Five Reasons Rage Against the Machine Should Be in the Rock Hall
With millions of albums sold, an exhilarating live show and a musical influence that spans multiple genres and decades, Rage Against the Machine make an obvious candidate for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — even as they dedicated much of their career to lambasting similarly prestigious institutions.
Since their formation in 1991, Rage Against the Machine — singer Zack de la Rocha, guitarist Tom Morello, bassist Tim Commerford and drummer Brad Wilk — have been a bastion of musical and ideological radicalism. Their 1992 self-titled debut album deftly combined metal, punk and hip-hop in a way few bands had accomplished before, popularizing the rap-metal subgenre (and eventually its ugly cousin, nu-metal), which flourished alongside grunge and alternative throughout the '90s. The band established its ethos with furious lead single "Killing in the Name," full of pile-driving riffs, breathless raps and de la Rocha's bloodcurdling refrain: "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me."
Rage Against the Machine solidified their top-tier status with their next two chart-topping albums, 1996's Evil Empire and 1999's The Battle of Los Angeles, before disbanding for the first time in 2000. Their initial run was brief but incendiary, producing a trio of bulletproof, multiplatinum albums and setting a template for artists wishing to preach their radical politics on a large scale.
Nobody can deny Rage Against the Machine's impact on popular music and culture, including the Rock Hall. The band was first nominated in 2018; three decades after they stormed the music industry with their debut album, Rage Against the Machine's enshrinement is overdue. Here are five reasons they belong in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
They Were Enormously Successful
Rage Against the Machine weren't the first band to meld gut-busting riffs and fiery left-wing politics, but they were arguably the first to do it on such a massive scale. The band's self-titled debut album, released in 1992, peaked at No. 45 on the Billboard 200 and sold 3 million copies, setting the stage for RATM's imminent global takeover. Their next two albums, 1996's Evil Empire and 1999's The Battle of Los Angeles, both topped the Billboard 200 and were certified triple- and double-platinum, respectively. With more than 16 million records sold worldwide, Rage Against the Machine achieved bonafide rock star status — the likes of which the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame would be wise to honor — while packing an unflinching lyrical punch. This brings us to our next point ...
They Brought Their Revolutionary Politics to the Masses
From the beginning, Rage Against the Machine espoused their revolutionary politics in their music, rebuking capitalism, imperialism and government oppression. Some people considered their leftist politics hypocritical, seeing as they were signed to Epic Records, a Sony subsidiary, and they made millions off their countercultural anthems. But the band viewed its massive platform as a way to reach more potentially unconverted listeners. "When you live in a capitalistic society, the currency of the dissemination of information goes through capitalistic channels," Morello told the Los Angeles Times in 1996. "Would Noam Chomsky object to his works being sold at Barnes & Noble? No, because that's where people buy their books. We're not interested in preaching to just the converted. It's great to play abandoned squats run by anarchists, but it's also great to be able to reach people with a revolutionary message, people from Granada Hills to Stuttgart."
They Were Master Genre Benders
Rage Against the Machine were a logical continuation of the nascent rap-metal movement that began in the mid-'80s with groups like Beastie Boys, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More and exploded in popularity in the early '90s. Morello, Wilk and Commerford whipped up a tumult of metallic riffs and pulverizing grooves, while de la Rocha laid down furious, impassioned raps that could rival the best MCs of the era. In the wake of RATM's debut album, artists like Korn, Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock would also storm the charts with a combination of metal and hip-hop. Although the members of Rage were vocal opponents of the nu-metal subgenre they helped spawn, their influence on heavy music in the '90s is undeniable.
Tom Morello Is a Certified Guitar Hero
Few guitarists have had the same seismic impact and cultural cachet as Tom Morello. Using archetypal guitar gods like Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi and Eddie Van Halen as his bedrock, Morello pioneered a style that blended hard-rock riffs and solos with a smorgasbord of futuristic sonic flourishes. Using his vast array of pedals (whammy, wah, delay, tremolo, etc.), Morello can emulate the sound of police sirens, helicopters, record scratches and more. (In the ultimate display of pop-culture ascension, Morello even became a boss and playable character in 2007's Guitar Hero III, along with Slash.) "It was really in the beginnings of Rage Against the Machine where I self-identified as the DJ in the band and stopped looking at the guitar as this hallowed instrument on which there was only one way to get good," he told Guitar World. "Instead, it became a piece of wood, with six wires, a few electronics, a couple of knobs and a toggle switch that could be deconstructed."
They're Still as Big as Ever
Rage Against the Machine's initial tenure lasted from only 1991 to 2000 and spawned three albums of original material. They briefly reunited in the late '00s, and they set the rock world alight with excitement when they regrouped in 2019 and announced a massive reunion tour, including a headlining slot at Coachella. The coronavirus pandemic thwarted their initial reunion itinerary, but the overwhelming reaction to the news proved that RATM are still a hard-rock juggernaut with a massive — and massively passionate — fan base. Few bands can maintain that level of popularity and relevance for more than 30 years, and that enduring success makes Rage Against the Machine a no-brainer for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.