"I became obsessed with completely reinventing my wheel": What ever happened to Zack de la Rocha's two-decades-in-the-making debut album?

Zack De La Rocha at Download, 2010
(Image credit: Chiaki Nozu/WireImage)

Rage Against The Machine’s planned 2022-2023 tour was over before it began after frontman Zack de la Rocha tore his achilles tendon just one and a half shows into it, with all subsequent dates eventually cancelled. But while you might hope that de la Rocha might spend some of his recuperation time working on his long-awaited solo record, don’t count on it.

De la Rocha’s solo debut has become a sort of mythical thing in rock and hip-hop circles, an album that everyone involved has tried to will into existence only for it to disappear for a few years, then sporadically emerge from the vaults for a few whispered updates before being locked away again.

Sessions go right back to 2003, when de la Rocha teamed up with producer and samplist supremo DJ Shadow, aka Josh Davis, on two released tracks, the free online, anti-war track March Of Death and DJ Shadow B-side Disavowed. A few years later, though, Davis revealed that they had also worked on music for de la Rocha’s solo career.

“It was the biggest disappointment in my career to that point,” said Davis of the canned tracks. “Zack is somebody that really pushes you to do your best, and it was work I really wanted to have people hear. It was really strong. He was doing incredible stuff and I thought we were onto something.”

Next up, it was Trent Reznor’s turn to shake his head disappointedly at de la Rocha. Being interviewed on Times Talks Presents in 2011, Reznor said he’d been working with de la Rocha but told fans not to get their hopes up.

“We did some stuff that I thought was pretty cool, and it was frustrating because I also knew it would never see the light of day,” said the Nine Inch Nails man. “It would get to the point where it was the riddle of [Zack saying], 'I can’t do this, it sounds too much like Rage'. OK, let’s do that. 'I can’t do that, it doesn’t sound enough like what you’d expect me to do.' There’s a few good tracks laying around, but it’s up to him. I doubt that’s going to see the light of day.”

And so another crack collaborator on the long road to this non-existent album was discarded. Speaking to the LA Times in 2008 about the shelved recordings, de la Rocha stated he felt they weren’t in a place where he could release them.

“When I left Rage… first off, I was very heartbroken, and secondly, I became obsessed with completely reinventing my wheel,” he said. “In an unhealthy way, to a degree. I kind of forgot that old way of allowing yourself to just be a conduit. When I was working with Trent and Shadow, I felt that I was going through the motions. Not that what was produced wasn’t great, but I feel now that I’ve maybe reinvented the base sounds that emanate from the songs. But I’m still doing what I feel I do well, while looking for a more minimal sound.”

The next co-conspirator to have a go faired better, in that their work was actually released: in 2016, de la Rocha put out his debut solo single proper, the searing, industrial rocker Digging For Windows. Listen to it, it's a banger:

Around the same time, de la Rocha’s Rage Against The Machine bandmate Brad Wilk confirmed the singer was making a record, and that was backed up in a series of now-deleted tweets by rapper and Run The Jewels member El-P, who co-produced Digging For Windows.

“The Zack De la Rocha album is happening in 2017,” he wrote. “This is new material made this year and yes there is more where that came from… Been keeping my mouth shut about my work with Zack since January… It hurt.”

But it’s there that the trail goes cold, and with no Rage dates in the pipeline and seven years since his last single, you wonder when we’ll hear Zack de la Rocha’s blistering, one-of-a-kind vocal again. It's not a voice that should ever be silenced. Hopefully, de la Rocha picks up the thread sometime soon.

Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.