(Photo by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for LOVE ROCKS NYC/God's Love We Deliver )

Who doesn’t love Tom Morello? As we celebrate this Tom Morello birthday on May 30, we look at the man’s music and mind.

Morello was born in Harlem in 1964. His mother Mary is of Irish and Italian heritage, and his father Ngethe is Kenyan. Mary is a schoolteacher who taught English around the world, and Ngethe was Kenya’s first ambassador to the United Nations.

Ngethe, an ethnic Kikuyu, also participated in the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya in the 1950’s. This family history is important to note, as it inspired Morello’s lifelong love of education, social justice, and activism–themes that have permeated his music.

Tom Morello Birthday: The Music

Morello’s first band wasn’t actually Rage Against The Machine. He played guitar for L.A. metal act Lock Up in the mid-to-late ’80s, releasing one album on Geffen Records in 1989. After that band disbanded, Morello started Rage in 1991.

Rage Against The Machine were one of the dominant musical forces of the ’90s. It’s almost fitting that they disbanded at the end of the decade, in October of 2000. Of course, that opened doors for Morello to join other musical projects, which we’ll get into below.

Tom Morello Birthday: The Man

When it comes to the music and mind of Morello, I always come back to this story. It was during the 2012 U.S. elections, and GOP V.P. hopeful Paul Ryan name dropped Rage Against The Machine as his favorite band in an interview. All these years later, I still laugh.

It’s as if Ryan had never bothered to listen to Rage’s lyrics or read even one interview with the band. Tom Morello, for the most part, has always stood against what men like Ryan stand for. Education, social justice, activism: the core of the music and the man.

  • Lock Up "Nothing New"

    Lock up were in lock-step with the late ’80s/early ’90s California scene. Funky metal in the vein of Red Hot Chili Peppers and Faith No More. Maybe a bit of a Living Colour influence in there, too? Peak 1990 L.A. scene right here.

  • Rage Against The Machine

    If you grew up white suburban middle-class in the ’90s like I did, you likely learned more about U.S. history from band like Rage Against The Machine and Public Enemy than you did in your actual school. I’ll always love Rage for that and for their 1992 debut.

  • Audioslave

    Take Rage, take away Zack, add Chis Cornell, and holy hell. I remember the buzz around Audioslave when those first whispers circulated. And while they lacked the social-political punch of Rage, Tom still found subversive ways to work it in. Like with the title to the 2002 debut single “Cochise.”

  • The Nightwatchman

    Almost concurrent to Audioslave, Morello began recording and performing as The Nightwatchman. The reason is what I was getting at above: Audioslave was apolitical. The Nightwatchman was–and is–very political. Here’s a live cut.

  • Street Sweeper Social Club

    Rapper Boots Riley is another artist who wears his beliefs on his sleeve and aims to educate through his music. He and Morello teamed up for a pair of albums in 2009 and 2010.

  • Prophets of Rage

    Tom just can’t get away from these supergroups. Here he is with Commerford and Wilk from Rage/Audioslave, Chuck D from Public Enemy, and B-Real from Cypress Hill. Politically charged, high energy. Exactly what you’d expect from this lot.

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