Best known as the vocalist and lyricist of Rage Against the Machine, the American musician, poet, rapper and activist Zacarías Manuel “Zack” de la Rocha was born born January 12, 1970. While attending junior high school, de la Rocha became involved in the punk scene and played guitar for a band called Juvenile Expression with Tim Commerford. His interest in 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. Soon after entering high school, Zack joined the straight edge band Hardstance. De la Rocha and Hardstance bassist Mark Hayworth eventually formed the hardcore band Inside Out, which gained a large national underground following. They released a single record, No Spiritual Surrender, on Revelation Records in 1990 before breaking up. In de la Rocha’s words, Inside Out was “about completely detaching ourselves from society to see ourselves 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.” After Inside Out broke up, he embraced hip hop and began freestyling at local clubs, where he met Tom Morello and Brad Wilk. Eventually, de la Rocha’s Juvenile Expression bandmate Commerford joined them and Rage Against the Machine was formed.
After playing Lollapallooza Rage Against the Machine became 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.
In October 2000, de la Rocha left Rage Against the Machine, due to “creative differences.” Upon leaving the band, de la Rocha 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.
After RATM’s breakup, 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”. 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. 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. In 2007 Rage Against the Machine reunited & headlined the final day of Coachella 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). 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 an 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.