by Bill Palmer
Tom Morello took the stage at the tiny Troubadour last night for a solo show which, while sharing much of the political and social tenets of his band Rage Against The Machine, was an almost complete musical departure. The guitar virtuoso has been making solo albums of activist folk music under the name The Nightwatchman, handling his own vocals with a baritone singing voice many casual Rage fans probably never knew existed, and those songs made up the bulk of the night’s set – along with covers of songs from Dylan, Springsteen, and Arlo Guthrie.
There were times when Morello, backed by a full rock band, reached for his iconic “Arm The Homeless” electric guitar and reminded the packed crowd of the myriad of tricks up his sleeve: running his fingers up the neck of the guitar. Switching between holding the fretboard from the top and the bottom between each note. And at one point playing the guitar with his mouth. But several songs were just him, playing acoustic, and offering plaintive vocals which seemed to plead for people to think about how to improve the world rather than overtly insisting.
In between songs, he thanked the union workers who were in the building, made mention of the war veterans who were protesting against the war in the lobby, and suggested that the Washington Monument be torn down as its namesake once “traded a black man for a keg of molasses.”
He also pointed out that his 89 year old mother was in the audience and that he had it tough knowing that he was merely the “second biggest badass” in his family. It’s that ability to switch between the rage and the tenderness, the assertiveness and the intellectualism, that’s defined Morello’s persona, and it was full on display throughout the evening.
Aside from that enduring persona, the show bore little resemblance to the original Nightwatchman shows on the other side of town several years ago. This night there were no famous guest rock stars. No honky tonk rendition of Guerilla Radio. Short of a story about crashing the New York Stock Exchange after Michael Moore’s arrest while the band was filming the video for Sleep Now In The Fire, followed by a tease of the opening riff of the song, there was no Rage presence at all.
The only thing to survive from the original Nightwatchman incarnation was a song called Shake My Shit, the rare non-political song from Morello which five years ago was an idea for a song he’d just written backstage and needed an audience member to hold up the lyric sheet while performing. Now it’s a fully fledged song, demonstrating that if he’d really wanted to, he could have as a career as a pop-rock icon instead of a politico-rock cultural icon.
The song itself is perhaps a metaphor for the evolution of the Nightwatchman persona, having gone from what was originally just a random solo acoustic show to what is now a fully formed musical project. The guest starpower, the co-opted material from his other projects, it simply wasn’t needed. He even sidestepped what would have been an obvious opportunity to gloat over the recently defeated Paul Ryan, the conservative politician who bizarrely claimed to be a Rage fan in a dishonest attempt to pander to younger voters which backfired. Morello had already slam dunked him to comic effect in the media, and rather than piling on during the concert, he kept his political commentary focused on change for the better, not on winning and losing.
In what was supposed to have been the last song of the night, Morello led the crowd in a rendition of Arlo Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” stating that it should be the national anthem, and ending it by inciting the crowd into moshing – easier said than done in a club where the space between the stage measures barely twenty feet. But the small capacity of the venue, in which the standing room is no bigger than the stage, worked in his favor when he then invited the audience on stage with him, nearly all of them fitting, for one more song. And then had them sit down on stage for yet another.
The crowd, which had been cheering at an ear-piercing volume moments earlier, now merely sat in stunned silence as one of the most bombastic counterculture voices of his generation stood amongst them, playing a quiet folk tune, emphasizing the sense of community without ever having to say it. Eight days after the release of the Rage Against The Machine box set, this night was musically and atmospherically the polar opposite, yet still focused on the same message: to save yourself you’ve got to begin by saving others. Save the hammer for the man. And this land was made for you and me.
by Jennifer Tucker
When happens when some of the most vital names in music take over the historic Coliseum in Los Angeles for an evening? You get LA Rising, a one-night festival featuring Muse, Rise Against, Ms Lauryn Hill, and a reunited Rage Against The Machine. More than just a night of music, Rage’s Tom Morello had more than thirty non-profit organizations participating in the event for reasons based on, as he put it, “We are passionate about ending the wars overseas, immigrant rights, protecting working families, and combating hunger and homelessness in L.A. We want to present our fans the opportunity to get informed and get involved while we rock them senseless.” Those goals are documented further on the LA Rising site, but the evening itself was all about the music. Here’s what you missed out on if you bypassed this uniquely historical concert event…
We arrived just before Ms Lauryn Hill was scheduled to take the stage at 5:20. I’ve read accounts that she would make concert goers wait hours for her to appear on stage. I figured her set would either be a train wreck, or really good. She took the stage at 5:35 and immediately started with Killing Me Softly. Her rendition was different that what you would hear on her album, but that didn’t matter. She was good… really good. She played a few of her songs before launching into some Fugees classics. The crowd went wild as soon as they heard the opening notes to Ready or Not. Fifty minutes later, she closed out her set with Doo Wop (That Thing).
6:50 pm: Rise Against take the stage. They opened their set with Chamber the Cartridge, moved through nine songs before landing on Hero of War which they dedicated to the Iraq Veterans Against the War and ended their set an hour later with Savior. One highlight was when they played Make It Stop (September’s Children), the entire Coliseum burst out singing the opening notes in unison. It was really haunting and beautiful.
Unless you’re already a fan of Rise Against, you might think you don’t know any of their music. At least that’s what I though going into the show. However, I recognized song after song they played. If you listen to an Alternative Rock station, you probably know more of their songs than you think you do.
By now the sun had set and it was getting closer to the reason I was excited to be there. Muse was set to take the stage at 8:20.
