It often shocks the listeners how a song born almost three decades ago is still relevant today, even more so than back when it was released. And it becomes absolutely despicable when the subject of such a song is about a problem in society, which entails that the problem has not been fixed for nearly 30 years. “Killing in the Name” by the American rock band Rage Against the Machine (RATM) is a perfect example of this situation. Let’s find out why.
“Killing in the Name” is the lead single off of Rage Against the Machine’s debut studio album also titled ‘Rage Against the Machine.’ The song only reached #25 on charts in the UK after being released on November 3, 1992.
Peaking at #1 in 2009
In December 2009, a Facebook campaign was launched by some people to prevent an X Factor song becoming becoming the hit during Christmas times. From 2005 to 2009, in all four years, an X Factor hit had occupied the Christmas single #1 position. This Facebook campaign was backed by a massive online following of around 1 million people and had a lucrative collection of artists supporting the cause too. On December 17th, RATM released a censored version of the song, suitable for radio, and established that all proceeds will go to charity. These two events combined, the song reached #1 on UK Singles chart in December 2009. The song also held a guiness world record for ‘Fastest-selling digital track (UK)’ with over 500,000 downloads.
Watch Rage Against the Machine Perform “Killing in the Name”
“Killing in the Name” is a song against police brutality. The inspiration for this protest song was gathered following the horrific beating of Rodney King in 1991 in Los Angeles. The song resurfaced in 2020, as North America is engulfed in protests and riots following the murder of George Floyd by a Minnesota policeman.
“Killing in the name of…” starts RATM leaving us to fill in the blanks. Almost all of these police brutality incidents have been targeted toward African American citizens. Hence, the artist wants us to evaluate why we have a tendency towards racial discrimination. What are the root causes of this thought process which makes us despise another human being just for their skin color?
In the first verse itself, Rage Against the Machine hits hard at the crooked people in law enforcement. The singer equates these policemen to the members of the Ku Klux Klan, a white supremacist group, who were notable for hate speech against African Americans and the burning of crosses as means of intimidation. It would be a very unfortunate and biased situation to see these extremist cult groups invading the criminal and justice systems.
These repetitive lines make the listeners wonder why some people turn to discrimination. Was it taught to them? Was it trained in their system? Were they born with it? Or are they told what to think and do?
As ugly as these lyrics are, it is the sad truth. The victims of police brutality are somehow justified their punishment because it was caused by a person of law–a person who is supposed to be one of integrity, equality and morals. However, the reason why they are protected from the consequences of their actions reveal yet another dark side of the legal system.
“F*** you…I won’t do what you tell me” line repeats 16 times in the outro of “Killing in the Name.” This is an attempt to embed the idea not to follow social stereotypes, especially with regard to racial profiling, among the listeners.
Nobody is ever born with a hatred towards another human being. All these corrupt thoughts get instilled in our minds as we grow up. This information can come in many ways and it is your moral obligation to chose the right information from the wrong, which, evidently is difficult, with biased mediums through which we get these information.
Let us hear what you think about “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against the Machine in the comments below. Check out the complete lyrics and further meaning breakdown on Genius.