The best protest music is plain-spoken: “We shall overcome;” “The times they are a’ changin’;” “Fuck you, I won’t do what you tell me.” Zack De La Rocha only repeats six lines in “Killing In the Name,” but those became Rage Against the Machine’s mission statement and primary MO. Without shying away from provocative subject matter (check the empathy with the gang banger narrator of “Settle For Nothing”), Rage kept their lyrics accessible enough to draw in even the most apolitical listener. Two years later, those who didn’t care about caring could turn to KoRn’s chanted nursery rhymes. But in 1992 it was all or nothing; fight or turn the music down. Rage didn’t allow for anything less. A sound so combustible could never last—after having their blueprint co-opted by every angry white dude with a grudge against his ex-girlfriend (redundant?), Rage retired at the top of their game in 1999. Even so, their debut album remains their most urgent. How badly did we need Rage Against the Machine in 1992? So badly that they had to invent their own genre because nothing else could say what they had to say. How did they do it? Anger is a gift.
-Marty Brown, 2006