Throughout America and the West, the political Left have overwhelmingly dominated the culture through the arts. This dominion extends across the entire sphere of pop and rock music. With the possible exception of country, the political opinions in the pop and rock world tend to run the gamut between progressive and communist. While most generally save their grandstanding for DNC appearances, award ceremonies and social media, there is a notable handful of artists who put radical leftist politics front and center. Rage Against the Machine made Marxist angst a mass market success, so it should come as little surprise that the supergroup followup, Prophets of Rage, cashes in on the same sensibilities. Comprised of the rhythm section reactor that powered RATM and augmented by members of Public Enemy and Cypress Hill, Prophets of Rage want to make America rage again by synthesizing the combined legacies of its members.
While propping up establishment politics under the veneer of radicalism passes for “rebellion” on the Left, you’d think that liberty would resonate as a theme in a genre that prides itself on being the Voice of the Disaffected™. For whatever reason, very little liberty oriented subject matter has translated into mass success beyond the odd Rush or Megadeth record. Libertarians are starting to recognize that culture is upstream from politics and are now making inroads into the pop culture realm. One of the unexpected success stories has been the emergence of rap-metal Rothbardians, Backwordz. Fronted by Eric July, a man who is already recognized as a rising star in the liberty movement, Backwordz is plying their own brand of rap-metal but with a message that stands in polar opposition to the leftist grunting of the Prophets. Drawing almost exclusively from the more recent history of rap-rock hybrids, Backwordz sound invokes comparisons to Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, Static-X and Body Count. If you had told me even a year ago that the nexus of politically fueled music converges at the intersection of hip-hop and hard rock, I’d have looked at you sideways. Yet here we are. So let’s jump into the rap-metal terrordome and see how they stack up.
Prophets of Rage vs. Backwordz
In many ways, Prophets of Rage is one of the most successful rap-rock hybrids I’ve heard. It pains me to say it because the politics of the album alternate between idiotic sloganeering, boring clichés and braindead incoherence. Prophets of Rage seem tailor made for the Age of #SocialJustice, and they’re cashing in on it by openly advertising themselves as the soundtrack to the #RESISTANCE. If you simply gathered up the highest trending hashtags from #WOKE Twitter from the past couple years (#Blacklivesmatter, #RESIST, #DumpTrump, #TakeAKnee, #HandsUpDontShoot, etc), that pretty much sums up what they have to say as a band. Add in some communist iconography, weed references and Antifa-inspired branded merchandise, and the package is complete. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear some group of campus SJWs chanting the chorus to “Unfuck the World” at any given protest.
Unification The Vibration
Unfuck the World!
Wow. That’s deep, bro. Pass the bong.
Conversely, Backwordz have a lot of interesting things to say on their debut release, “Veracity”, but it is simply less enjoyable as a musical experience. And by interesting, I mean songs that represent the perspective of a full throated Rothbard style anarcho-capitalist. That’s not to say that they are less accomplished musicians or that their vision is any less cohesive. It’s just that I found myself wanting to sing along with Prophets, but didn’t have the same experience with Backwordz. If nothing else, the fact that Backwordz have written an anti-Keynesian rap-metal anthem which name checks Ludwig von Mises and The Road to Serfdom makes them deserving of respect. “Praxeology” is not necessarily a song I want to put on repeat, but I think it’s commendable that they wrote it in the first place. There’s probably more than a few people out there who scooped up copies of Anthem and The Fountainhead after rocking out to 2112, so I suspect it won’t be long before we begin to hear testimonials of kids who picked up Human Action after jamming Backwordz.
Backwordz songs follow a general formula. Eric July spits out a manic flow over some chunky syncopated riffage which is followed by a melodic emo chorus sung by Alex James. What the riffs lack in memorability, they make up for in rhythmic interest and mechanical precision. At their best, Backwordz’ riffage falls somewhere in between the jagged chugging of Meshuggah and the militant ratatat of Disturbed. July alternates between a smooth, rhythmically energetic flow and a full on aggro scream. There is the occasional chill electro beat section, too.
Backwordz cover a lot of ground in one record. A tour through the song titles and lyrics reveal a pretty broad spectrum of liberty oriented themes. Unfortunately, the songs are a little like monologues from Randian heroes. The content is great, but there’s something wooden and slightly cringe inducing about it. July is hitting excellent subjects, but he’s just not the greatest wordsmith. However, the one song that’s both lyrically and thematically devastating is “Statheist”. If there’s one thing that progressives don’t like to hear, it’s having their own religious faith called out.
Say it, we know the truth
Saying Hail Mary’s at the voter booth
You are a fraud
Stop acting like you don’t believe in god
Acting like they made us
Politicians are your saviors
You are a fraud
Stop acting like you don’t believe in god
To my ears, the Prophets’ overall sound has more breath and a deeper reach back into rock history. The Prophets successfully negotiate a rhythmic pocket that reconciles Led Zeppelin, P-Funk, MC5 and The Stooges. Tom Morello’s politics are vile and stupid but the man is quite simply one of the most innovative guitarists in rock working today. I defy any rock lover to say that the chorus to “Hail to the Chief” isn’t the very epitome of The Riff. The Prophets’ superior conception of groove also ties into their superiority in songcraft. I can’t remember a single hook from the Backwordz record, but I can remember practically every single one from the Prophets of Rage. Having the Morgan Freeman of hip-hop doesn’t hurt, either. Chuck D’s gruff, leathery bass and relaxed flow is just more appealing to listen to than July’s rapid fire rhymes. If there was only one message that I hope to convey to the members of Backwordz, I would encourage them to learn from the Prophets’ songwriting example.
What pisses me off the most about the Prophets of Rage is that, in contrast to their ideological brethren GY!BE, they’re cashing in on leftist anger without being explicit about that for which they stand. Admittedly, it’s not that hard to discern their intentions, but it’s masked amidst the fist pumping sloganeering. They want you to “know your rights”, but exhort you to “burn that goddamn flag”. They lament that you “pretend there’s democracy” in one song, but insist that you should “legalize me” in another. Morello himself has been pretty explicit about his communist convictions throughout his career, and Prophets of Rage is just the latest update to the packaging. Their anti-authoritarian posture masks their authoritarian designs. It’s not that just that they want to “Smashit”; they want to “go Molotov” and “become the gun”. They insist that you know “who owns who”, but want you to ignore the question of who owns them. I contend that the following photo from their Twitter account summarizes their true intentions. The Statue of Liberty is a symbol of the one political ideal that America sought to institutionalize: liberty. Though the #TakeAKnee campaign was supposedly meant to symbolize a protest against police brutality and racial injustice, the act of kneeling is actually an act of submission. Not defiance. The fact that the Prophets of Rage would promote an image of Lady Liberty kneeling in submission is exactly what I’d expect from communists, sadly.
I realize Backwordz don’t need my support, but I sincerely wish that I could offer a more unequivocal endorsement. If there was a way to swap the message of Backwordz with the Prophets’ sound, I’d be singing a different tune. Backwordz’ music belongs to different generation, and the fact that they’ve attracted as much attention as they have is a testament to the fact that their music is speaking to people and providing value. The Left have been tremendously successful in mainstreaming their ideas through culture, so I’m glad they’re out there doing their thing. It’s entirely possible that they’ll reach more new people with rap-metal than the combined efforts of every single Mises Institute fellow.