Clear the way!
Clear the way for the Prophets of Rage!
With choice, became the people’s voice
Shout loud for the ears up in the crowd
Raise your fist up (fist up)!
While I lift up (lift up)!
Prophets of Rage
In 2016 the political climate churned with wild rhetoric on both sides of the aisle. Name-calling, unethical attacks, and one-upmanship overshadowed the needs and issues of the American populous. The election was fraught with uncertainty, embarrassing attempts at leadership, and xenophobic ideals that left many feeling unrepresented and unempowered. Ideologies became polarized, and identity politics became the new norm.
Amidst the confusing, often overwhelming, din of teeth-gnashing and obnoxious counter-points, a group of familiar musicians emerged with a loud and proud message of their own – Prophets of Rage.
Formed from parts of three groups – Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill, the formidable cadre of MCs and musicians took aim at the political establishment, and generated a collection of new material that challenged, bent perspectives, and encouraged us to ‘take the power back’.
I was fortunate to see Prophets of Rage in August of 2016, but when they came around again, recently, they were promoting their new album, and playing venues that offered a more intimate and vivid setting. A few of us pounced on tickets for the standing-room only, general admission show at the 9:30 Club in DC, and waited for the September 14th date to arrive.
Several months before, amidst a busy time artistically, a group of us were challenged by Chuck D to generate artwork for the upcoming Public Enemy album. Regrettably, I was unable to find the time to dedicate to a worthy attempt. Rather than submitting something subpar and rushed, I decided to watch from the sidelines. I was thrilled when my friend, and mADurgency colleague Darren Holtom, earned the cover of Nothing is Quick in the Desert. He is an amazing artist, and I am ‘chuffed to bits’ (a phrase that he taught me) for him and his accomplishment.
Eventually, I was able to successfully manage my ‘to do’ list, and remembered that Chuck had mentioned that he’d be needing portraits of each of the members of Prophets of Rage. As there are six of them, I made loose plans to accomplish the task of rendering six new pieces of art. My deadline? The 14th of September.
The summer flew by, and it was time for me to think about going back to school. I suddenly remembered my plan to get the portraits done. I let Chuck know of my goal, and mentioned my self-imposed deadline of September 14th; the date of their upcoming show in DC. He responded with encouragement, and said “Wow AK… C-Doc is compiling Hail to the Chief video with massive illustrations but I know it is a stretch to finish them all by Sept 10”. Oh, wow! If I can get these drawings done, they might be included in the new Prophets of Rage video. My new deadline was September 10th, four days earlier than expected, with a very slim chance that the drawings would be inserted into a production that was almost complete. I had to try.
I doubled and tripled my efforts. When I’d get home from work, I’d sequester myself in my small studio; often listening to old Sopranos episodes while I drew into the wee hours of the morning. I finished my Brad Wilk portrait first; deciding to experiment with cut and manipulated layers in the cardboard. I was excited by the potential, and quickly found an incredible photo of DJ Lord to draw. My goal became efficiency, and making every minute count. The new DJ Lord piece instantly became my new favorite, as it was a very strong original photograph. I was a third of the way through my charge, when I got a bit too big for my britches. Via Facebook Messenger, I let Lord know that I was working on his portrait, and that I was excited to show him. Before sending him the file of the new drawing, he quickly asked – “Which picture did you use?”. I enthusiastically sent him the photo. “Noooooooo!’, he responded. What? Oh, no! “I hate that picture, and it’s old!”, he said. “You can’t used an old PE picture for a Prophets of Rage drawing!”. I can’t? There are rules? I thought it was a great picture. Oh, man. Now I’m behind. I have to start all over! My feelings of accomplishment had been transformed into panic and uncertainty. I wouldn’t get the job done. I thought for sure I would fail.
Miraculously, I pulled it off. I completed all six portraits, and I was all set to bring them to the show. I checked in with the boss, and let him know that I was coming to the show with a portfolio full of art. I was as ready as I’d ever be.
The afernoon of the show, I rendezvoused with my crew just off of U Street in DC. Malcolm, Amy, Kevin, Mike, and Bill all met a few yards away from the venue, and we had plans to hang out for a pre-show dinner. As we walked by the front of the 9:30 Club, just as we connected with Bill, I noticed Eric Ridenhour at his post just outside the backdoor of the building. I ran over to say hello, and let him know I had some artwork with me. We just started talking and hanging out, when I noticed a couple of the Public Enemy S1Ws: James Bomb and Pop Diesel. While I’ve met them before, I never know whether or not they’ll remember me. I decided to re-introduced myself. It was becoming apparent that we wouldn’t be leaving to go find food. We were here to stay, and Pop and Eric were all set to help us achieve our goal. While Kevin Carmody was intent on meeting B-Real and Chuck D, I had work representing each member of the band. I was getting nervous that I wouldn’t be allowed into the venue with my portfolio case. Once we spoke to Eric and Pop, I felt a little better about the situation, but we were going to have to wait awhile.
