Prophets of Rage is a Cringe Masterpiece

1You may have already forgotten (good for you) that the “rap rock supergroup” Prophets of Rage formed last year featuring most of Rage Against the Machine/AudioSlave, two members of Public Enemy, and B-Real of Cypress Hill.

The amalgamation of middle-aged artists who have never written a good song in their 30+ years in the industry (with the possible exception of Chuck D) were described by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine as “…an elite task force of revolutionary musicians determined to confront the mountain of election year bullshit, and confront it head on…”

Leave it to Communist “artists” in Che Guevara shirts to tell you whose opinions deserve to be violently “silenced” in this video for the incomprehensible Radical Eyes.

Last January, when Prophets of Rage came onto the scene, people were excited for a refreshing hardcore take on the “system” and the “racist evil” of the man running for President–a man who couldn’t possibly win.

Predictably, the project’s excitement and virility went flaccid, and a major album release from Prophets of Rage in September 2017 falls on deaf ears. But that won’t stop Tom Morello and Chuck D trying to sound cool on the failing Daily Show while they stumble through tired political rhetoric and drag their feet through another version of the same song they’ve been making for three decades.

None of this stopped me from checking out the album out of morbid curiosity. Let’s call it…my version of “cutting.” I’m always anxious to test my tolerance for pain. To get the full effect, you’d have to force yourself to listen to these individual tracks (don’t). But let’s establish that they all sound the same, and they’re all faux-edgy with goofy outdated record scratches. Now let’s get into the best part: the cringe lyrics.

TRACK 1: Radical Eyes

Can’t resist don’t even draw / All the things all you do / Now your part on the trees / You’ve distracted again / Your fantasy when you walk and for the fight for the win
They didn’t hear my cry / He said fuck my pride
The say I’m radicalized
(See my radical eyes)

It’s actually amazing that the album starts out like this. It’s the most apt introduction to what the rest of the album is going to be. The lyrics make no artistic or literal sense, and it’s clear that whoever is writing the words is deeply struggling for loose rhymes that sound like they may be intentionally deep. They’re not. But what else is new for Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, or Cypress Hill?

TRACK 2: Unfuck the World

No Hatred / Fuck Racists / Blank Faces / Time’s Changin’ / One Nation / Unification / The Vibration / Unfuck the World!

There are so many good lines in this track, but the desperate attempt for the chorus to become a chant reminiscent of Green Day‘s “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA” is palpable. This is Black Eyed Peas level cringe.

TRACK 3: Legalize Me

Yo, where those candles lit / Teenagers blown to bits / I’m filling radio with hits / Prime nights at the Ritz

I’ll be honest, it was refreshing to find out this song wasn’t about illegal immigration. But it was distressing when I couldn’t fathom what else it could possibly be about. I don’t know. You tell me. Weed, maybe?

TRACK 4: Living on the 110

Living on the 110 / There’s no end to the poverty, stopping me / You pretend there’s democracy, hypocrisy / This is the reality / Living on the 110 / There’s no end to the poverty, stopping me / You depend on democracy, hypocrisy / This is the reality

OK–finally we get a song with a defined purpose. The 110 is a California highway with lots of tent cities. Got it. Tom Morello said that everyone is rich and the tent city people are the ones suffering. Because Tom Morello lives in a world of grandstanding black & white. Sorry, Tom. You’re the elite. You’re sucking Trevor Noah’s cock while LA’s Democratic gov’t does nothing for homelessness. You do have democracy, Tom. But you depend on hypocrisy. Oh, shit. I should be Chuck D.

TRACK 5: The Counteroffensive

[Scattered Vocals Amongst Record Scratching] / Counteroffensive / Counteroffensive / Prophets of Rage / Counteroffensive / Prophets of Rage

Um…let’s call this one an “intermission”? Oof…

TRACK 6: Hail to the Chief

All Hail to the chief who came in the name of a Thief to cease Peace / He’ll be comin’ round that mountain / All Hail to the chief who came in the name of Thief to cease Peace / And he didn’t even run

It’s becoming more and more clear that this album was either written in 2003 and released today, or that it was written and recorded last weekend. Title makes it sound like it would be the album’s big ANTI-TRUMP song…but I’m not even sure what this is. Lots of cowboy references. I honestly don’t get it; nor do I see why anyone else would.

