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Strange tourfellows Rock and rap rebels Rage Against the Machine and the Wu-Tang clan are united on tour and in their outsider status.

One of the biggest pop music tours of the summer -- Rage Against the Machine with the Wu-Tang Clan -- got under way last week, but don't feel bad if you didn't hear about it. It didn't end up on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, like the Lilith Fair did, nor was it a lead item on MTV's "The Week in Rock," like Lollapalooza was.

For that matter, it's hard to find Rage or Wu-Tang's music on the radio. But they've come to expect that. Because what Rage Against the Machine and the Wu-Tang Clan represent is the hard edge of pop music's underground -- Rage representing the rebel strain in rock, Wu-Tang offering the alternative side of rap.

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Obviously, there's an audience for each. What makes this tour special is the way it brings the worlds of rock and rap together.

Most tours these days are put together on the assumption that audiences only like one kind of music. What the Rage/Wu-Tang tour hopes to prove is that rock fans will listen to rap, and vice-versa. That the tour is packing amphitheaters across the country testifies to the accuracy of that assertion.

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It helps that both bands have been receiving critical accolades since their inception, and album sales for each have been solid. Rage Against the Machine's current album, "Evil Empire," has been platinum for months, while "Wu-Tang Forever" is well on its way to million-selling status, having sold some 680,000 copies in its first week of release. Clearly, what they do touches a chord in more than a few listeners.

Still, they're outsiders -- a situation they not only accept but seem to relish. "We want to be the outcasts," says Inspectah Deck of the Wu-Tang. Why? Perhaps because, as Rage guitarist Tom Morello explains, being on the outside puts you where the most interesting things happen. "The outer fringes [is] where rebellious souls are drawn," he says. "I think that's very true with hip-hop and hard rock today. [That's] the music which is most easily vilified by your pro-censorship proponents, like C. Dolores Tucker and William Bennett and all.

"Which is all the more reason for a tour [like this] to go out. Because when we tour it's maybe one dose of music, one dose of consciousness-raising at the same time. Because we've always mixed our rock with a liberal dose of activism. And Wu-Tang Clan's mere presence on this tour is a part of that, in that we're not going to shy away from bringing a group on tour which, honestly, can't even tour on their own because they're considered too dangerous for white promoters."

Morello isn't joking. Because insurance companies have been hesitant to write policies on large-venue rap shows in many parts of the country, even the biggest rap groups have been unable to mount arena-sized tours in recent years. So the members of Rage Against the Machine were more than happy to use their clout as a rock band to get the Wu-Tang Clan into venues the group otherwise would not have played.

"If a group like Rage Against the Machine can sell tickets, [the promoters] are willing to swallow their thinly-veiled racism for an afternoon in order to make money," Morello says. "Wu-Tang [is] certainly not hurting for fans. But with regards to touring, it's something I don't think that they've done extensively -- or at all in a lot of the country. So we are very delighted to be bringing the Wu-Tang Clan ... to some pretty big audiences."

Part of the reason Morello and his bandmates are so happy is that, as the guitarist puts it, "there is no better rap group on the planet than the Wu-Tang Clan." The MCs of the Clan -- RZA (a.k.a. Prince Rakeem), GZA (a.k.a. The Genius), Dirty (a.k.a. ODB), U-God, Masta Killa, Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah and Inspectah Deck -- comprise one of the highest concentrations of hip-hop talent on record.

The enthusiasm goes both ways. "As far as Rage Against the Machine playing shows with us? Yeah," says Raekwon. "We interested in seeing they show like they interested in seeing our show. You know what I mean? We all on the same level, from what I'm hearing, as far as popularity. But it's just going to be a sight to see, man, and I think it's really going to turn out to be something peaceful and something special."

After all, just because one group is considered rockers and the other rappers doesn't mean they don't have tastes in common. According to Morello, Rage Against the Machine has strong roots in rap. "While there are distorted electric guitars going on [in our music], in some sense we're a hip-hop group with punk rock instrumentation," he says. "And every hip-hop group that we've had the pleasure of touring with seems to realize that."

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Similarly, there are some real rock fans in the Wu-Tang Clan. "I listen to everything, man," says Method Man. "There was a time where I had nothing but Soundgarden in my CD player. 'Black Hole Sun' was my [thing], you know? I dabbled in a little bit of Garbage, Radiohead, Bush. Oh, my god, incredible [stuff]. Nirvana, you know, their first stuff. Plus untold hip-hop."

What Method Man likes best in rap, though, is the underground music. "People that everybody don't get to hear, you know?" he says. "Because they're the hungry ones. They're not thinking about the dollar bill right now. What they're thinking about is, 'How can I relate to my people?' Bottom line. That's the type of [stuff] I listen to."

There's a lot of underground in Wu-Tang's sound, too, but that doesn't always work in the group's favor -- particularly when it comes to radio. Despite the Clan's obvious popularity, for Wu-Tang recordings rarely get the kind of airplay enjoyed by safer, more commercial rap acts like Puff Daddy, Lil' Kim, Notorious B.I.G. or the Fugees.

"The artists have to compromise themselves in order to get that radio airplay," explains Method Man. "So what do they do? They make remakes of old songs that had radio airplay, and were Top-10 on the charts. They make remakes of that, pay all that money out their pocket, and compromise their originality and their creativity in the process."

"The radio is too soft, anyway," shrugs Deck. "That's why you can hear five songs in a row on the radio, and they'll all sound alike. They slide one Wu Tang song in, and you'll know. Everything will stop. You'll stop what you're doing and listen for a second, because the pattern's been interrupted."

"We back to Hammer Time again," says Method Man.

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But none of the Wu-Tang seem overly concerned about the Clan's relative lack of radio play, because as Deck points out, "You can get a million fans without radio.

"You've got to go out and feel the people," he says. "That's why, when you go out and do your show, you don't just go, 'Oh, I sing my songs, and I'm gone out the back door.' When we do shows ... when it's time to go, we still gotta give you two more songs before we can really, actually go. So the lights are on, and we're still hanging around backstage, just to be with the fans. It's like, we like to touch the people."

Raekwon agrees. "This is all about giving love to the people, man," he says. "They look at us as real-live mentors, you know what I mean? Whether they white, black, Spanish, German, whatever, man. We mentors to them.

"So therefore we got to show them that, hey, this is all entertainment here. Rappers and rock bands can come together and just make a show you just go crazy for. You get so many types of vibes and feelings right there that, yo, man, you going to leave saying, 'Goddamn! I love the whole scenario.' "

Listen up

To hear excerpts from Rage Against the Machine's latest release, "Evil Empire," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6193. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

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To hear excerpts from the Wu-Tang Clan's new release, "Wu-Tang Forever," call Sundial at (410) 783-1800 and enter the four-digit code 6187. For other local Sundial numbers, see the Sundial directory on Page 2A.

See it live

When: 7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 15 (gates open at 5 p.m.)

Where: Merriweather Post Pavilion

Tickets: Pavilion sold out; $20 lawn, plus parking and service charge

Call: (410) 481-6500 for tickets, (410) 730-2424 for information.

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Pub Date: 8/14/97


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