Zacharías Manuel "Zack" de la Rocha (born January 12, 1970) is an American musician, poet, rapper and activist best known as the vocalist and lyricist of rap metal band Rage Against the Machine from 1991-2000, and since the band's reunion in 2007. He left Rage Against the Machine in October 2000, and embarked on a low-key solo career. With Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore, de la Rocha co-founded One Day as a Lion in 2008.
Zacharias Manuel de la Rocha was born in Long Beach, California on January 12, 1970, to a Mexican American father of Sephardi Jewish converso ancestry, the artist Roberto "Beto" de la Rocha (born 1942), and a German-Irish mother, Olivia de la Rocha (born 1942). His father played an integral part in his cultural upbringing. Beto was a muralist and a member of Los Four, the first Chicano art collective to be exhibited at a museum (LACMA, 1973). De la Rocha's grandfather was a Sonorensan revolutionary born in Cananea, Mexico, who fought in the Mexican Revolution and worked as an agricultural labourer in the US. Later, de la Rocha would see the hardships his grandfather endured reflected in the struggles of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
De la Rocha's parents divorced when he was one year old, and he moved from East Los Angeles to Irvine with his mother, Olivia. Olivia attended the University of California at Irvine and ultimately earned a PhD in Anthropology. De la Rocha later described Irvine as "one of the most racist cities imaginable. If you were a Mexican in Irvine, you were there because you had a broom or a hammer in your hand." De la Rocha became a vegetarian as a teenager, stating in 1989: "I think vegetarianism is really great, and I stand really strongly behind it...I think that an animal goes through a lot of pain in the whole cycle of death in the slaughterhouse; just living to be killed...I just don't think it's worth eating that animal...There's so much other food out there that doesn't have to involve you in that cycle of pain and death."
De la Rocha met Tim Commerford in elementary school, and in junior high school, they both played guitar in a band called Juvenile Expression. De la Rocha's interest in punk rock bands like The Clash, Sex Pistols, and Bad Religion turned into an appreciation for other bands like Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and The Teen Idles. In high school, he joined the straight edge band, Hardstance, which evolved into the hardcore band, Inside Out around 1988 and gained a large national underground following. The band released a single record, No Spiritual Surrender, on Revelation Records in 1990 before breaking up. De la Rocha later said that the band was "about completely detaching ourselves from society to see ourselves as...as spirits, and not bowing down to a system that sees you as just another pebble on a beach. I channeled all my anger out through that band."
Rage Against the Machine:
Following the dissolution of Inside Out in 1991, de la Rocha embraced hip hop and began freestyling at local clubs, at one of which he was approached by former Lock Up guitarist Tom Morello, who was impressed by de la Rocha's lyrics, and convinced him to join him in forming a band. Morello recruited former Greta drummer Brad Wilk-who had previously auditioned for Lock Up before that band's dissolution earlier that same year-and de la Rocha recruited his former Juvenile Expression bandmate, Tim Commerford, to play bass. The band was named for an unreleased Inside Out song, Rage Against the Machine.
Rage Against the Machine was on the main stage at Lollapalooza in 1993 and was one of the most politically charged bands ever to receive extensive airplay from radio and MTV. De la Rocha became one of the most visible champions of left-wing political causes around the world while advocating in favour of Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal, and supporting the Zapatista movement in Mexico. He spoke on the floor of the UN, testifying against the United States and its treatment of Abu-Jamal. Rage's second and third albums peaked at number one in the United States, but did not result in the political action de la Rocha had hoped for. He became increasingly restless and undertook collaborations with artists such as KRS-One, Chuck D, and Public Enemy. He left Rage Against the Machine in October 2000, citing "creative differences," at which time he issued a statement saying: "it was necessary to leave Rage because our decision-making process has completely failed", in reference to the disagreement over the release of Renegades. The other members of the band sought out separate management and secured the immediate release of Renegades. After searching for a replacement for de la Rocha, the other members of Rage joined Chris Cornell of Soundgarden to form Audioslave.
Following the disbandment of Rage Against the Machine, de la Rocha worked on a solo album he had been recording since before the band's dissolution, working with DJ Shadow, El-P, Muggs, Dan The Automator, Roni Size, DJ Premier, and The Roots' Questlove with production partner James Poyser. The album never came to fruition, and de la Rocha started a new collaboration with Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails, in which around 20 tracks were produced. Reznor thought the work was "excellent", but said the songs will likely never be released as de la Rocha was not "ready to make a record" at that time. On working with DJ Shadow and Reznor, de la Rocha admitted in a 2008 interview that:
When I left Rage... first off, I was very heartbroken, and secondly, I became obsessed with completely reinventing my wheel. In an unhealthy way, to a degree. I kind of forgot that old way of allowing yourself to just be a conduit. When I was working with Trent and Shadow, I felt that I was going through the motions. Not that what was produced wasn't great, but I feel now that I've maybe reinvented the base sounds that emanate from the songs.
