Frontman Zack de la Rocha may be gone from Rage Against the Machine, but he is certainly not forgotten on "Renegades of Funk," the lead single from the political rock group's new Renegades LP.
"That song was originally brought in by Zack," Rage guitarist Tom Morello said of the track, which was originally recorded by hip-hop pioneers Afrikaa Bambaataa and SoulSonic Force in 1983. "He said that if we were going to do one song, that would be his choice. Back in his break-dancing days, [the song] was one of his favorites."
Renegades, which hit stores Tuesday, features the band's interpretations of songs by Minor Threat, the MC5, the Stooges, EPMD, Devo and others. "Renegades of Funk," Morello said, offered challenges the other tracks did not.
"'Renegades of Funk' probably stands out, in the history of all Rage Against the Machine songs, as the song that we have worked the hardest on," Morello said. "It was the most difficult song to arrange and record that we've ever played.
"Unlike some of these songs, where it was just basically a lyric sheet and we wrote new music for it, the original is about 12 minutes long. There's no chorus that repeats in the song, and the music changes radically.
"It was just a break-dancing song," he added, "where there were a bunch of wild beats that went on for about 12 to 15 minutes, and then it was over with. So we had to take excerpts from lyrics, then write the new music and make it all fit. I think one of the things that's very different about the Renegades record than, say, The Battle of Los Angeles is the adventurous nature of the song arrangements."
Rage Against the Machine's "Renegades of Funk" has already climbed into the top 20 on the Radio & Records Alternative and Active Rock airplay charts.
The video was shot by director Steven Murashige, who also filmed Incubus' "Pardon Me." The clip is composed of stock footage of various political figures, music artists and celebrities, but does not include any images of Rage Against the Machine.
"The idea of the Renegades video is to, as much as the song eloquently does, show the connection between renegades and their [respective] time and places," Morello said. "There was a great R.E.M. song that encouraged the listener to 'Stand in the place that you live,' whether that's in the arena of sports with someone like Muhammad Ali, comedy with Richard Pryor, or with acting, like Paul Robeson, or politics with Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Thomas Paine, or music, like Afrika Bambaataa. Having the courage to buck convention and to stand for what you believe in makes people renegades in their time and places."
"There's a great line in the song," he continued, "'Renegades are the people with their own philosophies/ They're the people who make history/ Everyday people like you and me,' and there's never been truer words penned than those. History is oftentimes made by the nameless and by the faceless."
Other familiar musical faces that are apotheosized in the "Renegades of Funk" video include Curtis Mayfield, Public Enemy, LL Cool J, Salt-n-Pepa, Whodini and Queen Latifah — as well as "Wild Thing" rapper Tone Loc.
"Is Tone Loc in the video?" Morello laughed when asked about the rapper's renegade credentials. "Maybe I haven't seen the latest cut. I guess in only a wild stretch could he be considered a renegade of funk."
Next month Rage Against the Machine will release "The Battle of Mexico City," a live VHS and DVD set. Due January 23, it captures the group's raucous October 27, 1999, show at the Palacio de los Deportes.