The word ‘Testify’ is defined as making a solemn declaration to establish fact. Moreover, ‘Testify’ refers to testimony given as a ‘witness’ for the purpose of communicating to others a knowledge of something not known to them.1 Rage Against The Machine (RATM), a popular metal/hip-hop band, has authored a song entitled “Testify.”2 This group formed in 1991 in Los Angeles, stating the purpose of their music, is, “…[to] bridge the gap between entertainment and activism; first and foremost, that’s our goal.”3 RATM would not exist were it not for their political awareness and activism-an integral element of the group’s persona that attracts millions of listeners.
Ultimately, the title “Testify” is political in nature and involves the idea of revolting against higher authority. The songs itself calls for society, specifically American citizens, to ‘witness’ the discrimination brought forth by the American capitalist government, and thus, ‘”Testify” against it. Through the examination of vocals, instrumentation, and genre, it will be shown that “Testify” explores the evils of capitalism and media influence. Further, presentation in these areas will show that “Testify” also calls upon citizens to revolt against elitist wrongdoing to ensure equality for the future.
The vocals in “Testify” point strongly to the injustices of American big business and government. The lyrics rapped by vocalist Zack de la Rocha show obvious hate for the American government and their overall conduct as an institution. Primarily, “Testify” introduces the idea of media influence on society. For example, de la Rocha raps, “The movie ran through me/The glamour subdue me/The tabloid untie me.” Ultimately, these statements imply that the media, as an organization, is structured on lies and deceit. Furthermore, de la Rocha screams, “I’m empty please fill me/Mister anchor assure me/That Baghdad is burning/Your voice is so soothing/That cunning mantra of killing.”
Again, RATM points out the prejudices of the media. Even in times of horror, such as The Persian Gulf War that de la Rocha refers to as “Baghdad is burning,” the media relays lies into the homes of citizens. Essentially, it suggests that the media tends to ‘glamourize’ and ‘gossip’ in order to create worthy news that receives high ratings. Additionally, the lines sung by de la Rocha also relate to the larger theme of capitalism.
America, being a country of obvious wealth and determinism, uses media as another force to make money. Big business media organizations present lies instead of truth because people often trust their word and tune in for alluring news. The media is a capitalist-driven organization that focuses more on improving resources rather than presenting objective reality. De la Rocha hollers these ideas in the beginning of the song to show that media influence is a major part of the ‘machinery of government.’ The media ultimately helps the government by working to obtain resources that make them richer and more secure. Throughout the song, de la Rocha cries, “Testify,” as if to say to the citizens of America- forget the glamour, forget the gossip, and ignore the dishonesty- stop being a ‘sleepless jury’- open your eyes and see the discriminations done unto you by the government.
Secondly, lyrics throughout the song point to the destruction of American culture. Guitarist Tom Morello writes, “The song itself means that those who control gas/oil resources control the globe.”4 Furthermore, lyrics sung by de la Rocha agree with Morello’s description and introduce once again the idea of sustained capitalism. For example, de la Rocha states, “The wrecking ball rushing/My witness your blushing/The pipeline is gushing/While here we lie in tombs.” Quite obviously, these lines refer to the motives of American big business and government.
“The pipeline gushing” instinctively shows that gas and oil are of high concern to Americans. Although many argue, for example, that the US fights primarily for oil/gas supremacy, government officials do not present their case this way. This relates to the line “My witness your blushing;” a belief that the government ‘sugar coats’ or ‘lies’ about the true reasons for the necessity of war- an example seen in Iraq at the moment. In total, however, the ‘pipeline’ of gas and oil is gushing because capitalism is causing it to do so.
“While here we lie in tombs” refers to the idea that society is dying without aid from the government. The main concern of America is not to address internal problems, but rather to build economic superiority against the rest of the globe. De la Rocha offers another view on the evils of capitalism. For example, de la Rocha shrieks, “Your temple it calms me/So I can carry on.” Although the government in the US is fortified by “pipeline” resources, the “temple,” of money often calms citizens. De la Rocha suggests that the “temple” or worshipped entity valued by government and citizens is money.
A rich America somewhat subdues the hurt in citizens and money is the cure, as de la Rocha points out when he remarks “So I can carry on.” Again, this provides another proof that the evils of capitalism run through every aspect of American culture. Capitalism affects governmental decision-making, as well as the ideals of citizens. RATM in this sense metaphorically argues that capitalism is evil because it creates a single-tier government whose major concern is wealth and not the safety of citizens. With the words “Testify” shouted again, de la Rocha instinctively calls for citizens to rise up and rebel.
He refers to the jury as sleepless, ultimately showing that the glamour and lies of capitalist media control the minds of society. De la Rocha, however, cries, “We found your weakness.” This refers to the fact that citizens or the “jury” have broken through the trance of capitalism and realize the true motives of the government. When de la Rocha says, “It’s right outside your door,” he implies that the evils of capitalism can be seen anywhere in American society from gas stations, to movies, to the ideals of national leaders. People must now “Testify” if they want to escape the grasp of free enterprise and enter a world of equality and good governance.
Additionally, de la Rocha’s vocals near the end tie together the ideals of the song. Firstly, there is a relationship between the opening two verses and the closing passages. The first verse, as previously examined, explores the media’s detrimental influence on thinking in American society. The second verse investigates violence. For example, de la Rocha speaks of again “The wrecking ball rushing (. . .)
On a bed of fire I’m choking.” These examples call for the oppressed of America to rise up and rebel against governmental injustices. The closing passage ties the first two verses together with the line “Mass graves for the pump, and the price is set.” Price in this sense is metaphorical, advocating that money is the central theme of American society. Moreover, it tells citizens that because of all of the injustices, they must revolt or lash out in order to save themselves from death.
Also, the final five lines at the end of the song bring together the entire meaning of evil capitalism. De la Rocha raps, “Who controls the past now controls the future/Who controls the present now controls the past.” Interestingly enough, the government in George Orwell’s book entitled 1984 also uses these lines. Orwell wrote about his beliefs that the future of society involved authoritarianism and pure dictatorship. RATM uses the same lines to show that the capitalist views of the government are a dictatorship, and their power is being abused in order to further themselves in international politics.
Essentially, de la Rocha points out that this capitalist view to gain oil/gas resources is ‘dictating’ the health of American culture. The capitalist driven ideology adopted by the US has hurt citizens dearly in other areas. As referred to above, de la Rocha whispers, “Mass graves for the pump and the price is set.” This is the most blatant, but brutally honest statement in the song. De la Rocha and RATM portray the idea that while their government tries to overtake the world, US citizens are suffering.
This is also graphically shown within the “Testify” music video when de la Rocha holds a gas pump to his temple, implying that the race for total supremacy is killing society. In total, RATM proposes that the government fails to help its own citizens with real problems such as crime, poverty, and homelessness- this in turn causes death to citizens both physically and metaphorically. Therefore, the extensive investigation into the lyrics of “Testify” has shown the evils of capitalism, as well as the need for individuals to revolt against its detrimental affects.