8:20 pm: The lights go out and a beautiful and haunting melody fills the air. Muse has taken the stage and they opened their set with Exogenisis: Symphony Part 1 [Overture]. The lights come on and they’re white. Bright white. Smoke fills the stage. The effect is incredible. The song builds in intensity and the segue into Uprising. The crowd goes completely wild. People start throwing their fists into the air and sing along. Even the people in the press suite began to sing along. It seemed like nothing that was happening on the stage up until then even interested them. When I heard them singing, and saw even the people at the back of the Coliseum standing and throwing their fists into the air, I knew Muse entertaining the crowd, and the crowd was into it. They played a variety of music from six different albums. They played everything from Map of the Problematique to Butterflies and Hurricanes. From Supermassive Black Hole to Starlight and Undisclosed Desires. In total they played 16 songs with several riffs segueing one song into another. The only song I wasn’t familiar with was Plug in Baby from Origin of Symmetry. I got the feeling a lot of people weren’t familiar with it as well. An hour and forty minutes later they left the stage as the last few notes of Knights of Cydonia were still echoing through the stadium.
Aside from the music, the visuals were absolutely amazing. The use of lighting and colored lights flowed from song to song. They didn’t overdo the smoke effects. The honeycomb video screen behind them had that 8-bit Super Mario look to it and at times went from retro arcade (we noticed the white spaceship from Galaga) look to mind blowing visual array of color. Their use of visual effects didn’t stop there, during their performance of Starlight a dazzling array of multi colored lasers filled the coliseum moving along in time with the rhythm. Another nice touch was how they used another set of multi colored lasers to resemble the belt of Saturn. Overall they put on an epic show. I can’t think of a better word to describe Muse. They’re professionals and very good at what they do. They absolutely did not disappoint.
10:40 pm Once again the Coliseum is plunged into darkness. The crowd roars. But this time instead of a haunting melody, we’re assaulted with the sounds of sirens blaring. A dozen or so bright spotlights begin to scan the crowd. Another spotlight lights up the huge star at the back of the stadium. Another red star lifts onto the stage. The back of the Coliseum entrance turns red. The flame in the cauldron is lit. Moments later the sounds of Rage’s Testify fill the night. As Zach de La Rocha begins to belt out “The movie ran through me. The Glamour subdue me. The tabloid untie me. I’m empty please fill me…” his mic goes quiet. The entire crowd begins to boo and scream. They’re unhappy and it feels like at any moment the Coliseum will combust. After what felt like an eternity and tense moments you could cut with a knife, his mic comes back up and the crowd roars with pleasure this time.
Rage Against the Machine powers through fourteen songs including Bombtrack. Township Rebellion, and Guerilla Radio. When the set was over, they left the stage and the crowd began chanting, “Encore, encore encore!” Rage returned to the stage and performed Freedom and Killing in the Name.
Learn more at LArisingfestival.com
When Street Sweeper Social Club debuted last year, it had all the makings of a one-off supergroup: Boots Riley from The Coup rapping over rock jams laid down by Tom Morello from Rage Against The Machine on an album which instantly made them one of the more politically and socially relevant artists of the decade by default – and seemed to be too much of a dream come true to last for the long term. But with today’s release of the Ghetto Blaster EP, Street Sweeper Social Club has if anything become more of a band, now bringing the touring members into the studio for a seven song opus which includes everything from newly written songs, to new versions of their own older material, to a cover of the LL Cool J classic Mama Said Knock You Out, to a stunning reinterpretation of M.I.A.’s 2008 hit single Paper Planes – which the group then had the guts to release as their own lead single.
Coming out of a Friday afternoon rehearsal which saw the band gearing up for a Warped Tour performance in which they’re sharing the stage with bands half their age, Boots Riley talked with me about the unique choice of material for the new record, the societal implications of songs like The New Fuck You, and his views on his own continued relevance as a rapper who’s about to turn forty.
Your debut album was a full length record of new material. Ghetto Blaster is more of a mish mosh of different stuff. What motivated you to put it together?
We just wanted to put something else out and do some more shows. We had a few new songs, we had some songs that we’ve been doing live that people wanted to hear studio versions of, but we just weren’t ready to come with a new album yet, so we put this out as a snapshot of where we’re at right now.
You’ve got the two really prominent cover songs on there. These were songs that you were already doing live?
We did them live in concert and they got amazing crowd reactions, and people started hitting us up on various internet communication waves and asking us to do a studio version of it. So we gave them what we were asking for. They were things that were fun to do, so when we hit the studio, we were like fuck it, let’s go ahead and do some of the songs we’re having fun it on stage. And I think it also goes to show some of the difference between the first album and this one. On the first album Tom did the bass and did lead and rhythm guitar, and a lot of that was overdubbed. But this one is with the band that we’ve been touring with, Tom on lead, Carl Restivo on rhythm guitar, Dave Gibbs on bass, and Eric Gardner on drums. So I think how we gel together in the live set has really come across to the recording, and that’s why we chose to do some songs that we were only doing live before.
It’s not that uncommon to see a group cover or reinterpret a song that’s only two years old, but usually it’s a case where…
The Rolling Stones used to cover songs that weren’t even off the radio yet.
Yeah, but you don’t see that in the present day too much. That was more the Little Richard era, where they would almost be stealing. That was back when they’d try to steal it note for note. This isn’t stealing…
I’m okay with the word “stealing.”
I guess it just seems like it’s pretty ballsy. I don’t know of too many other artists that would have had the guts to take something like Paper Planes, and only record it but put it out as your single and perform it on TV. It’s pretty ballsy, I think. It’s pretty cool.
I don’t know, I guess I didn’t even think of it that way. I think we just don’t think about shit [laughs] and we do it. Maybe if you had been in the studio, telling us how ballsy it was, we wouldn’t have done it. We do what we like, and I think that’s what’s cool.
