When four Los Angeles punks formed a new band in 1991 called Rage Against the Machine, they likely weren’t expecting to become one of the most influential acts of the decade and beyond. But Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, Tim Commerford, and Zack de la Rocha stumbled upon a sound that was so vibrant, visceral, and urgent, that 30 years later, it’s easy to see why they are so revered.
Sure, RATM’s novel sound is highlighted by funk rock, swampy riffs, and rousing grooves, but it’s their values and ideology that continue to make this band relevant. Zack de la Rocha’s fierce and prescient meditations on oppression, power imbalances, our country’s treatment of immigrants and people of color, and a capitalist system that pits us against each other are still important today. At the same time, Tom Morello’s insistence on writing experimental, idiosyncratic guitar solos is admirable and rewarding. In short, no one has done it quite like Rage Against the Machine.
They may have only put out three studio albums of original material, but their impact looms large: Their unique combination of hip-hop and rock inspired a significant amount of similar-sounding bands throughout the ’90s and 2000s, and their music continues to reach Millennials and Gen-Z as a prime example of rock’s fearless and politically-fueled values. At a time where discourse around social justice and politics is more highly visible than ever before, Rage Against the Machine’s powerful output is a conduit for our frustrations and anxieties, to seeking out injustice and revolution.
So, you can imagine our excitement when they announced they’d be returning for a reunion tour back in 2020. Of course, pandemic delays offset the tour by a couple of years, and it got even more complicated when de la Rocha ruptured his achilles just two dates in. But the dates they did manage to pull off were spectacular, even with de la Rocha seated throughout — so much so that their reunion performances made our list of the Top 10 Live Shows of 2022. They may be taking some extra time off for de la Rocha’s recovery, but when and if they return again, we’ll be thankful to have them back.
From 1991 to 2000, Rage Against the Machine put out three stellar works: their 1992 self-titled debut, 1996’s Evil Empire, and 1999’s The Battle of Los Angeles. They followed the trilogy up with cover album Renegades, and while those songs are wonderful Rage cuts (see: “Renegades of Funk” and “The Ghost of Tom Joad”), we’ve opted to stick with just their originals for this list.
Read below for our list of Rage Against the Machine’s 10 best songs, and check out a playlist of the selections as well.
— Paolo Ragusa
Editor’s Note: For more music legends, check out our new collection of photo prints featuring artists like Radiohead, Red Hot Chili Peppers, KISS, Korn, and more, now at the Consequence Shop.