Today, one of my all-time favorite musicians celebrated a milestone birthday. On of my "brown heroes", if you will...turned 40.
Zack de la Rocha. 4-0. Amazing.
As you age, music drifts in and out of your life. The minute you hear a tune, it can transport to a time and place. It can resurrect feelings and emotions. RATM's music does that for me. The minute I hear their familiar sounds--whether it be a certain guitar riff or drum beat--I am 21 again, walking along the sidewalk in Santa Monica in 1993.
We heard House of Pain and Cypress Hill were playing at the Santa Monica Civic auditorium so we decided to find some scalpers and buy tickets. $30 seemed like an awful lot of money to spend on House of Pain. But if Cypress Hill was gonna play too, it was worth it. We scooped up three tickets and walked in. It was almost like a high school dance. People were chillin' in the bleachers, talking and laughing, waiting for the headliners to play.
I couldn't take my eyes off the skinny dude with the tiny dreads up on stage.
He was electrified, bouncing around and spittin' his rhymes. I couldn't even sit still anymore. I had to get up closer to the stage. We walked right up, they were no more than a few feet from us. They began to play what I would later learn was "Bullet in the Head". There was this ginormous Samoan girl with overalls and a mohawk tied up in a sumo ponytail, which she was swinging around over and over.
She scared me.
So I gave myself a mental note: stay far away from ginormous Samoan girl because she looks like she wants to crush some fools, getting all worked up by the music.
They rally 'round the family, with a pocket full of shells.
I stood there, in awe of the music. Who are these dudes? I have got to find out! At the end of their show, they started throwing cassettes out to the crowd. Yes, cassettes. I caught one.
Rage Against the Machine. Hmmmm. They are from L.A.
When I got home to Riverside, I listened to that RATM cassette day in and day out. While I drove to school. While I studied. While I painted and drew at my desk at home. All with earphones on, to intensify the experience. I wore that cassette out.
By this time, I was hooked.
What was so potent for me was the fact that Zack knew his hip hop. And it combined two of my all-time favorite things...hip hop and rock. Politically-conscious lyrics were a big thing for me at the time, and I loved listening to Public Enemy, Ice Cube and X-Clan. There is nothing like music with some conviction. When I discovered he was Latino, it was on and poppin'. You've got to understand, there were practically zero Latinos on the music scene at the time. He rapped about raza and Cuauhtemoc and zoot suits and the plight of farm workers and "illegal" immigrants. Way before this business was going down in Arizona.
You down with DDT, yeh you know me. Raped for the grapes, profit for the bourgeois.
Don't get me started up in here.
After that, I sought them out, wherever they were playing in L.A. I saw them at the Hollywood Palladium. Big Top Locos at Grand Olympic Auditorium. The Velodrome at CSUDH, a couple of times. La Hacienda, a little Mexican restaurant in downtown L.A. At Lollapalooza, in a sea of dirt and mud. At the Gibson Amphitheater, back when it was Universal Amphitheater. Those I can't remember as of this writing. And finally, after nearly ten years, Coachella.
Zack is beloved in rap-lovin', conscious hip-hop, punk rockin', Brown and Proud circles.
To realize this voice of my generation has turned 40 is...incredible. He's still making music that is relevant. Shoot, the music he made over fifteen years ago is still relevant. He is still mobilizing grassroots efforts. Sadly there are no more dreads but he can most def rock the afro.
And homie can still spit those rhymes.
Happy birthday, Zack. Would going on tour or putting out some new music be too much to ask?