I’m trying to work out the timeline with you and LL Cool J. I think Mama Said Knock You Out came out in 1990. Were you guys contemporaries, or did one of you influence the other?
Definitely. LL Cool J, if any rapper tells you they weren’t influenced by LL, they’re lying. But The Coup came out after LL and after this song. I spent many a days as a teenager in the mirror acting like I was LL, as everybody as soon as they saw his part in Krush Groove, where he came in with the box and did “I can’t live without my radio.” He’s a consummate performer, so definitely this is paying homage to him and to that song. If you’re talking about ferociousness on stage, you definitely have to mention LL. And Street Sweeper Social Club, we’re definitely about a lot of things, and one major tenet is kill the fuck out of the crowd when we’re on stage.
I want to ask you about the lyric from The New Fuck You. “Freedom is the new fantasy, revolution is the new fuck you.” What’s the gist of that, what does that mean to you?
Everything is amped up right now. Everything is extreme in in this world, where things aren’t symbolic anymore. Another of the lyrics are “These lines are new Molotovs, right now is the new Holocaust. More troops is the new call it off, I’m trying to pry this collar off.” So revolution is the new fuck you, since things are so amped up, you can’t just be rebellious by having a rebellious attitude and telling people “fuck you” and throwing the middle finger. If you really want to be rebellious, you’ve got to be about changing the way things are. You can’t just wear the black leather jacket and have a sneer on your face and be rebellious anymore. Things are much more serious than that.
Revolution is kind of cliche, because people talk about revolution and change almost as an excuse to not have to go out and actually do it.
The reality is that we live in a system that tries to convince us that we can’t change anything. So people will use religion to give theirself a reason to not do anything. They’ll use education to give theirself a reason to not to anything. And they’ll even use their so-called identities as revolutionaries to not do anything. “Oh, that’s just reformists, they’re not gonna change anything.” And so they don’t get involved in actually building a movement.
What we need are reforms led by folks that have the idea that we’ve got to change the whole system, because the only way that you’re gonna have a revolution is with masses of people involved. And the only way masses of people are gonna be involved is if they see that they have power in numbers. And the only way they’re gonna see that they have power in numbers is if they’re able to make changes to their daily life by being involved in campaigns and action. And so those campaigns and action that make changes to daily life are by nature reform. But some people have taught themselves that they’re too revolutionary to be involved in that. And so then it becomes something in which people have contests at quoting Mao or Lenin or the Zapatistas, and dress in a certain way, and it becomes this sort of cultural thing as opposed to being involved in actual changing of people’s daily lives to build that movement.
Is that why you guys have gotten involved in the Arizona boycott?
Yeah, it’s part of that same ethos. We’re gonna put our actions where our music is. And the whole politic behind that is that organizations in Arizona that were organizing against SB 1070 asked us to do that.
So you guys aren’t anti-Arizona. You’re just trying to help the people within Arizona that see this the same way you do.
Yeah, the people that asked us were organizations of people that live in Arizona. As a matter of fact, it’s very likely that we would be involved in performing at rallies if we were asked that were against that law. I know that there’s been a couple changes recently, so I’m not sure where that stands and I’m not qualified to talk about that. But we would perform in Arizona for a demonstration against the law, we’re just not gonna perform at any venues.
You’re going to turn forty in the next year or two. Does that have any psychological impact on you? Does that mean anything that you’re turning forty?
Well let me tell you this. When I was about to turn twenty-four, I finished my second album. I stopped rapping, and I ended up stopping rapping for a few years. The reason why? I felt I was too old to still be a rapper. I felt like I had gotten into this to have my music be part of the movement, and I was at heart an organizer, yet I had been an artist all of my adult life.
So I quit. I told them I’m not turning in another album, and I started an organization called The Young Comrades. But my point is that I’ve been having a mid-life crisis since I was twenty-three because all of my heroes such as Fred Hampton and all these organizers and revolutionaries, they were doing their shit when they were nineteen years old. Yet we live in a society in which people are in their mid thirties and still trying to figure out what they’re gonna do with their life because there are so many things that are cut out, there are so many ways that we’re told we’re meaningless.
So what I’m saying is I’m always at that place where I’m trying to figure out what the hell I’m doing with my life and how I can better be part of the world, and how I can use my music to effect change. So that psychological thing that would hit most people when they’re turning forty, that’s a constant for me and will be until I’m in my sixties and seventies.
Beatweek’s 2009 interview with Street Sweeper Social Club’s Tom Morello is right here
Rage Against The Machine singer Zack de le Rocha made the following statement in a press conference this week on why he and his bandmates (including Rage guitarist Tom Morello) are joining with other prominent artists to boycott Arizona over the inherent racist nature of that State’s new immigration laws. Rather than parsing de la Rocha’s statement, here it is in full, with the transcription provided by his representatives; all of the following words are his:
Good morning, my name is Zack de la Rocha I’m the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine. Welcome to everyone here.
Friday July 23rd is a very important day for us, for a couple of reasons. One because it will be the first concert that Rage has played in Los Angeles in 10 years. It will be held here at the Palladium in a venue that will capture the spirit and the intent of our music and we are very proud to share the stage with Conor Oberst and The Mystic Valley Band, as well as the Jornaleros del Norte.
All three bands on the bill also reflect a spirit of solidarity and the fight for social and economic justice. Which brings up the second reason we have come together. This, during the week of national action in protest of the implementation of SB 1070 on July 29th.
Just minutes from my home I can quickly get to the 10 Freeway. A freeway that connects the communities that I have called home my whole life to the State of Arizona where decades ago my grandfather first crossed the US/Mexico border.
