So why is Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire on this best 1,000 albums ever thing?
I have a picture in my mind. It’s a picture of a photograph, as Stone Temple Pilots might say.
The year is 1996, and my college housemates at Binghamton University are cleaning our house, the famous/iconic/infamous and unofficial rugby house located at 59 Leroy St. We spent a lot of time cleaning our house that year, not so much because we were overly tidy, but simply because the house got “destroyed” so often by near-nightly parties that would range in size from a dozen people to… let’s just say three figures easy on any given night.
In this mental picture – which is a memory of a real picture that’s floating around somewhere on this Earth, the webs, or both – my guys Lou, Joe, Jake, and I are cleaning up one day either before or after or more likely in between a set of parties.
And “Bulls On Parade,” off of Evil Empire, is playing, and playing loud. So everyone is not really cleaning*, dig, we’re more like dance-moshing to Rage Against the Machine while using our cleaning implements as Rock Metal God Props**.
* If Black Sabbath is the band that I associate with playing foosball to this day, it’s Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire that I associate with housecleaning.
** The use of the word “props” here makes me smile as it’s the position that my man Lou and I played in rugby back in the day. A little rugby pun humor for you. Anyway…
Now, I don’t want to discount the fact that RATM is a highly political band with an agenda regarding race, economic mobility, and government corruption that remains prescient to this day. And indeed one of the things that makes Rage Against the Machine special is the fact that their unique blend of rap and metal (one that many bands would try and fail to emulate, let us say) is as potent as their message.
I was lucky enough to see Rage live in Manhattan somewhere around 1996 or 1997, and it may well be the single most exciting and intense live musical experience of my entire life. Zach de la Rocha didn’t speak a lot in between songs, but I recall that he made an explicit mention of Bob Grant before launching into “Vietnow,” which might be my favorite track on Evil Empire these days.
I recognized the Bob Grant reference: he was a virulent conservative talk radio guy based in New York City. I’d listen to him and Rush Limbaugh occasionally while driving simply out of a combination of boredom (related: my first car had AM only radio and no tape deck!) and a lack of any other political talk shows to listen to.
Looking back, I now realize that the entire evolution of Fox News, conservative blogs and websites, the rise of the “tea party” and, later, Trump’s MAGA movement all stemmed from these talk radio guys spouting vile dribble, lies, and disinformation into their audience’s ears over a period of decades. De la Rocha and Rage Against the Machine recognized it too, and for me it’s always given “Vietnow” an especially powerful blast of both music and message.
Think about that when you listen to this line:
Fear is your only god on the radio
There’s also something about phrases like “crosses and kerosene” that stick in my head: evocative, violent imagery that crisscrosses religion and white supremacist ideology.
Like I stated above, kind of prescient stuff from the vantage point of 2023.
While “Bulls on Parade” and “Revolver” take on capitalism/militarization and gun culture, “People of the Sun” and “Down Rodeo” take on racism, oppression, and economic inequality. “Down Rodeo” is particularly effective, with lyrics such as the following that are intended to slap you across the face with lyrical fury.
Yes I’m rollin’ down Rodeo wit a shotgun
These people ain’t seen a brown skin man
Since their grandparents bought one
Pop culture stuff that’s somehow related to Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire
“Year of the Boomerang” was featured in the 1995 movie, Higher Learning, a good but not great campus drama from director John Singleton. To this day, Singleton is likely best known for his debut film, Boyz n in the Hood, which is an absorbing, unsettling, and magnificent movie about life in Los Angeles’ South Central neighborhoods.
I recall being pretty shaken up after I saw Boyz n in the Hood in the theater. But it was shaken up in a good way: as a white kid who grew up in a mostly white suburban neighborhood outside of New York City, it was a vantagepoint into people and culture in the United States that I had not had any exposure to before.
Some stats & info about Rage Against the Machine – Evil Empire
- What kind of musical stylings does this album represent? Alternative Metal, Metal, Rap, Rap Metal, Rap-Rock, Rock Music
- Rolling Stone’s greatest 500 albums ranking – not ranked!
- All Music’s rating – 4 out of 5 stars
- When was Evil Empire released? 1996
- My ranking, the one you’re reading right now – #379 out of 1,000
Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire on Spotify
A lyrical snippet from Rage Against the Machine’s Evil Empire that’s evocative of the album in some way, maybe
They rally round the family with a pocket full of shells.
What does the “best 1,000 albums ever” mean and why are you doing this?
Yeah, I know it’s audacious, a little crazy (okay, maybe a lot cray cray), bordering on criminal nerdery.
But here’s what it’s NOT: a definitive list of the Greatest Albums of All-Time. This is 100% my own personal super biased, incredibly subjective review of what my top 1,000 albums are, ranked in painstaking order over the course of doing research for nearly a year, Rob from High Fidelity style. Find out more about why I embarked on a best 1,000 albums ever project.