There are many ways to bring your light to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Some fill a whole room with colour, for a long or short period. You can illuminate a small corner of the musical world, maintaining interest in a neglected room. You can have a small light which initially brings interest and others, adding to the flame and luminescence.
Rage Against the Machine are incandescent. They bring the brightest of light, to the darkest of places, and are angry. Their studio output is similar to a number of artists in the Hall who had their lives and careers cruelly cut short, but every one of their songs is a coruscating mix of music and politics. They only ever had one Number One song in a major market but their influence is massive and ongoing.
Formed in California in 1991 the band of Tom Morello (guitar), Zach de la Rocha (vocals), Tim Commerford (bass) and Brad Wilk (drums) the band skilfully used a number of fields, including heavy metal, hip hop and funk, but were not limited by the terms of the genre. They never forgot the political elements.
“Killing in the Name” was part of RATM’s story from the start. Morello’s iconic, Drop-D tuned, riff formed an instrumental in their earliest shows, providing a shock and awe opening. When La Rocha added lyrics and vocals about the beating of Rodney King the song took its full shape as one of the most important protest songs of the past 40 years. The song, echoing Frederick Douglass, notes that the first stage of achieving freedom, even if it is a long way away, is to express that freedom. It has been adopted by progressive movements of all sorts in the United States and around the world. The band scored their only Number 1 in a major market with this song in 2009, years after its release, when the UK public bristled that a man with high-waisted trousers had an undue influence on the Christmas Number 1 record. RATM donated their unexpected royalties to progressive causes and performed in the UK to support them further.
The best cover versions of “Killing in the Name” capture the anger of the original, usually connected to a specific cause, but also don’t ignore the musicianship of the originators. Mere nihilism, or indeed expert guitar playing, is insufficient to distinguish yourself from the many, many, versions that exist.
Voice of Baceprot – Killing in the Name
The song has been part of the live set of this Indonesian three piece since they started putting their music onto YouTube in 2015. Consisting of Firda Marsya Kurnia (vocals and guitar), Widi Rahmawati (bass), and Euis Siti Aisyah (drums) they have the essence of a three-piece metal band. Tom Morello has endorsed this version (to the band’s delight), along with other endorsements they have received from metal royalty. This version from 2022 shows how the band has grown since its inception with expert solos from Kurnia and Rahmwati.
Brass Against the Machine featuring Sophia Urista- Killing in the Name
Brass Against the Machine follows RATM in being a funky protest movement in band format, expertly curated by Brad Hammond and Andrew Gutauskas. Their legendary live shows combine activism with brass-infused metal and hip-hop. For “Killing in the Name,” the baritone sax carries Commeford’s famous bassline, and the rest of the band funks out. Sophia Urista manages to marshall her amazing voice talents to convey the message.
Housebound Ska Collective – Killing in the Name
There were many injustices in the pandemic, some man-made, some inflicted by nature. The Housebound Ska Collective channelled their creative skills and anger into new music, when no other outlets were available. In a triumph of organization and arranging, their version contains a multitude of isolated musicians making a bad situation slightly better.
Besidos and friends featuring Dubioza Kolectiv – Killing in the Name
Few areas in history have had as much to protest against as the people of the Balkans and what is now Turkey. Here oud player Besidos, bringer of “Raki and Roll”, combines with Bosnian band Dubioza Kolectiv to give us a version with all of the musicality and anger, with the video depicting unrest in Turkey in 2012. The Kolectiv are very well-known in their home nation, but have refused to participate in the Eurovision Song Contest as it has a clause that forbids politics during, or in the run-up to, the event.
Sefa – Killing in the Name
Dutch Frenchcore artist and DJ Sefa is a protege of Frenchcore pioneers Dr Peacock. As the Hard Dance scene has matured they have added live performers to the techno sound, but have remained as angry. The voice of a different, younger generation.