Several years ago I was asked by friends and activists to learn more about and join a battle brewing in Arizona.
Over the last few years I have learned to more fully grasp the conditions that hundreds of thousands of immigrants face in Arizona. In my visits to Arizona I was repeatedly in awe of the stories I heard that all centered around one man: Maricopa County Sheriff Apraio.
A Sheriff that does not want to merely detain immigrants, he wants to humiliate them and cause them pain and suffering and then parade them in prison chain gangs for a photo opp.
A Sheriff who proactively sought out and got an agreement with the Bush Administration for local immigration authority.
A Sheriff, who under the guise of saving money has housed detainees in tents in the extreme dessert heat of Arizona.
A Sheriff, who in his endless attempt to try to humiliate male immigrant detainees, has mandated that they wear pink underwear.
And then we heard the story of Alma Minerva Chacon who during what should have been one the most precious moment of her life was forced to give birth to her daughter handcuffed and chained to a gurney in a scene from periods of history I thought had been long gone.
This is everyday life under the reign of Sheriff Arpaio, A man that picks at the economic wounds of the pains that everyday people are experiencing in this deep economic crisis and infects it with hatred. This is the Sheriff that would enforce SB 1070.
The fight in Arizona has been conveniently defined by the media and politicians as a battle for and against SB 1070. But that fails to capture the alarming climate that runs deep into the fabric of the State that once refused to honor the birthday of the late, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
But Sheriff Arpaio is not the only culprit. There are many Sheriff Arpaios. People who have taken to local city, county, and state governments across the county the idea that immigrants are the problem. That immigrants are to blame.
· SB 1070
· Illegal Alien
These words have become concepts that explain only a sliver of the reality and do not reveal the inhumane reality that they conceal.
No facts or stories that I could possible share with you today could illustrate the situation in Arizona as well as ONE LETTER that I was handed during a March in Arizona. I want to read to you excerpts from that letter.
To whom it may concern,
We attest that we are a group of desperate and frustrated women that are asking for someone to help us. We find ourselves detained in the Estrella prison of Maricopa County. There are lots of women that are unjustly being accused for crimes that we have not committed. We are all mothers of families — wives and daughters. And for this reason, we are asking for your help. Please have mercy on us. What you know outside of what’s taken place in here is nothing. We are treated like the worst delinquents, the worst criminals, only because we are Hispanic or undocumented. They treat us worse than anything that exists in this world. There are plenty of injustices and plenty of humiliations that we are experiencing. Some of us for wanting to work and make a better life for our children. . . .
Please help us. We find ourselves here in a tunnel without an exit, being treated like dogs that are not deserving of anything. We need help for our cases. Someone to listen to us and do something for the injustices that are being committed against us. Our children and our parents suffer our sentences the most. And we find ourselves with our hearts broken without knowing what’s going to happen tomorrow. We ask that you have the valor to take this document to a news agency or a radio or to any agency that can help Hispanics that are undocumented. Or to any place that can help us.
We are human beings, not animals. We are women, not criminals. Help us please. Listen to our pleas, so that our cases can come to light. So we have hope of coming out and being reunited with our families. Please, we ask for you. We beg you. We plead for your help. Gracias.
This letter had an impact on me I could never explain.
Once shaken by this letter how could we take the bond between our fans and our band into a State that causes the pain that comes out in this letter?
How could we not approach artists of conscious who share our feelings and concerns?
How could we not unite with artists like Coner Oberst, Juanes, MIA, Calle 13, Maroon 5, Kanye West, Tigeres del Norte and others to form the Sound Strike?
How could we not stand up for our fans in Arizona, many of whom come from immigrant families?
How Could Rage Against the Machine not do a show to help the brave leaders on the ground to get the needed resources to take on this fight?
How could Rage Against the Machine work with SoundStrike to spread the word, to get other artists involved, to take this issue to our fans and to tell Arizona that artists of conscious, professional athletes, cities and governments, students and universities will not be a part of these injustices?
Toxic ideas have led to a chain of events culminating in the passage of a law that says that we are not all equal. That it is ok to racially profile.
Yet still, this is not a Latino issue or an immigrant issue. This is a battle of basic human dignity. A battle that Rage Against the Machine, and the artists of SoundStrike are fully committed to win. We thank our fans, especially those in Arizona, who understand that we are also fighting for them.
Today’s passing of pioneering heavy metal singer Ronnie James Dio hasn’t been lost on those he’s influenced, many of whom shared their thoughts via Twitter today. Slash, former lead guitarist for Guns n’ Roses, referred to Dio moments ago as “one of the best Heavy Metal singers of all time.” Dream Theater’s Mike Portnoy (also of Avenged Sevenfold) called today “one of the saddest days in metal ever” and opined that the deceased Dimebag Darrell, Randy Rhoads, Metallica’s Cliff Burton, and Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham just gained the “ultimate singer.” Meanwhile, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello, responding to last night’s erroneously early report that Dio had passed, stated that he was “One of rock’s greatest singers” and also said that he was “Cranking Mob Rules in his memory. Thanks Ronnie for rocking me like crazy.”
The news of Dio’s death came from the late singer’s wife this morning. Here’s what she had to say.
My first real encounter with Cypress Hill was back in the blazing heat of Arizona. It was the summer of 1995 and Cypress Hill was sharing the Lollapalooza main stage bill with the likes of Sonic Youth and Hole. I had driven from dawn until high noon from Los Angeles with a buddy who had an extra ticket. The heat was so scalding hot I remember people fainting all around me. I still have vivid mental images of Courtney Love of Hole in her white slip and bare feet taunting the rowdy audience in front of her. But mostly I remember Cypress Hill and their fans who dressed in a style that looked like Hip Hop and Punk Rock after a head-on crash. The Cypress fans were tough looking outsiders who suddenly moved like a swarm of hornets when Cypress Hill took the hot and smokey stage.