TRACK 7: Take Me Higher

Drones! / They got ya tapped, they got ya phone / Look out! / Drones! / They got ya trapped, they spot ya home / Cuz you’re a target! / Drones gonna take you out / Drones gonna shut yo mouth / Drones flyin’ checkin’ ya’ll out / Drones in the hood like ‘wow’

So far, that’s two songs in a row with titles that other artists performed much more competently. This one…this one was a doozy. I have to believe this is the last song they wrote. Tom Morello said “We need 12 tracks! We have 11!” to which Chuck D replied, “So what, man? I’m tired of writin’.” To which Cypress Hill responded, “What about just yelling DRONEZ?” And the rest is history. Seriously, though. This track is a fucking embarrassment to rap, rock, and rap-rock.

TRACK 8: Strength in Numbers

Standing on a rock / Staring at the cop / With the [?] / While you wanna hit the fucking blunt / We don’t want no pipeline / Injustice of a lifetime / Brothers turn away / Like they don’t see us spend a lifeline / High crimes / Does it make you wonder? / Stand together / Because there’s strength in numbers

Even the hardcore dedicated fans who scribe and dissect these awful lyrics have given up trying to figure this shit out. This is a mishmash of references to Left Wing causes randomly assorted with zero context. “Standing on a rock”? May be a throwaway allusion to the Standing Rock protest? Who’s to say? There has to be someone literate in this “super-group.” Right?

TRACK 9: Fired a Shot

Look who fired the shot / I just fired the shot / We fired the shot / Look who fired the shot / Look who fired the shot / I just fired the shot / We fired the shot / Look who fired the shot

Everyone in this “super group” has Down Syndrome. They should’ve called it Prophets of the Syndrome and gave all the proceeds to some kind of charity that takes WEED away from these water-heads.

TRACK 10: Who Owns Who

Know your rights but you should understand / Who owns who / Systematic breakdown / Know your rights but you should understand / Who owns who / We fuckin’ matter

I think this song is about immigrants crossing the borders, having sex with American women, burning the American flag, and then whining about how they own the streets and matter to the country. I disagree.

TRACK 11: Hands Up

Hands up x3 / Had enough x3 / What the fuck?

I truly hope you’re starting to sense a theme here, and I think if you’re playing along at home, you too could write a Prophets of Rage song (or really any Rage Against the Machine song).
Pick a phrase that’s mildly provocative, but only enough to rile up a 13 year old. Repeat phrase with some familiar power-guitar riffs and some archaic record scratches that make you sound even more out-of-it than you ever could have done verbally. Done.

TRACK 12: Smashit

They say what the must to gain our trust / But once the ballot’s cast they forget about us / Standing on a mountain high above the downtrodden / They forgot about Michigan like all is magnificent

Well it was a long road, but we finally made it. Last track of the album. The only possibly respectful thing I could say about this album is that it clearly would have been exactly the same no matter who won the election; but that has very sinister undertones. Because while their political ideology isn’t swayed by Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump, they aren’t swayed by reality at all.

It’s all just a ledger of causes their retarded fan-base can feel politically stimulated over. Does anyone believe that these wealthy hall-of-famers give a shit about “the downtrodden”? Are we supposed to believe that these has-been performers whose aging fans only respond to out of nostalgia have any real clue about the nature of the world outside of violent rhetoric and communist iconography?

If you liked this album, you may want to have your chromosomes checked.

My review: Zero out of Ten Hot Dogs. Fuck it.

