier this year, but when their first East Coast show at Governors Ball was cancelled due to weather, they booked a last-minute replacement set at Brooklyn’s Warsaw, which serves double duty as the local Polish National Home. Lines stretched around the block from mid-day until the show started. No one that wasn’t at that LA show had ever heard what they sounded like, but they were still interested.
So what does PE + CH x RATM = ? It’s hard to say. In a video promo, its members liken the group to a political act, and it would be hard to argue that those old RATM and PE songs aren’t just as relevant now as they were in the ‘90s. But despite having a massive national tour already booked, the band only has two new songs (“Shut ‘Em Down” and “The Party’s Over”), neither of which sound particularly interesting. More than anything, it felt like Rage Lite.
On his own, Chuck D probably casts as much of a shadow of influence as anyone in hip-hop, or even political music in general. Public Enemy anthems like “Fight the Power” and “Don’t Believe the Hype” will be remembered as powerful political statements for as long as hip-hop is remembered. Zach de la Rocha’s lyrics are similarly incendiary, but they’re just not the same without him. In fact, there’s something about watching this group — which in its two live shows has played songs by each of their three groups (plus the Beastie Boys) as well as the two originals — that feels like celebrity karaoke. Chuck’s voice, an almost monotone boom that often sounds self-amplified, is iconic, and when you hear him spitting bars written and first performed by de la Rocha, the cognitive dissonance is palpable. B-Real has his own… unique vocal qualities, but he’s able to hit the higher pitch that RATM raps often require.
The most authentic part of the set was a six-song stretch in the middle, in which Wilk, Commerford and Morello exited the stage in order for Chuck and B-Real to do tracked versions of their Public Enemy and Cypress Hill hits. We’ve never had the privilege of seeing Cypress Hill live, and while the vibes are likely different with a stage full of homies, his delivery was tight and the songs sounded dope.
Rather than “Do we need this?” maybe the question should be, “Who is this for?” The set at Warsaw was played to a crowd full of clearly die-hard Rage Against the Machine fans. During the opening DJ set from Public Enemy’s DJ Lord, got the most hyped to “Jump Around,” “Enter Sandman,” and “Seven Nation Army.” But when DJ Lord cut the volume and turned the mic on the crowd for the famous hook from Boogie Down Productions’ “Sound of Da Police,” it was to deafening silence. That’s pretty much all you need to know. That’s pretty much all you need to know.
Ultimately, the spectacle of such big names collaborating is sure to draw eyeballs and eardrums, and their tour might even be moderately (or who knows, maybe wildly!) successful, but the new music they’ve written so far struggles to be even as interesting as Audioslave—Wilk, Commerford, and Morello’s first attempt to replace Zach de la Rocha. But hey, if you’ve never heard “Killing in the Name” performed live before, it might be worth the cost of admission.