Since that day I’ve always kept my eye on Cypress Hill, following them casually over the years, until 2005 when I started dating my girlfriend Marisol who, like Cypress Hill, is also from South Gate, California. Then over the last six months I’ve been working with Marisol’s younger brother Christian who is a huge Cypress fan. “Tell ‘em, I bought their first single at Yuri’s (a local indie record shop in South Gate), they’ll know what’s up.” Christian sends me YouTube videos and stresses the role of DJ Muggs, as I try to introduce him to Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash.
A few months ago when I learned that Cypress was coming out with a new album called Rise Up, so I asked if I could write a feature on the Hip Hop and Rap Rock pioneers. Then last week, using my Skype and Audio Hijack rig, I had the opportunity to speak with lead singer and producer B-Real (Louis Freese) from his hotel room in New York City.
I started the interview by asking B-Real to take me back to South Gate and the surrounding neighborhoods of South Los Angeles. “It’s a place where you have a lot of tight knit families and friends and stuff…it’s not a big city…there was a lot of cool things going on in the Hip Hop culture with Break-dancing and Pop-blocking and D Boy-ism in general. It hit our area pretty hard and we were very much influenced by that.” B-Real continued, “Previous to that we were kids that were running around…our neighborhood would play sports… basketball, football, baseball, whatever…we would play against other neighborhoods.
“That eventually evolved into the Break-dancing and Pop-blocking. We battled other cities or neighborhoods doing that. And then it eventually turned into Rapping and that’s when we found our little thing. What we wanted to do. It all stemmed off of those little things…. We submerged ourselves in Hip Hop Culture through the Breaking and the graffiti and all that sorta stuff. Eventually it evolved into ‘for us’ getting on the mic and starting to write songs and doing it on that level as opposed to the dancing and all that.” When I (rather lamely) commented that the Break-dancing was a good foundation for movement on stage, B-Real responded: “Well it gave us definitely more movement…but it gave us an understanding for what we were doing because we had genuine love for what it was.”
Of course we talked about the new album Rise Up that drops today (4/20). I asked B-Real about the six year layoff, focusing on the creative process rather than the changing of labels (from Columbia to Sony to Priority/EMI). “We (Sen Dog, DJ Muggs and Eric Bobo) were coming off of solo projects when we started to make Rise up. Out of the six years, those first three were those solo projects. Once we released and were done pushing those… doing the shows, press… putting the legs on all those projects. Once we felt we were done… that’s when we started to go in and work on the Cypress record…and just vibe out.
“Being that we didn’t have any A&R people coming in there telling us what they think we should do (Snoop Dogg is the creative chairman of Priority), we just sorta did it at our pace, at our own leisure. Had more fun than anything. We tried to be experimental at times. At other times we were working with the formula that we knew worked, but trying to have an updated version of it. Something that related to now and these times.” B-Real emphasized it was “a loose vibe” and that they were having fun as opposed to (breaking into a stressed out voice): “We need to get this done…this HAS to be done by this time.” Returning to his normal and mellow voice, “We didn’t want to do that to ourselves. We wanted to take our time and make the right album for us.”
Then I turned the conversation to the long list of collaborators on Rise Up that includes: Everlast, Young De, Pete Rock, DJ Khalil, Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park and Daron Malakian of System of a Down among other soon to be mentioned. I asked B-Real if they got to work with any of their influences. “Definitely Cheech and Chong, I mean they’ve been a staple influence as far as our pro-marijuana politics go. It’s cool because we ended up becoming friends with them and doing various things with them…and one of the coolest things they did for us is contributing their voices…recorded specifically for the album…and they haven’t done that forever! For them to record while doing the comeback thing…it was great…we felt there was no bigger compliment than that. Because they totally get what we’re about and where we come from…and that they were a big influence on us…so that was a big deal to us to have them come and be involved.”
Since both myself and Beatweek lean more towards the Rock angle, I asked B-Real how Stephen Stills became involved with their new single “Armada Latina”. “We were working on a completely different track. When we were done…the producer whose name is Jim Jonsin…he said, ‘Hey look I’ve got this other song. I want to see what you guys think about it. If you guys like it, we can work on it. It could be something really cool.’” B-Real said he had heard Jonsin ”messing the samples beforehand” so he knew “where he was going with this.”
When B-Real heard the sample of Crosby, Stills & Nash’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, B-Real’s first thought was “Now that’s real fucking cool.” But his second thought was “How the hell are we going to clear the sample? How the hell are we going to to pull this off? At the same time, it didn’t sound like the other songs on the record…a big concern of mine…But I had said at the onset going into this album that I would come in open minded and try different things. As long as it didn’t compromise who we are and what we do.” And taking that into consideration B-Real thought (breaking into his open minded dude voice), “Alright, well you know, let’s see what we come up with. It could be really cool, if we come up with the right thing.”
“Sure enough it just started piecing itself together really…after myself and Sen Dog laid down our vocals…Jim quickly said, ‘Hey I think I could get Pitbull down here. What do you guys think?’” B-Real continued, “We know ‘Pit’ he’s our friend, we always talked about working together so this seems to be the perfect opportunity.” So they said to Jonsin, “Yeah, if you know him, call him.” B-Real is a good storyteller, so he added a touch of wonder in voice as he continued, “Sure enough ‘Pit’ made his way out…and blessed our track.”
