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 after the band's reunion in 2007 until their last show in 2011. He left Rage Against the Machine in October 2000, and embarked on a low-key solo career. With former Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore, de la Rocha also 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, the artist Robert "Beto" de la Rocha (born November 26, 1937 in Wilmar, California), and a German-Irish mother, Olivia Lorryne Carter (born October 8, 1941 in Los Angeles, California). 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, Isaac de la Rocha Beltrán (September 29, 1910 in Cananea, Mexico - October 10, 1985 in Los Angeles, California), was a Sonorensan revolutionary 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 form 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. 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".
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. 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, but 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 continued to tour around the world, headlining many large festivals in Europe and the United States, including Lollapalooza in Chicago. 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.
Later in 2011, de la Rocha and the rest of Rage Against the Machine reunited for one final show, headlining, LA Rising July 30, 2011. The show was a great success, filling the LA Coliseum. The band has not played together since.
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:
In 2008, de la Rocha and former Mars Volta drummer Jon Theodore formed One Day as a Lion. They later added Joey Karam of The Locust on keyboards for their live shows. The group combines rock drumming, electro keyboards, and hip-hop vocals. De la Rocha played 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". This comes from a minatory slogan popular during the 1930s in Fascist Italy, "Better one day as a lion than a hundred days as a sheep." The saying is an allusion to Psalms 84:10, "Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere." They released their debut EP, One Day as a Lion, on July 22, 2008.
De la Rocha became one of the most visible champions of left-wing political causes around the world while advocating in favor 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. De la Rocha has been particularly outspoken on the cause of the EZLN. He explained the importance of the cause to him personally.
It is important for me, as a popular artist, to make clear to the governments of the United States and Mexico that despite the strategy of fear and intimidation to foreigners, despite their weapons, despite their immigration laws and military reserves, they will never be able to isolate the Zapatista communities from the people in the United States... Through concerts, videos, interviews, broadcasting of information at concerts, and our songs' lyrics we have placed within reach of young people, our audience, the experiences of the Zapatistas; we act as facilitators of the ways in which they can participate and put them in contact with the organization and the Zapatista support committees in the United States.
In August 2000, Rage Against the Machine performed for the thousands gathered in the "designated protest area" of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) held at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles. In solidarity with the demonstrators, de la Rocha stormed through Rage's tribute to Mayan and Mexica resistance, "People of the Sun," and songs from their 2000 release The Battle of Los Angeles, including "Maria," about the struggle of Latina immigrants, and "Guerilla Radio". The latter song remarks on de la Rocha's work with Centro de Regeneracion in Highland Park, a Chicana/o cultural center he co-founded in 1996, where, among other activities, he subsidized the micro-radio station Radio Clandestina. Rage also provided access to progressive organizations and media by setting up tables for such groups in their concert performances and by offering links to their organizations on Rage's official website. In 1999, Rage invited Aztlán Underground to open its concerts in Mexico City, while Ozomatli opened what turned out to be Rage's final show at Los Angeles' Grand Olympic Auditorium in 2000.
Zach's Chicano identity informed his band's commitment to the struggles of immigrants, people of color, and the Zapatistas. He renamed the People's Resource Center in Highland Park the Centro de Regeneracion. There, many of the same artists and activists who had participated in the struggle over the Peace and Justice Center maintained their commitment to providing youth a space for cultural expression and training. Along with music workshops and the development of Radio Clandestina, Centro members also organized graffiti workshops and youth film festivals. Although the Centro lasted only two years, it was an important space in the ongoing institutionalization of the community politics, cultural practices, and social networks of the Eastside scene in the nineties.
The EZLN and De la Rocha's experiences with them inspired the songs "People of the Sun", "Wind Below" and "Without a Face" from Evil Empire, and "War Within a Breath" from The Battle of Los Angeles. Zack de la Rocha asked their record label, Epic Records, for $30,000 to donate to the EZLN. It is not known if they complied. The EZLN flag has been used as a stage backdrop at all of the band's shows since their reunion in April, 2007. 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.
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." 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.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license