New Protest Songs Suck: Let’s bring back rap-rock to help rally round the family instead

By on January 10, 2018

No War Toys, no employee exploitation! (Photo by Brave New Films via Flickr Creative Commons)

With just days to go until we celebrate surviving year one of the Donald Trump experience, I think we can all acknowledge that we were sold a bill of goods. No, I’m not talking about saving the coal industry or the building of a wall, but something much more important: where is all the good music we were promised during a Trump presidency?

Not that we should have gotten our hopes up. Really, anyone who survived George W.’s time in office knew that the ‘80s are long gone and a “bad” presidency does not equal better music. Remember when NoFX were good? I still haven’t forgiven Bush for what he did to them.

It’s not that 2017 didn’t have protest music worth discussing, it’s just that with the exception of an Eminem freestyle very little of it created a blip on the pop culture radar. There were people out there doing work, and I’ll give all credit in the world to rappers and indie artists putting their feelings down on wax, even if the individual songs didn’t set the world on fire. At least we got one real jam: Pussy Riot’s “Make America Great Again,” which will never get its proper due for obvious reasons.

Recently, Bono complained in Rolling Stone that rock music had become too “girly” and that “hip-hop is the only place for young male anger at the moment – and that’s not good.” It’s a pretty bad hot take, and a weird one considering that the guy lamenting the rise of hip-hop cut a record with Kendrick Lamar. Even assuming that hip-hop is the only place for young male anger, what excuse do every rocker above the age of 25 – including Bono and his mates in US – have for their weak response to the political landscape of 2017?

You can count the number of really great rock protest songs on two hands. Personally speaking, I can’t get past three: Radar State’s “Double Speak,” which I know none of you have heard; Nine Inch Nail’s “Less Than,” in which Trent Reznor finally wrote a good version of what he was trying to do with “The Hand That Feeds” way back in2005; and Roger Waters’ “Is This The Life You Really Want?,” less because of the quality of the song and more because the man put on a giant touring production this year that spends a large chunk of its second act insulting Trump and that counts for something.

And after that… I got nothing. I had high hopes that this would be Rise Against’s time to shine, and while “The Miracle” was one of the best songs of the year, the rest of the record and their supporting tour for it just left me feeling kind of flat.

Truth be told, it’s always struck me as kind of odd that no one wanted to pick up the mantle of “mainstream political rock juggernaut” after Rage Against The Machine stopped recording. Even as rock’s share of mainstream interest has declined, you’d think there’d still be good money in waving the flag of political rock; doing so for a couple of albums saved Green Day’s career and got them in the Rock Hall of Fame, after all. But alas, no great political rock band has come along to fill that void; even members of Rage Against The Machine themselves are having trouble finding their footing as Prophet’s of Rage proves. So, if you’ll allow me to think way outside the box on this one, I have a solution that will put the rage back into rock music AND gives us a better shot at some new rock protest anthems.

We need to bring back rap-rock.

Oh, you laugh, but if angry young dudes are really embracing hiphop anyway, and if rappers are more inclined to speak the truth about the world we live in, then maybe it’s time for a new generation of numetal bands to rise up. You laugh, but would a new wave of rap-rock be any worse than the legion of butt rock bands that currently make up so many modern rock playlists these days? I think not.

I mean, it was that fusion of massive riffs and intelligent rhymes that made Rage Against The Machine such a force in the first place. Those songs are just as powerful now as they were when they were originally released. Yes, the bands that came along after them choose to write about themselves rather than the world, but is that any surprise? Complaining about your love life will always be more satisfying than trying to save the world, which is a concept so simple it’s amazing that rock messiah Bono doesn’t get it.

So yes, we need to get these new bands some turntables and a stack of Public Enemy records. It won’t be easy, but maybe this time next year we’ll have some fist pumping rock songs to be proud of. PJH

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