Again with surprise in his voice, “Then as they were putting the pieces together for the track, the producer once again said, ‘Hey man, I think we should call Marc Anthony. B-Real breaks into a laugh at the very idea, “Marc Anthony ain’t gonna want to do this!” Amazed, “Sure enough he got Marc Anthony to come down and do it. A great surprise man. I’ve got to thank all those guys for being involved with a project like that…and making it the song it turned out to be.”
Already knowing I was heading down the wrong path, I still followed-up by asking B-Real if Cypress Hill had plans to move towards a Pop sound closer to “Armada Latina” anytime in the future. “I wouldn’t say we would go completely in that direction because we’re not a Pop band. That’s not really who we are…but could we do it again? If it was the right song, yeah. I don’t think we would try to do it again. Because often if you try to recreate something you’ve done in the past, it never ends up working out. That’s why we’ve never tried to do another “Insane in the Brain”. We never tried to do another “(Rock) Superstar”. We just sorta let those songs happen. Instead of saying, ‘Oh we need a hit here, we need a hit there.’ When the right song comes along, it comes along. Fortunately we’ve had whole albums come along throughout our career.”
B-Real’s voice took on an especially humble tone as he considered the new album, “This one right here is real special. We’ve got two singles, in two different formats…and they’re doing fairly well for what we expected. We couldn’t ask for more man, after a six year layoff.”
I had a chance to hear the album a few times via a streaming preview copy and so far my favorite track is “Shut ‘Em Down” featuring Tom Morello (who is also on the title track Rise Up). I asked B-Real how they met. “I met all the guys in Rage Against the Machine back in probably ’92. They were playing a small club. They hadn’t really got on the scene yet. Somebody put me on to them.” In order to put things in context, I briefly broke B-Real’s stride, by asking if Cypress Hill was already established. “Yeah we already had like a platinum record (Cypress Hill)…out. At that point we were about to release Black Sunday when I ran into those guys.”
“A mutual friend of ours introduced me to them at the show. I went to watch them. I was in the mosh pit, moshing it up and they saw me in there. Called me out. ‘Hey we see somebody in the crowd and we want to invite him up on stage: B-Real of Cypress Hill!’ People looked around and saw me in the middle of the pit and immediately put me on stage.
“After that we started talking and became friends and we started doing little things together here and there. We obviously wanted to work with Tom…but touring schedules conflicted all the time…I think at that point, when we wanted to do it back in the day, it wasn’t the time for it. But this time happened to be the right time. Because it made for something special. To have Tom Morello produce some songs for Cypress Hill. I think that’s a big deal and after a six year layoff, you want to come back with something that’s exciting and interesting…and different than what you thought was going to be.”
I mentioned that “Shut ‘Em Down” is my early favorite track on the new album. I could hear B-Real respond with a knowing smile, “Yeah, ‘Shut ‘Em Down’ is a good one. That’s a powerful song.” Since Tom Morello’s guitar is so striking I asked B-Real if there was any concern of a song sounding too much like Rage Against the Machine. “I wouldn’t have a concern with that, because for me it’s like Rage meets Cypress. It will sound like his style…and his style is synonymous with Rage even as they were doing Audioslave…but it’s going to have our flavor on it. That’s what will make it different than Rage. The way we do it. The style. The content. But that type of stuff doesn’t concern me, because even if they said that, I’d look at that like a compliment.”
Obviously we talked a little bit about 420 Culture. “We’ve been involved since day one. I guess we became the poster boys in Hip Hop for medical…just for marijuana period. Little by little we just started growing with that whole culture. Because it was us. It was who were. It’s who we are.” B-Real went on, “We throw a 420 Show in San Francisco…obviously 4/20 is the date of our release…so we’ll be doing our fourth annual 420 Show slash Release Party (streamed live on Breal.tv).” Also on the web “We do a live stream Monday through Friday called the 420 Show (music & talk) at 4:20 Pacific time in Los Angeles. It’s a two hour show where, you know, we blaze up and chill with all the people that log-in and watch and are in the chat room. We give them those two hours a day, just to hang out.”
As we were talking I could tell there is a real attempt on the part of Cypress Hill to break down of the normal barriers between a successful band and their fans. “We’ve always tried to stay connected. Back in the day it was us having autograph signing at smoking grooves…signing at every show 300-400 autographs…just being there with the fans. Giving them that time. After all that’s who we’re doin’ it for. I mean we do it for ourselves because we love to make music, but really we’re trying to entertain people and give them something from us.”
As we were talking I mentioned that the first time I saw them was at Lollapalooza in ’95 with Hole, so I asked B-Real about those early rock festivals. “Those were really great shows. It was opening us up to a whole different deal…it provided the background for some funny-ass stories at times too. Getting to play with Hole at that time. She’s always been a controversial figure obviously…she’s definitely Punk Rock…there were times she was getting carried off the stage on that tour. Fighting with fans. People were throwing shot gun shells at her feet. It was a spectacle.” Despite Courtney Love’s outrageous behavior and her smack talk about Cypress Hill early on the tour, B-Real respects Courtney Love as an artist, “Nobody could take that away from her.”
Turning to a time long before Punk, I wanted to know B-Real’s thoughts about my current area of major study, Bob Dylan. “I’ve definitely listened to a lot of Bob Dylan in the past…. Just the way he wrote the songs. The kind of honesty he wrote in the songs. His bluntness. He wasn’t pulling back. Sure there was metaphor but it was pretty straightforward too…. I learned a lot from that. I can’t say he was one of my big influences. But you try to learn from everything that you can appreciate and are a fan of.” B-Real agreed that Dylan kicked open the doors for lyric writing in Rock and Roll. “Even if you didn’t think you were influenced by him, he influenced the guy that you were influenced by. That’s what makes a great artist.”
