When RATM's first album came out, I ran the other way. Rap-rock? I thought it was a terrible idea, and Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock and a bunch of other faceless bands proved me right not too long afterwards.
But my dismissal of RATM was criminal. The band wasn't just pasting raps over brutally simple riffs, it was creating something new from the ashes of the old. And the seemingly juvenile lyrical aggression was neither mindless nor teen pandering, though I forgive myself for jumping to conclusions about "Fuck You I won't do what you tell me." Also, I still have misgivings about the album cover, which seemed so sensationalistic to me and fed into Beavis and Butt-head fantasies: "Fire!" "Cool!"
Anyway, if it wasn't Public Enemy and it was rap-related, I probably wasn't listening, so I remained blissfully unaware of RATM's being so much more than an amazingly noisy and brash freakshow. But I heard them cover Springsteen, and hey, it was good! I ended up with a copy of The Battle of Los Angeles, and I started to get it. Then I saw the track listing for Renegades and scoped not just covers of Eric B and Rakim, Cypress Hill, and Afrika Bambaataa, but also Minor Threat, The Stooges, and Devo. Aha. I finally understand.
So when I got a copy of the reissued debut album, I wasn't one of those people who knew and loved every tune. My ears were fresh. As I thought about the bandmembers minus Zach de la Rocha forming Audioslave with Chris Cornell, it occurred to me that Chuck D could have done some things that would have been a lot more interesting to me. Then I open up the package to see that Chuck D has written an expansive little essay on RATM. Wow! Synchronicity!
The album itself? Chalk one up for my missing column with this disc, 'cause I clearly burned myself out of years of enjoyment. Granted, with improvements in technology it probably sounds even better, but that's besides the point. Rhythmically, RATM was a monster, like Jesus Lizard or Sons of Freedom, where the musical force of the combined parts was unstoppable. I defy anyone not to feel that whomp in the gut that every song delivers, hypnotic and visceral. I think the sounds changed the world's air when it was released on an unsuspecting public. Although de la Rocha may never be my favourite vocalist, he's certainly one of the most powerful, punk rock as much as rap figuring into his full throttle atack-the-mic style. Tom Morello excelled at not only monstrous riffs and blistering solos, but making some beautiful noises that sounded utterly unlike it could have come from a guitar.
If you're like me and didn't pay attention the first time, check it out. Powerful stuff.
Note: for some reason the official RATM XX site of the band and the reissue seems to be down right now, so I can't link to it for you. At any rate, you can get the album any old place, it shouldn't be hard to find.
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