The instrumentation in “Testify” is very important in order to understand the meaning of the song, as well as the beliefs and ideals of RATM. At the beginning of the song the drums and guitar can be heard playing a type of ‘free styling’ sound. Upon first listening, it sounds as if the instruments in the beginning are chaotic and have no set basis in the actual achievement of the entire song. The disorder heard in the beginning is representative of the disorganized culture in the US. Confusion is how one could define the US- ultimately torn between a capitalist-driven economy and the needs of citizens.
Next, the bass interjects with the sound of a growing monotonous beat. With the chaos heard in the beginning and then the monotone sound heard next, it almost resembles the formation of current American ideals. The ideals and values of citizens vary because interests are different between individuals. The government, however, represented by the left-handed second voice of the bass, interjects and alters the ideals of citizens by focusing primarily on furthering capitalism and dominance in the world. This resembles the way that the bass, (or government), took over in the song, ultimately ending the chaos of the drums and guitar, and bringing about a sense of conformity.
Moreover, as the song progresses, and de la Rocha makes his way towards screaming “Testify,” all three instruments seem to be building up or getting louder as they wait for the testament of word. Society is like the instruments because citizens see the injustices, until finally they must take an explosive stand and “Testify.” Subsequently, as the song wraps up, and all instruments become louder, it is the drums that are distinctly heard pounding. The pounding in the music represents society ‘revolting’ against the evils of capitalism. Society has had enough and has “found the weakness” in government. Aggressively, society must break away and destroy the walls of capitalism. This is represented in the way that drummer Brad Wilk aggressively hammers his drums.
Guitar, bass, and drums, as stated in the notes for the first term essay, make up the sounds of “Testify.” Electronically fashioned sounds and samples are very popular in society today. In “Testify,” however, RATM does not use these ‘new’ forms of music because it is contrary to their political ideals. Electronically shaped sounds and sampling produce music that the masses of society can enjoy. Ultimately, this is a form of capitalism because it provides a sound that the majority of consumers can relate to, and thus, purchase. As stated throughout this paper, “Testify” rebels against forms of consumerism and media influence that fuel capitalism in society.
Ultimately, RATM uses drums, guitar, and bass because they are the basic elements necessary to create song. The use of these instruments relate to the “low-tech warfare”5 used in the times before industrialization and capitalism. It represents that idea that even before technological advancements, wars could be won and values could be altered. Therefore, it is this type of music that is pure and avoids the pressures of capitalism and profit. It is made solely as an expression against the will of higher authority, and seeks to change the values of a dominant community in a simple, yet loud manner.
As a genre, RATM are categorized as a metal/hip-hop group. “Testify” follows the stated genre, using conventions of both metal and hip-hop. The heavy guitar playing and loud vocals are conventions of metal music. Conversely, the free styling words and the pace upon which they are sung are conventions of hip-hop. Together, the stated conventions add to the meaning of the song as a whole. “Testify” mixes metal, normally seen as white music, and hip-hop, often looked at as black music. The combination of the two adds to the meaning of “Testify” because essentially the song is a statement of rebellion to ensure equality.
By mixing both metal and hip-hop, “Testify” acts as a ‘coming’ together of race or a conjoining of equals. This acts as a level playing field for expression, definitely shown through the blending of cultures. This is influential because it shows the greater population that equality can be easily achieved as long as individuals can define themselves against the evils of society. Ultimately, “Testify” is a definition against the capitalist thought of US government and focuses on revolution to save citizens
This paper has examined the song “Testify.” Through the investigation of vocals, instrumentation, and genre, it has been shown that “Testify” speaks to the evils of capitalism and media influences. Further, it has been suggested that the song calls for citizens to rebel against the corruption of the capitalist-thirsty US government. As a name, “Rage Against The Machine” is a metaphor. It refers to raging against the ‘machinery’ of government, or rebellion toward the elements that attribute to governmental injustices. As a song, “Testify” is a modern day ‘manifesto’ against the organization known as the American government.
“Testify” allows listeners to follow along and compare their beliefs to the values expressed by de la Rocha and the gang. In total, the song provides listeners with an ultimatum that is hard to refuse: either join the power or fail to flower. Generally, in joining the power, individuals can testify to ensure their equality and safety in a future of uncertainty.
1 Donald Bolander and Bernard Cayne, The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary, (New York: Lexicon Publications, 1988), 1021.
2 Terrence Cox, “Notes For First Term Essay Disc”, in Popular Culture 1F00, Brock University, 2003, 13.