Sunday, May 8, 2011

Rage Against the Machine -- "Renegades of Funk" (2000)

We're the renegades, we're the people
With our own philosophies
We change the course of history
Everyday people like you and me
We're the renegades of funk

Rage Against the Machine (or "RATM") was a big deal in the 1990's.  The group put out four rap/metal albums that were described by critic Jason Ankeny as containing "fiercely polemical music, which brewed sloganeering leftist rants against corporate America, cultural imperialism, social inequality, and government oppression into a Molotov cocktail of punk, hip-hop and thrash."

Tom Morello
Understatement was not RATM's forte.  The band's music and its lyrics were about as subtle as a sawed-off shotgun.  Not surprisingly, the founder of the band -- guitarist Tom Morello -- was a Harvard graduate.

Morello's life has some very close parallels to the life of President Barack Obama.  Morello's mother was a white Midwesterner and his father was a Kenyan politician.  (In fact, Morello's father -- who denied his paternity -- was the Kenyan ambassador to the United Nations and the brother of Kenya's first elected president, Jomo Kenyatta.)  Like Obama, Morella ended up at Harvard -- although Morello's Harvard degree was from the college, while Obama's is from the law school.

Unlike our President, however, Morello once worked as a male exotic dancer to put food on the table.  He did a lot of bachelorette parties.  His go-to song to strip to was the classic by the Commodores, "Brick House."  (I bet a few of you have heard "Brick House" at a strip joint or bachelor/bachelorette party, haven't you?)

Also unlike the President, Morello decided early he had no interest in politics.  Here's what he had to say about working for U.S. Senator Alan Cranston (Dem-Calif.) in the late 1980's:
"I never had any real desire to work in politics but if there was any ember burning in me, it was extinguished working in that job because of two things: one of them was the fact that 80 per cent of the time I spent with the Senator, he was on the phone asking rich people for money. It just made me understand that the whole business was dirty. . . . The other was the time a woman phoned up to the office and wanted to complain that there were Mexicans moving into her neighborhood. I said to her, 'Ma'am, you're a damn racist,' and she was indignant. I thought I was representing our cause well, but I got yelled at for a week by everyone for saying that! I thought to myself that if I'm in a job where I can't call a damn racist a damn racist, then it's not for me."
Morello very quickly saw through to the reality of American politicians -- good for him.  Did I mention that he and I share the same birthday?  (Also, we were born 12 years apart, so we share the same sign of the Chinese zodiac -- we were born in the year of the DRAGON, baby!)

RATM's cover of "Renegades of Funk" is on their last album, which was titled Renegades.  It consisted entirely of covers -- about half of the tracks were hip-hop covers, while the rest included covers of songs by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Devo, MC5, the Rolling Stones, and the Stooges.

Here's the Renegades album cover.

It's a parody of the famous Robert Indiana pop art painting, "LOVE."

RATM singer Zack de la Rocha took exception to the band's decision to release a collection of covers as an album.  He quit the band, stating that "our decision-making process has completely failed."  De la Rocha sounds like a real pain in the ass, and his political beliefs are about twice as half-baked as Morello's.  (Does that make them "quarter-baked"?)  But he can sing, and RATM's music is often very, very compelling stuff.

RATM generally chose good songs to cover on Renegades, but their versions of those songs are a mixed bag.  I think this cut is one of the best.

The music video for this song is brilliant.  It has shots of all the early-day rappers we've been talking about plus a lot of others that we'll cover in the near future, not to mention archival video of all kinds of political renegades.

Here's a link you can use to buy "RATM's "Renegades of Funk" from iTunes:

Renegades of Funk - Renegades

Here's a link you can use if you prefer Amazon:

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