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Fascination with Madness: Thoughts on The Weeknd

3Admittedly…The Weeknd wasn’t on my radar until reading the Philadelphia Inquirer Music Critic Dan DeLuca’s article on the Canadian singer’s upcoming headlining performance the Sunday of the 2015 Budweiser Made in America Festival.  It was surprising to see an artist (at least in my eyes) so fresh to the music scene headlining a festival with more than 70,000 attendees.  

After a superficial online search about The Weeknd at that time, I found his name (Abel Tesfaye), his hair, an autumn 2014 raunchy duet with another up-and-coming Republic Records label-mate, Ariana Grande, and the track “Earned It” that appropriately supported the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack.  The latter ultimately becoming his first Top 5 hit, receiving an Academy Award nomination and a Grammy win for Best R&B Performance.

DJing mostly weddings, private parties, corporate and radio events, my music collection is curated with the latest up-tempo hits and the classics from the various genres of popular music that fills dancefloors…The Weeknd falls into none of those categories.

The saturation of major-label releases dropping onto mainstream airwaves each month makes it difficult to find time time and dig into the vast underground music scene that so many deeper music listeners have come to enjoy; The Weeknd comes from that world.

The music one chooses to listen to for their own enjoyment becomes personal and unique over time, and I haven’t been able to focus away from Top 40 and my established favorite groups since the early 2000s.  That being said, it was pure curiosity that brought me to Beauty Behind the Madness, The Weeknd’s second major-label album release.

Listening for the first time to the album as a whole, it was clear I never experienced something this dark lyrically.  Never being a drug user or seeking out purely sexual relationships with women, I found the album’s overall tone a bit offensive by the time it reached its softer conclusion.  This isn’t the Boyz II Men, Brian McKnight, Joe and Usher R&B I grew up listening to.

Let’s be clear, I am not adding an album review in this space.  All of the major magazines and music critics have had their say and I wouldn’t be adding anything new.  This is a personal commentary.

The second Madness listen came in chunks; a consecutive flow of the tracks broken up by short commutes in the car.  By this time, I had familiarized myself with the music videos supporting the #1 singles “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills,” and what seems to be the conclusion of that story in the “Tell Your Friends” video.  The tone for each track carries consistently from the record to the videos, all directed by Grant Singer.  This may be getting a bit too cerebral, but the “Tell Your Friends” video is filmed in the full screen 4:3 aspect ratio, while the two that preceded it are in the widescreen 16:9 aspect ratio.  The videos do not need to be dissected this deep, just an observation.  Maybe the creative team did this on purpose?

I can’t fully explain what it is that draws me back to the Madness album so frequently and has left me hanging on for the next offering from the young R&B singer.  Is it the hauntingly atmospheric production work by Jason Quenneville, Illangelo and the rest of the team involved?  Yes.  It sure as hell isn’t the collaborations with Ed Sheeran and Lana Del Ray.  But…The Weeknd can also sing.  Much better than anyone else on the R&B charts at the moment.  Currently his voice seems unaffected by the drug use he frequently sings about.  Michael Jackson comes to mind, with less energy.  Unless the moment calls for it like “In the Night,” which is blatant MJ.

Don’t get it confused, though.  Seldom does this album in particular go in that direction.  It invites you in with confidence, then brings you through raw peaks and valleys that is genre defining.

Some electric guitar riffs also break-through at times, adding another layer to the Madness.

Even though he has the juggernaut team at Republic Records and all of Universal Music Group’s resources behind him (with Max Martin sometimes), it seems like the stories aren’t fabricated or tampered with, leaving his talent and darkness.  So dark that he murders himself twice and commits suicide once in his videos to date.  Further, I haven’t once seen him don anything but long pants and long sleeve shirts/jackets, all dark colors.  “I’m never rockin’ white I’m like a racist.”

The most rebellious of days through my CD boombox had …And Then There Was X by DMX and Devil Without a Cause by Kid Rock pulsing through the ceiling into the kitchen below my bedroom.  That didn’t make mom too happy, and rightfully so; she thought that 14 years old was a bit too young to process murder, jail and hoes for entertainment.  The point is, I don’t know if I want anyone in my family or even some friends to know of my fascination with Madness.  Or, whatever else lies ahead in the seemingly authentic story The Weeknd is telling.  Is he a villain in a Horror movie that’s all too real?  Horror is my favorite genre, so I don’t doubt that’s where some of the appeal seeps in.

