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What did the band Rage Against the Machine contribute to music?

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enotes | Valedictorian

Posted May 9, 2014 at 9:34 PM via web

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What did the band Rage Against the Machine contribute to music?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted May 24, 2014 at 11:23 AM (Answer #1)

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One of the most important contributions that Rage Against the Machine made to music was to insert political discourse as a significant part of its music.  Rage Against the Machine did not feel shy about expressing its political ideology, and this made it essential.  In a time where music was moving towards an emphasis on popular music, as seen in the emergence of "boy bands," and in embracing a type of "wish fulfillment" in rap music, political consciousness and activism become critical to the contributions of Rage Against the Machine, something that is evident in frontman de la Rocha's belief system:  "I'm interested in spreading those ideas through art, because music has the power to cross borders, to break military sieges and to establish real dialogue."  The band's contributions exists on both political and musically aesthetic planes.

Rage Against the Machine offers voice on distinct social and economic realities. This becomes another contribution that the band has made to music.  Instead of running from social activism, the ban runs towards it. One example of this is Tom Morello speaking on the band's belief about wealth inequality:

America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you've lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn't belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don't care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve.

When the band was featured on "Saturday Night Live" with billionaire Steve Forbes as host, they took it as an opportunity to fuse music with social consciousness.  The band wanted to perform with two American flags positioned upside down.  When this was censored by producers and NBC executives, the band claimed that the show and the network capitulated to capitalist interests:

SNL censored Rage, period. They could not have sucked up to the billionaire more. The thing that's ironic is SNL is supposedly this cutting edge show, but they proved they're bootlickers to their corporate masters when it comes down to it. They're cowards. It should come to no surprise that GE, which owns NBC, would find "Bullet" particularly offensive. GE is a major manufacturer of US planes used to commit war crimes in the Gulf War, and bombs from those jets destroyed hydroelectric dams which killed thousands of civilians in Iraq.

This becomes the band's ultimate contribution to music.  Rage Against the Machine embraced political activism, something not seen since the 1960s.  The band articulated a condition in which fans and listeners understood that they were not merely participating in music appreciation, but also political discourse. In listening to the band's music, one has to take stock of their own political belief, and the world and their place in it.  This becomes a critically vital contribution to music.

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