Killing in the Name

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"Killing in the Name"
Black-and-white photo of man in flames. In black letterbox border is white text "rage against the machine; killing in the name."
Single by Rage Against the Machine
from the album Rage Against the Machine
ReleasedNovember 2, 1992 (1992-11-02)
Rage Against the Machine singles chronology
"Killing in the Name"
"Bullet in the Head"
Rage Against the Machine reissued singles chronology
"Killing in the Name"
Audio sample
Alternative cover
Large red block capitals on black background reads "killing in the name."
Australasia cover

"Killing in the Name" is a song by the American band Rage Against the Machine, and appears on their 1992 self-titled debut album. It features heavy drop-D guitar riffs and lyrics protesting police brutality inspired by the beating of Rodney King and the 1992 Los Angeles riots.

"Killing in the Name" was released as the lead single from Rage Against the Machine in November 1992. It reached number 25 on the UK Singles Chart. In 2009, following a public campaign protesting the British talent show The X Factor, "Killing in the Name" became the UK Christmas number one.


Tom Morello wrote the guitar riffs while teaching a student drop D tuning; he briefly paused the lesson to record the riff.[1] The band worked on the song the next day. According to Morello, "Killing in the Name" was a collaborative effort, combining his riff with Tim Commerford's "magmalike" bass, Brad Wilk's "funky, brutal" drumming and vocalist Zack de la Rocha's "conviction".[2] Morello recorded his part on a Fender Telecaster.[3]


"Killing in the Name" combines elements of punk and hip hop[4] and stylistically has been described as alternative metal,[5] rap metal,[6] rap rock,[7] hard rock,[8] and nu metal.[9] The journalist Peter Buckley described it as "a howling, expletive-driven tirade against the ills of American society".[10] The song builds in intensity, as de la Rocha chants the line "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me", building in a crescendo the next four times and angrily screaming the line the final eight times, culminating with the scream "Motherfucker!"[11] The song contains the word "fuck" 16 times.[12]

The lyrics were inspired by the police brutality suffered by Rodney King and the subsequent 1992 Los Angeles riots.[13][14][15] The refrain "some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses" draws what the band views as a link between the Los Angeles Police Department and the Ku Klux Klan.[16] According to BBC News, "Killing in the Name" rails against "the military–industrial complex, justifying killing for the benefit of, as the song puts it, the chosen whites".[17]


The cover of the CD single is Malcolm Browne's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of Thích Quảng Đức's self-immolation in Saigon in 1963 in protest of the murder of Buddhists by the U.S.-backed regime of Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem. The photograph also appears on cover of the eponymous Rage Against the Machine album.[12] The cover of the Australian version of the CD-single has the words "killing in the name", in large, red block capitals, and a much smaller and tightly cropped version of the photograph in the bottom right-hand corner.[1]


"Killing in the Name" was originally released as part of a 12-song self-released cassette. The first video for "Killing in the Name" did not receive heavy airplay in the United States due to the explicit lyrics. The song received substantial airplay in Europe and drove the band's popularity abroad.[18]

After signing with Epic Records, the band released their self-titled debut album on November 12, 1992. It was certified triple platinum, driven by heavy radio play of "Killing in the Name".[12]


On February 21, 1993, the BBC Radio 1 DJ Bruno Brookes accidentally played the uncensored version of the song on his Top 40 Countdown, leading to 138 complaints.[19] Brookes was recording an advertisement for the following week's Top 40 Countdown while the song played.[12][17] In November 2008, the song was played over the speakers in an Asda supermarket in Preston, Lancashire, prompting complaints from customers. Asda issued an apology.[17][20][21]

Use in political campaigns[edit]

In 2012, Morello demanded the right-wing UK Independence Party stop using "Killing in the Name" in rallies.[22] Following the 2020 United States elections, a video of pro-Trump protesters dancing to "Killing in the Name" was widely shared on social media. Commentators saw it as a misappropriation of the song. Rage Against the Machine responded in a tweet: "They just don't GET IT do they?"[23]

In 2022, Reuters Fact Check concluded that a viral video purportedly showing North Korea's military choir covering the song had been digitally altered. Its audio is from a video uploaded to YouTube in 2019 of an event when a thousand musicians gathered to perform the song inside Frankfurt's Deutsche Bank Park. The montage of clips of the large choir and footage of the North Korea's military arsenal such as tanks and missiles had been edited together to mislead viewers.[24]