As the interview was racing towards the agreed upon time limit, I commented that Cypress Hill always seems to give it up for the past. “You have to. You have to. That was the bridge. They passed it to you. Eventually you’re going to have to pass it on to somebody else. You can’t keep it all to yourself. It’s not meant to be that way.”
“You have to have respect for the dudes, the groups, the artists that paved the way for you. Like the Run-DMCs, The Houdini’s, The Beastie Boys… if you’re in a group…Public Enemy, De La Soul and those guys man…and Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five. You have to pay homage to that.” Knowing our time was short, he rushed to try and add to the huge list rolling around in his head. “If you’re a solo artist, to Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, all types of those guys man. Those were the pioneers of it…Ice T, NWA…it’s one of those things man. You have to know where it comes from and respect it. If you really love it and if you really want to represent it correctly and do the the kind of music people respect. Stuff that’s going to be timeless. If you have no respect for the art form man, then it’s all for just the money and fame…and that doesn’t last.”
Before I let him go, I asked him the obligatory ‘what have you been listening on your iPod’ question. ” So many things…last day or two…some classic stuff like Prince and Parliament Funkadelic…listened to some Jay-Z, the new Raekwon record.” B-Real paused when he remembered who else he’s been listening to lately. “Some of our old stuff to get reacquainted,” breaking into a joyful laugh, “just in case I have to play it again.”
Veteran hip hop pioneers Cypress Hill return this week with Rise Up, their first new album in six years, and will kick things off with a live performance of the album’s title track on Jimmy Kimmel Live tonight. Joining B-Real and Sen Dog for the television performance will be current Rage Against The Machine and former Audioslave guitarist Tom Morello, who also guested on the studio version of the song and also appears on Shut’ Em Down.
Morello is far from the album’s only collaborator, as Pitbull and Marc Anthony provide guest vocals for the song Armada Latina, which samples the Crosby Stills & Nash classic Suite: Judy Blue Eyes. Everlast, Mike, Shinoda, and Young De also make appearances.
Cypress Hill is on the cover of Beatweek Magazine’s April 20th issue, which will be released Tuesday morning and includes an in depth interview with B-Real. The issue can be viewed digitally, in full, on Beatweek.com.
When the guys from Cypress Hill take the stage tonight to perform the title track from their new album Rise Up, they’ll be sharing the stage with Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello, who also participated in the new album. But lest you think the collaboration is some new flight of fancy, the two camps have known each other for nearly two decades. In our April 20th cover story (due out tomorrow morning), Cypress Hill’s B-Real tells Beatweek about his first interaction with Morello at one of Rage’s club shows back in 1992, at a time when Cypress Hill had just broken big and Rage was still a bit under the radar:
“I was in the mosh pit, moshing it up and they saw me in there. Called me out. ‘Hey we see somebody in the crowd and we want to invite him up on stage: B-Real of Cypress Hill!’ People looked around and saw me in the middle of the pit and immediately put me on stage.”
In our 4/20 cover story, B-Real tells Beatweek’s Lance Anderson about how new album Rise Up came to be, along with the story behind its other hit single Armada Latina (featuring vocals by Marc Anthony and Pitbull, and facetime from Stephen Stills) and a whole lot more. In the mean time, enjoy Cypress Hill and Tom Morello tonight at midnight on Jimmy Kimmel Live on ABC
Lethal Weapon star Danny Glover got himself arrested – on purpose – while lending his celebrity status in support of a fight for improved workers’ conditions at a food service firm in Maryland. The firm had allegedly fired workers who had attempted to unionize.
According to the sixty-three year old’s Twitter account, he’s “fine” and everything appears to have gone according to plan. No word on whether he managed to deliver his Lethal Weapon catch phrase “I’m too old for this shit!” while being taken away.
This represents far from the first time in which a high profile celebrity was arrested while protesting for workers’ rights; Rage Against The Machine guitarist Tom Morello was arrested under similar conditions in California in 2007.
Veteran hip hop outfit Cypress Hill has signed on with Snoop Dogg’s Priority Records, the first artist Snoop has signed since assuming his role as Creative Chairman of the label. The new Cypress Hill album Rise Up will be released on April 6th, and features a single of the same name featuring Rage Against The Machine’s Tom Morello.
According to Snoop Dogg, “Cypress Hill is undeniably one of the most important hip hop groups in music history, not only are they incredibly talented and the first Latino hip hop group to go platinum, they are also from the west coast-so this signing is the perfect marriage.”
Having released its debut album nearly two decades ago, Cypress Hill has sold more than eighteen million albums and hits including Insane In The Brain.
A few years ago, the first conversation Tom Morello and I ever had consisted of him recounting the story of his recent arrest while protesting on behalf of workers’ rights. Although it wasn’t an overly rebellious tale – they had let him go but he had to promise not to get arrested again – it made clear that his political activism, which had been so widely on display during his first go-round as guitarist for Rage Against The Machine, was as much a part of him as ever despite the relatively non-political nature of his then-band Audioslave. So it comes as no surprise that his latest project, which sees him paired up with Boots Riley of The Coup on vocals, is as politically charged as anything he’s ever done. That having been said, when Tom and I chatted recently about Street Sweeper Social Club, he was in the middle of playing stay-at-home dad for his newborn son. We talked about everything from the trust required to allow a new vocalist to speak on his behalf, to how fatherhood is impacting his approach to his musical projects, to how the only half-Kenyan Harvard graduate from Chicago with a higher profile than his own is doing so far in the White House…
I saw you and Boots Riley perform at a Hotel Cafe show back in 2007, but you guys go further back than that, right?