In 2000, de la Rocha appeared on the song "Centre of the Storm", from the Roni Size/Reprazent album In The Mode, while in 2002, he appeared in a minor role in the first part of the Blackalicious song "Release" on the album Blazing Arrow. A new collaboration between de la Rocha and DJ Shadow, the song "March of Death" was released for free online in 2003 in protest against the imminent invasion of Iraq. As part of the collaboration de la Rocha released a statement which included the following:
Lies, sanctions, and cruise missiles have never created a free and just society. Only everyday people can do that, which is why I'm joining the millions world wide who have stood up to oppose the Bush administration's attempt to expand the U.S. empire at the expense of human rights at home and abroad. In this spirit I'm releasing this song for anyone who is willing to listen. I hope it not only makes us think, but also inspires us to act and raise our voices.
The 2004 soundtrack Songs and Artists that Inspired Fahrenheit 9/11 included one of the collaborations with Reznor, "We Want It All". This album also contained "No One Left", the debut recording by former Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello as The Nightwatchman. On October 7, 2005, de la Rocha returned to the stage with new material, performing with Son Jarocho band Son de Madera. He later spoke as MC and again performed with Son de Madera at the November 22 Concert at the Farm, a benefit concert for the South Central Farmers. He sang and played the jarana with the band, and performed his own new original material, including the song "Sea of Buttnuts". On his post-Rage political music, de la Rocha admitted that it was near impossible for him to draw the line between politics and music:
For me, the only time that that line gets drawn when you're producing music and you're trying to flush out a certain idea - that's very liberating, in a very abstract way. It's in those moments where you feel free, and you can go ahead and explore why you feel free in those moments. In the past moments with Shadow and Trent I didn't feel that.
Participating in the Son Jarocho work his activist work with urban farmers in South Central Los Angeles, which included playing folk music with the group Son de Madera felt more community based, more collective. I was part of a collective voice and not on my own as an artist, and something about that attracted me.
Rage Against the Machine reunion:
Rumors that Rage Against the Machine could reunite at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival were circulating in mid-January 2007, and were confirmed on January 22. The band was confirmed to be headlining the final day of Coachella 2007. On April 14, 2007, Morello and de la Rocha reunited on-stage early to perform a brief acoustic set at House of Blues in Chicago at the rally for fair food with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW). Morello described the event as "very exciting for everybody in the room, myself included." Rage Against the Machine, as a full band, headlined the final day of the 2007 Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival on April 29. The band played in front of a Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN) backdrop to the largest crowds of the festival. The performance was initially thought to be a one-off, this turned out not to be the case. The band played 7 more shows in the United States in 2007, and in January 2008, they played their first shows outside the US as part of the Big Day Out Festival in Australia and New Zealand. The band has since continued to tour around the world, headlining many large festivals in Europe and the United States, including Lollapalooza in Chicago. At Rage's first reunion show, de la Rocha made a speech during "Wake Up" in which de la Rocha called numerous American presidents war criminals, citing a statement by Noam Chomsky regarding the Nuremberg Principles. In a 2008 interview, de la Rocha said this of the relationship between him, Commerford, Wilk and Morello:
So much has changed. When you get older, you look back on tensions and grievances and have another perspective on it. I think our relationship now is better than it's ever been. I would even describe it as great. We're going to keep playing shows - we have a couple of big ones happening in front of both conventions. As far as us recording music in the future, I don't know where we all fit with that. We've all embraced each other's projects and support them, and that's great.
In an article published in Billboard, it was announced that work had been completed on de la Rocha's first solo album, which he had been working on at least since his departure from RATM in 2000 and, by some accounts, as early as 1995.Trent Reznor, DJ Shadow, Questlove from The Roots, and El-P were said to have produced the album or portions of it. However, at this point, it seems to have been shelved indefinitely.
One Day as a Lion:
One Day as a Lion is a band consisting of Zack de la Rocha and former The Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore. They added Joey Karam of The Locust on keyboards for their live shows, which were performed in July 2010. Whether Karam will remain a member of the band is uncertain. The group combines rock drumming, electro keyboards, and hip-hop vocals. De la Rocha will be playing keyboards as well as providing vocals with Theodore on the drums for their self-titled EP. The band's name derives from a black and white graffiti photograph taken by Chicano photographer George Rodriguez in 1970 with a caption reading: "It's better to live one day as a lion, than a thousand years as a lamb". They released their debut EP, One Day as a Lion, on July 22, 2008.