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Race in Music

Heavy, loud music has long been considered the exclusive domain of white males. Although a few artists such as Jimi Hendrix broke through the race barrier, loud music still remained whitewashed until recently.

Just as the 90’s have brought a change in the style of heavy metal, this decade has also seen a rise in members of the human race other than Caucasian men. The first band to gain success was Living Color, who lit up the airwaves with their hit "Cult of Personality." Living Color helped break the stereotype that rap was solely for black people and metal specifically for white people. Although their success did not last through the latter part of the decade, they helped pave the way for other, heavier acts to follow.

Recently, heavy metal has fused with other genres of music to create a heavier sound. When most people think of this fusion, they immediately associate the sound with Rage Against The Machine. Emerging from L.A., their debut self titled album caught the music public off guard in 1992 with their outrageous guitar sounds and unapologetic liberal lyrics. Rage is spearheaded by vocalist Zack De La Rocha (half Chicano), and guitarist Tom Morello (half Kenyan, quarter Irish, quarter Italian). Many of their song lyrics sympathize with the plight of minorities, especially tracks like "Without a Face," "Wake Up," and "People of the Sun."

Another band that shatters misconceptions with ease is the Deftones. The Deftones exploded on to the music scene in 1995 with the surprise hit record "Adrenaline." With their 1997 follow up "Around the Fur," the band continued to defy categorization by making some of the heaviest music to date. The ease with which the Deftones annihilate boundaries among their audiences is no doubt enhanced by the multi-ethnic makeup of the band. As singer Chino Moreno explains on the band’s website (www.deftones.com), "We're two Mexicans, a Chinese and a white boy. Metal and punk don't have to be white, anymore than rap has to be black." Coal Chamber is another band with similar ethnic backgrounds; the band contains two Mexicans, a Caucasian, and to top it off, a female bassist! There is a multitude of hard core bands who have minority members, including Stuck Mojo, King’s X, Rollins Band, and Sevendust.

Although the majority of the public tends to view metal as a cacophony of guitars accompanied by incessant yelling, there are groups who convey a message against racism. Take the lyrics from Biohazard’s "Tales From The Hard Side": "The virus of hate infects ignorant minds." Also from Biohazard is "Black and White and Red All Over," a song that condemns racial violence: "Fascism, the epitome of ignorance/Listen up, I’ll give you a for instance/People go hating for the color of their skin/Won’t they learn they’ll never win/Play into the hands of the media vultures/We must learn to unite our cultures/Violence constantly tears us apart/Show the world that we’ve got heart/Blood is spilled on black and white/Different colors/why do we fight/Face the facts, stone cold sober/Black and white and red all over."

Pantera is another band who detests racism. A prime example is the lyrics of their song "No Good (Attack the Radical)," "In the States there’s a problem with race because of ignorant past burned fires."; "White Hoods and militants you know it’s such a pity, living, breathing, violence in your city."; "A Closed mind playing the part of prison cells." Sevendust also included a quote from Daniel Wolfe’s book You Send Me: The Life of Sam Cooke in the linear notes of their CD: "I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality."

Heavy Metal has evolved tremendously from the leather clad days of the early 80’s, where most of the songs revolved around how many women the singer could bed. It serves as an optimistic view for the very present social ill called racism. If music can face its problems and change for the better, then there is hope for us all of us to do the same.