• Axl Rosenberg

Although the phrase “rap metal” is now synonymous with Limp Suckit, Linkin Suck, P.O.Suck, and “total drek” in general, there was a time when it seemed a promising new subgenre in extreme music: what the Beastie Boys were doing wasn’t yet considered straight hip hop, Run DMC had a successful collaboration with Aerosmith and then Anthrax had a successful collaboration with Public Enemy, Mike Patton semi-rapped on Faith No More’s hit “Epic,” Trent Reznor announced he was going to do an album with Dr. Dre… and then there was Rage Against the Machine and their electric front man, Zack de la Rocha.

There’s no way to describe what de la Rocha did other than “rapping” (well, maybe “flowing,” but I’m not gonna say that ’cause it sounds fucking lame coming from someone named “Rosenberg”). And he was AWESOME at it. Before most crusty whiteboys had ever heard of A Tribe Called Quest, de la Rocha was teaching us that hip-hop didn’t have to be all samples and tapes; there could musicianship to it, and it could rock. HARD. It’s not that the rest of the band didn’t contribute- although I haven’t heard Tom Morello try and make his guitar sound like a DJ scratching a record in the Audioslave-era- it’s just that, as the addition of Chris Cornell to RATM’s ranks proved, without de la Rocha, Rage was just a really good band that thought Sabbath sounded a little better with some funk mixed in. Zack’s rapping made the band unique and gave its political dissidence street cred. Faith No More are always blamed for accidentally giving birth to nu-metal and assassinating real rock, but I swear there was a second shooter on the grassy knoll that day, and his name was de la Rocha.

We all know that things didn’t work out amongst de la Rocha and his fellow Ragers, and that the band hired Cornell, got a new moniker, and very quickly went from being a potentially really interesting band to a spiritless excercise in celebrity. But where the hell has de la Rocha gone? For awhile, word was he working on a solo album with the help of some of hip-hop, electronica and hard rock’s greatest- Trent Reznor, ?uestlove, DJ Shadow and El-P. Two tracks even made it out into the real world: The first, “March of Death,” was an Iraq-war protest song de la Rocha recorded with DJ Shadow and made available for free download. Distinctly hip-hop, surprisingly old-school, and full of Rage, the track proves de la Rocha and Shadow to be an ideal pairing. The second, “We Want it All,” is a hard driving, industrial flavored collaboration with Nine Inch Nails mastermind Reznor that more or less sounds like any track from NIN’s WITH TEETH (think Television meets Ministry) with de la Rocha, rather noticeably, singing – NOT rapping. It’s lackluster, not because it’s bad- it’s not- but just because, like Audioslave, you expect something more when you put giants of this magnitude in one recording studio together.

In any case, a full solo album- or any project, interview, or news of any kind- has never been forthcoming from de la Rochaland. Zack’s All Music bio claims the disc is coming out in 2001; obviously, someone needs to go ahead and update that.

Could de la Rocha be the alt-rock Axl Rose? Is he toiling away on some masterpiece- entitled PLAIN OLD AMERICAN DEMOCRACY, perhaps?- that I’ll finally get to hear in my 30s? Zack- come back to us. We could always use another good man.

And, say… what the hell ever happened to that NIN/Dre collaboration, anyways?


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