First to arrive, was DJ Lord. He emerged from a large, shiny, black SUV, and immediately the 9:30 Club security sprung into action. They erected a temporary, metal barrier, and closed it after the vehicle pulled up. Lord walked around the back of the truck and got his gear. It was then when I managed to get his attention. I pulled out the drawing and held it up. “Aww, Andy Katz!”, he said. He came right over, and took the drawing and investigated my handiwork. He seemed to like it, and I noticed that the other passenger that had arrived, began taking pictures of him and the portrait. Lord posed for some pictures, including a few with me and the artwork. He signed his name in the corner, and a feeling of relief washed over me. He was happy with the result. Just then, Etan (IG – privatefoto), the photographer that had been in the car, enthusiastically suggested that Lord walk further into the alley for an impromptu photo shoot. He encouraged Lord to pose with the drawing in front of him, and I followed them past the SUV. Etan began snapping a bunch of flicks, and I took pictures of the scene. I was excited about the potential of the shot, and it began to sink in that this was an amazing start to the night.
Lord thanked me, tagged the ‘rejected’ portrait, too, and headed inside. I returned to my spot on the other side of the barricade, with a spring in my step. Etan followed me over, and he was excitedly telling me that the reference photo that I used for my drawing was one that he took. It was a great moment.
After a bit, two other SUVs pulled up to the same spot. Before we could get close, the security guards pulled the barricades back into position, and I spied Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, and Tim Commerford, quickly moving from the vehicle and slipping in the back door of the venue. We had missed half of the band! “Hopefully,” I thought, “I’ll catch up with them later”. Once they disappeared inside, I realized that Pop and James had kept their promise to let Chuck know that we were there waiting. Chuck, along with B-Real and Etan, had walked over to greet us and the rest of the group. After a quick fist-bump, Chuck asked if we were all set for tickets. He signed the new artwork, and shook a lot of hands. Just as he excused himself to head inside, we slid down to check in with B-Real. By the time I got to him, Kevin had managed to get his piece signed. I pulled out my drawing, and B-Real reacted – “You guys are killing it!”. It was time to go in the building, and we dispersed to head for the door. Three out of six, so far. But how was I going to get in front of the rest. I thought, “Don’t worry about it. Just go in, and enjoy what promises to be an incredible show. This should be great!”.
We walked in after navigating the security wands and searches. My portfolio seemed to be acceptable, after they gave it the once-over. We were in. Our group gathered near the end of the bar, and I shot Chuck a quick message. “Thanks! Hoping to get the art in front of Tom, Brad, and Tim. Any chance?”. I hit ‘send’, and went back to enjoying the conversations with friends and angling for the best view of the stage. The place was starting to get packed, and I shot a quick picture of our vantage point.
Just then, I looked up, and saw Pop moving through the crowd from front to back. Our eyes met, and I realized that he was looking for me. “Andy, Eric’s looking for you!”. I turned, and noticed Eric, almost immediately. Eric grabbed me, and said “C’mon. Let’s go! I can only take you, but let’s go, now!” Taken off-guard, I just followed him. I didn’t have any time to tell anyone where I was going…and I didn’t know what was happening. I felt a pang of guilt, knowing that I was leaving everyone else behind. I can never plan how these experiences will unfold, and I was focused on getting the art backstage. I’d have to apologize later, but right now, I had to focus on the task at hand. No wasted steps. Don’t stutter. Don’t geek out. Be polite and kind, but don’t overdo it.
Eric led me upstairs, and around to the right side of the stage area. We were a floor above the main crowd, and as we passed through a black curtain, Eric nodded at two security guards. Once Eric pointed to me, and held up a finger to indicate ‘plus one’, we were good to go. We entered a small, cramped hallway, that spoke to the age of the building. There were two stair cases paralleling the hallway -one going up, and one going down – and three or four doors on the left. We pulled up to the first open door, and I saw Chuck’s familiar face. He stood up to greet me, and I shook his hand and thanked him again for his attendance at MCA Day. He said “I was glad to be invited”. Humbly downplaying his impact, as usual. He walked me back into the hallway, and we poked our head in the next room. On a small couch sat Tom Morello, and a woman I didn’t recognize. Across from Tom, in a chair, sat Timmy C. Chuck re-introduced me, and I reminded Tom of our previous meeting. I told him that we proudly showed his shoutout for Adam Yauch at the past two MCA Days. Recognition showed on his face, and he moved up to the edge of the couch. I said, I have some artwork, that I’m hoping will be featured in the Hail to the Chief video. This seemed to change his interest further, and he became more engaged in the conversation.