Yeah, we met in 2003 on an activist charity tour with Billy Bragg and Steve Earle and some other people. I had never met Boots before. I was a fan of his music and lyrics with The Coup, and the tour needed a shot of life in it. And so Boots came along, and I really recognized what an incredible lyricist he is, hearing his songs set in an acoustic context. And he was always the first one to say yes when I called up to ask him to play at a demonstration or a protest or a charity event, he would always fly down from Oakland and donate his time.
We became good friends, and then when Audioslave broke up, I handed him a cassette tape of song ideas, and I said let’s be Street Sweeper Social Club.
When I first heard about the project I assumed it was going to be an acoustic thing, I guess because that’s the context I’d seen you guys perform in. Did you have to talk about that, or was is going to be an electric thing all the way?
I knew from the beginning that I wanted it to be something that was really heavy and really funky. It’s an album with no ballads whatsoever. So from conception it was going to have searing Morellian guitar to go with his searing Bootsian lyrics.
Promenade is the current single from the album. Boots refers to it as a “square dance rap” in the lyrics, and you’ve also used that term to describe it. You’ve had all these combinations, with Rage being a mix of rock and rap and whatnot. How do you come up with square dance and rap, though? How do you combine those two?
(Laughs) I’m not sure what the genesis of that was. That one just sort of started with that bass line. The one thing is, Boots and I have, from the very first time we performed together on stage, while there’s a lot of deadly serious lyrical content, we’ve always had a great time. And we wanted these to be revolutionary jams, but we wanted them to be revolutionary party jams. And nothing really kicks a party off better than a square dance rap.
With the exception of Nightwatchman where you sang, every other band you’ve been in, including this one, someone else is doing the vocals. How comfortable do you have to be with someone else to allow yourself to get into that kind of relationship where night after night they’re going to be basically speaking on your behalf?
I’ve been very comfortable with that from the beginning of Rage Against The Machine. I mean Zack de la Rocha is an amazing vocalist and lyricist whom I share a world view. And Chris Cornell is one of the great rock singers of all time, and I think that lyrically during the Audioslave period, I felt that for me at least, while I think Chris is a great lyricist, it drifted away a little from my mission statement as a human being, which is music to confront injustice. That’s one of the reasons that I swung back to writing my own lyrics and singing them as the Nightwatchman, and why I feel very comfortable with Boots as a lyricist as well. I think he’s really an astoundingly talented lyricist. The wry wit and the cutting venom that are in his lyrics.
The matter of factness of how he dices up some of the topics struck me.
It’s a sense of humor too that he weaves into it. It’s a spoon full of sugar that helps the medicine go down.
Here we are talking, and you’re obviously a pretty laid back guy, and I’ve gotten that vibe from your Hotel Cafe shows as well. But back when I was in high school and watching Rage on TV, I just kind of assumed you guys had to be militant in some way. Do you get that a lot, do people think you’re going to be more dicey than you turn out to be?
I don’t know, it’s hard to say, I’ve been me for a long time now (laughs). I think while that commitment to social justice and potentially revolutionary change both in music and society is always there, if you were to hang out with the guys in Rage Against The Machine, it’s a lot of laughs too. There’s some funny motherfuckers in that band. We’re not just sitting around reading the collected works of Marx and Engels.
I was going to ask whether you’ve mellowed over the years.
Oh, no. For me it’s clearer than ever, actually I have a newborn son now, so it’s like you want to make sure that the world they inherit, that you do all that you can during your time so the world that they inherit is one that has the maximum amount of peace and injustice and equality. And the only way to do that is through struggle.
You’ve got a young kid, and you just did the [Nine Inch Nails / Jane’s Addiction] tour, and you’re still doing shows, and doing interviews like this one. How do you divide up that time? Do you have to reevaluate everything?
Yeah, definitely. With the exception of a few shows for the rest of the year, I’ve kind of cleared the schedule for the immediate time being. I’m figuring out 2010, and there will definitely be more Street Sweeper Social Club and some Nightwatchman as well.
Are we about where you thought we’d be after a year of Obama?
I worked for a United States Senator for two years, Senator Alan Cranston, as his scheduling secretary for a couple of years, and for a very progressive U.S. Senator, by the way. So I got to see the internal workings of what it takes to try to enact a progressive agenda in the United States of America, and it’s a dirty road. It’s like no one comes out clean. We’re a year later, and Guantanamo Bay is still open, we’re still involved in Iraq and Afghanistan. And now it looks like even if we are going to get some increased health care package, it’s going to be frankly nowhere near what people need, or nowhere up to the standards of the rest of the industrialized world as far as the number of people covered and the quality of care. Is this Barack Obama’s fault? No. The reasons why we don’t have peace and universal health care are systematic. I am greatly relieved, on the other hand, that we have a President who reads at above a third grade level, something we could not say for the previous eight years.
At the beginning of Audioslave you were adamant about saying “This is a real band, it’s not a stunt or a supergroup.” And you were right, it was three albums, five or six years. What’s the future of Street Sweeper Social Club? Is this a real band too, can we get used to it being around?
Definitely. We’ve already started working on new songs, and I love doing it. It’s so much fun to write these big crushing rock jams, and I’m constantly thrilled by the new lyrical twists that Boots comes up with, and we’re working on recording and touring plans for 2010.
I should let you go, so you can back to whatever you’re working on.
Yeah I’ve got to get back to what I’m working on, like changing diapers.
That’s more work than people think.
Yeah it is, let me tell you (laughs).
Beatweek’s 2010 interview with Street Sweeper Social Club’s Boots Riley is right here