Zacharias Manuel de la Rocha (born January 12, 1970) is an American musician and activist. He is best known as the vocalist and lyricist of rap metal/funk metal band Rage Against the Machine. He left Rage Against the Machine in October 2000 and embarked on a solo career, although the band reunited from 2007 to 2011. 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 1937), and a mother of German and Irish origin, Olivia Lorryne Carter (born 1941). His father was of partial Sephardic Jewish descent and 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 paternal grandfather, Isaac de la Rocha Beltrán (1910–1985), was a Mexican revolutionary who fought in the Mexican Revolution and worked as an agricultural labourer in the U.S. De la Rocha would later 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 six years old, and he moved from East Los Angeles to Irvine with his mother, who attended the University of California at Irvine and ultimately earned a Ph.D. in anthropology. De la Rocha later described Irvine as "one of the most racist cities imaginable" and said that "if you were a Mexican in Irvine, you were there because you had a broom or a hammer in your left hand". De la Rocha became a vegetarian as a teenager.
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, The Misfits, 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 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 by 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 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 Dead Hands".
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 and the Reading and Leeds Festivals. 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.
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.
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. For a time, it seemed to have been shelved indefinitely. However, on September 8, 2016, it was reported that de la Rocha's first solo album was complete and would be released in early 2017. The news came with a new song, produced by El-P, called "Digging for Windows" that was released on YouTube and BitTorrent. However, to date, the album remains unreleased with no further announcements made.
De la Rocha advocates in favor of Leonard Peltier, Mumia Abu-Jamal, and the Zapatista (EZLN) 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.
Zack'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.
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.
De la Rocha played guitar on the following albums:
- Face Reality (EP) 7" (1988)
- Hard Stance (EP) 7" (1989)
De la Rocha credited for vocals:
- No Spiritual Surrender (1990)
- Benefit 7" (live bootleg recording with Youth of Today) (1991)
Rage Against the Machine
De la Rocha credited for vocals:
- Rage Against the Machine (1992)
- Evil Empire (1996)
- Live & Rare (1998)
- The Battle of Los Angeles (1999)
- Renegades (2000)
One Day as a Lion
De la Rocha credited for vocals and keyboards:
- One Day as a Lion (2008)
Solo and collaborations
- "Mumia 911" from Mumia 911, a benefit EP also featuring a dozen hiphop artists collectively known as The Unbound Allstars (1999)
- "C.I.A. (Criminals in Action)" with KRS-One and The Last Emperor, from Lyricist Lounge, Volume One compilation and remixed on 12" vinyl single (reissued in 2002), (1999)
- "Burned Hollywood Burned" from Bamboozled soundtrack (2000) with Chuck D and The Roots
- "Centre of the Storm" from In the Møde, Roni Size/Reprazent (2000)
- "Release" from Blazing Arrow, Blackalicious (2002)
- "Disavowed" from You Can't Go Home Again (The Private Press era), DJ Shadow (additional drums and co-production) (2002)
- "March of Death" with DJ Shadow, free on marchofdeath.com (2003)
- "We Want It All" from Songs and Artists That Inspired Fahrenheit 9/11 and digital single (2004)
- "Act III Scene 2 (Shakespeare)" from Saul Williams, Saul Williams (2004)
- "Artifact" with DJ Shadow, unreleased, recorded circa 2002–2003; the instrumental appeared on DJ Shadow's album The Outsider (2006)
- "Somos Más Americanos" from "MTV Unplugged presents: Los Tigres del Norte And Friends" Los Tigres del Norte (2011)
- "Melding of the Minds" from Event II, Deltron 3030 (2013)
- "Close Your Eyes (And Count to Fuck)" from Run the Jewels 2 (2014)
- "Digging for Windows" produced by El-P (2016)
- "A Report To The Shareholders / Kill Your Masters" from Run the Jewels 3 (2016)