He posed with his portrait, and I congratulated him on his beloved Cubs’ World Series victory. I started feeling more comfortable, and the pressure seemed to ease. I turned to Tim, and I said, “I have a portrait of you, too.” Maybe he thought I was getting a bit too comfortable, and having too much fun, because Tim began to bust my chops pretty hard. “This doesn’t look like me! You made me look bald! You gave me a chrome-dome! I’m not signing that!”. Chuck tried to soften the comments. “What are you talking, about? It’s beautiful.” Everyone was laughing at Tim’s rant, but I was mortified. “I can fix it!”, I blurted. “Naw, its’ beyond fixable!”, Tim said. “Oh, man! You’re killing me”, I half-joked.
I decided it was time to find Brad (if I could). I left the room with my tail between my legs. Oh, wait! I remembered that before leaving for the show, I gently put my Arm the Homeless guitar sculpture into my portfolio case. Storing it that way was less than ideal, and I thought it might break, but I was determined to bring it along. “Tom, I have one more thing I’d like to show you”. I pulled out the fragile, little model, and presented it to him. “I’m an art teacher, and I made this as a demonstration for my 7th grade class. It’s your guitar!” Instead of mocking me, he gently took the guitar in his hands. Instantly, he pretended to shred, and I managed to fire off a picture. He signed it, and I thanked him profusely for the incredible experience he was affording me. Surreal.
I turned into the hallway again. Where was Brad? “Brad’s upstairs doing his pre-show things”, someone called out. Maybe it was time to head back down to the floor. Just as I got to the black curtain, I heard my name – “Andy!”. It was James Bomb. He said, “Here’s Brad.” At the other end of the hallway, Brad Wilk had appeared. I approached him, still a little gun-shy from my exchange with Tim. “Hey, Brad. I made a portrait of you. I’m hoping it’s going to be in the Hail to the Chief video.” “Oh, are you the guy making the video?”, he asked excitedly. “Oh, no. That’s C-Doc. I’m just submitting these portraits so they may be included”. As I explained, Brad became interested in the work. “Wow, you made this?”, he asked. “Wow, I think…I may want to have this?” He was studying the cardboard, and the design of his tattoo that I had included in the background. Just then, as if to burst my new bubble, Timmy C poked his head out of his dressing room. “You drew the tattoo all wrong! It’s not wide enough on the right side!” Brad pulled the drawing away from Tim, and seemed to ignore him in favor of our conversation. Tim floated away, and we continued. “If you want it, I can make that happen.” “Are you saying I can have this?” Brad asked bewilderedly. “If that’s how you want to do it.”, I responded. “Ummm, nooo.”, he said softly. “You don’t want to do that. But still, maybe all of us should have one of these.” I loved this idea. After all, I made them for the group. They were for the video, but I would be honored if they wanted them. “I can make others, and we can figure that out.” “Yeah, great!”, said Brad. I decided it was time for me to let them get back to business. There were a bunch of people downstairs who were ready for a show. Quickly, I asked Timmy if he was sure he wouldn’t sign the artwork. He shrugged, and said, “OK. I don’t want you to feel bad!” Too late. But I’m glad he relented. I didn’t want to hold them up. I snapped a quick picture of Brad with his portrait, and I was on my way. Six for Six. Unbelievable.
The concert was amazing. Easily, one of the best I’ve ever seen. To have that energy, that talent, and that catalogue of music all performed in that little, storied place, was almost too much to take in. I was bowled over. Malcolm and I had moved closer to the stage, and when they ran through their classic Hip-Hop tracks, we felt as if they were playing just for us. We rapped all the words to Bring the Noise, Hand on the Pump, Welcome to the Terrordome, and Insane in the Membrane. I was glad we were there to witness this together. The old Rage songs sounded flawless and raw, simultaneously. It felt like I’d traveled back in time. I was ready to take on the establishment and make my mark. It’s amazing how music can make you feel. What a gift.
At the end of the show, I apologized to anyone around me who I may have bumped with my obnoxiously large portfolio case. Who would bring a big case to a concert?
We walked out to the street, and realized that while we were inside, it had rained. Everything was wet and shiny, but it had cooled everything off. Malcolm and I decided to stick around, while everyone else went their separate ways. A small group of people waited around until the band emerged from the back doors. Brad and Chuck came over to give their thanks, and we all took turns taking pictures of one another. Another amazing mission accomplished.
About a week later, I received a direct message from Jason Lee Rockman. He lives in Canada, and we are connected through mutual friends and our love of music. He said “I’m sure you knew, but it case you didn’t. Bad ass!!” Above his message, I saw the new Prophets of Rage video – Hail to the Chief. My artwork was featured prominently in the first seconds of the clip. With the help of Chuck D, and David ‘C-Doc’ Snyder, I had done it – My work was in the official Prophets of Rage video (3:23 mark). Unbelievable. Thanks, Mr. Chuck, Malcolm, Kevin, Amy, Bill P, C-Doc, Mike, Pop, Eric, James, Tom Morello, Brad Wilk, DJ Lord, B-Real, and, yes, even Timmy C. You were all an important part of my artistic development, and provided me with an experience that I’ll never forget. I can’t wait for the next adventure. – Clear the Way! – AK