If you would like to blow the whole thing wide open — and reveal more than the vague information I’ve provided in this piece — then I highly recommend the Rolling Stone article from last year.  But if you are along for this dark musical journey that is unfolding as I am, the music and videos keep some of the mystique around the character we see and hear.  The Weeknd is no doubt unique among the plethora of attractive pop stars that lack depth and creativity in their musical offerings.  Not saying his peers aren’t talented, but the Billboard is currently lacking his level of authenticity.

As the next chapter begins, I hope there’s a continuity that resembles everything Tesfaye has brought us to this point.  Looking back on the body of work that brought him to his breakout success will be necessary when time permits.  Until then, his two newest tracks keep me guessing.

The first single “Starboy” brings the French duo Daft Punk and their influence and production into the mix.  The accompanying video shows The Weeknd in Puma kicks wearing a crucifix and missing his signature doo.  The newest single “False Alarm” is a strange choice for a second release.  I thought upon first hearing it that perhaps The Weeknd was going more mainstream, but the violent video (literally) killed those thoughts.

I can’t justify the $10 per month the music streaming services command, but I am going all in on Starboy with high expectations.  The Weeknd is a supervillain I’m rooting for, and I can’t turn his music off.  What do you think?  Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Pre-Order Starboy Here

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Frank Ocean’s Ladder

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Since shortly after Channel Orange dropped in 2012, Frank Ocean fans have been restlessly waiting for another scattered, but somehow connected mind-fucking album from the Odd Future artist. He’s been featuring with John Mayer, Earl Sweatshirt, Beyonce and more, all the while teasing fans with a 4-year will-he-won’t-he story about dropping a new record.

Let’s put it this way…Frank Ocean is so huge that the Grammys invented an award just to give his solo album (which fit no solid category) recognition. It’s not hip hop, it’s not R&B, it’s not exactly adult contemporary, but that seems like the category it would most fit. But “oh no!” shouted the Grammys, “why stick him in the mix with Elton John and Lionel Richie when we can create Urban Contemporary and confuse the world?”

After pushing his album back over and over, and his people claiming that he is a “perfectionist” who keeps “tinkering”, people grow to expect something incredible. But that’s rarely the case. What that usually means is “we know, we know, but he keeps overdoing it.” Art is never finished, it’s only released. Kanye West is the perfect example of this, constantly re-doing specific bars on specific tracks on Pablo for no clear-cut reason whatsoever.

Frank Ocean’s record project is expected to be titled Boys Don’t Cry after the classic Hilary Swank transgender film when we all collectively found out that Hilary Swank was, in fact, a woman. Maybe Frank Ocean’s going through some shit…

Maybe E! canceled I AM CAIT to make room on the Fall Lineup for No, My Name is Frances Ocean...

The world may never know. But in the meantime, Ocean released a 45-minute visual album titled ENDLESS featuring a himself and friends working in a wood-shop set to music. The experimental film involves Frank Ocean building and painting wooden boxes which eventually get stacked meticulously to form a ceiling-high spiral staircase to nowhere. Essentially, this:

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An “endless staircase” or Jacob’s Ladderwhich perhaps would have been a more suitable title for the project(s).

The entire film is in black and white until one frame that springs to life when Frank Ocean ascends the stairs. I had to pinpoint this moment, of course, just to make sure he didn’t hide some kind of secret message or album release date in this mysterious pink frame…

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The answer is no.

So now we wait. The music on the visual album is moody and transcendent with a bit of new wave spilling over the sides of the levees with so much Radiohead style, that there’s no way Radiohead isn’t involved (they are). Which is, no doubt, what we can expect from an upcoming album…or he could do what no one would expect, and turn up looking like Grace Jones.

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