2009 UK Christmas number one campaign[edit]

In early December 2009, the English DJ Jon Morter and his wife Tracy launched a group on the social networking site Facebook encouraging people to buy the song in the week before Christmas. They hoped to prevent the winner of The X Factor, a televised singing competition, from achieving the UK Christmas number one for the fifth year running.[25][26] On December 15, the BBC reported the group had more than 750,000 members.[27]

As the X Factor song was donating some of the profits to charity,[28] the Rage Against X Factor campaign encouraged supporters also to give to charity. Alongside the group, a Justgiving page was created to raise money for homeless charity Shelter which, as of 20 December, had raised over £70,000 (approximately $110,000).[29]

After the X Factor creator Simon Cowell denounced the campaign as "stupid" and "cynical",[30] the group gained more attention and was mentioned on various UK news channels, radio stations and websites. Rage Against the Machine added their support. Morello said that achieving the Christmas number one would be "a wonderful dose of anarchy" and that he planned to donate the unexpected windfall to charity.[31][32] Dave Grohl, Muse, Them Crooked Vultures, Liam Howlett and the Prodigy were among many musicians and celebrities supporting the campaign.[28][33][34] The campaign received support from Paul McCartney, who had appeared on The X Factor with the finalists,[35][36] and the X Factor contestants Jedward.[37] Critics noted that both The X Factor and Rage Against the Machine are signed to labels that are part of Sony BMG;[27][38][39] Morello dismissed conspiracy claims as ridiculous.[40][41] Kasabian's Tom Meighan and Sergio Pizzorno expressed their happiness at the campaign's success in an NME interview and criticised The X Factor.[42]

Rage Against the Machine attracted controversy when they performed an uncensored rendition of the song on BBC Radio 5 Live in mid-December 2009, despite the hosts asking them to censor the expletives. During the crescendo of their performance, frontman Zack De La Rocha started out only singing "I won't do what you tell me", with a pause where he normally sings "fuck you", but after a few lines, he screamed the lyrics, "Fuck you, I won't do what you tell me" repeatedly. Hosts Nicky Campbell and Shelagh Fogarty apologized afterwards.[31][43]

On December 20, 2009, BBC Radio 1 revealed that the song had reached the number one spot, selling more than 500,000 copies and being the first download-only single to become the UK Christmas number one.[29] The following week, Joe McElderry's cover of "The Climb" became the last British UK number one single of the year and the 2000s. "Killing in the Name" dropped to number two, falling 38 places to number 40 the week after,[44][45] and dropping out of the top 75 the following week, falling to number 100.[46]

The campaign spread to Ireland, where, like the UK, the Christmas number one had been dominated by X Factor finalists for five years. The campaign was less successful in Ireland and McElderry beat Rage Against the Machine to Christmas number one, with Rage Against the Machine reaching number two.[47]

On June 6, 2010, Rage Against the Machine performed at a free concert for 40,000 fans in Finsbury Park.[48] On stage, Tracy and Jon Morter were handed a representative cheque in the amount of £162,713.03, representing the proceeds from donations to JustGiving and royalties from sales of the single.[49]

As a result of the campaign, the song is featured in the 2011 UK edition of the Guinness World Records under the category of 'Fastest-selling digital track (UK)', after recording 502,672 downloads in its first week.[50]

Music video[edit]

The video, produced and directed by Peter Gideon, a guitar student of Tom Morello who had a video camera, was filmed during two shows in small Los Angeles venues, the Whisky a Go Go and the Club With No Name. Released in December 1992, the uncensored version of the video clip was shown on European MTV but was banned on American MTV because of the explicit lyrics. As a result, the video's existence was in doubt until its release on Rage Against the Machine: The Video.[18]

In 2021, in a collaboration with the arts collective the Ummah Chroma, Rage Against the Machine released a 15-minute short documentary video about the making of "Killing in the Name."[51][52] The video features anti-racist activist Tim Wise and contains footage of an interview with Zach de la Rocha, who says that capitalist society "should not stand. It should be challenged and questioned and overthrown."[51]


In July 2009, "Killing in the Name" was voted at number two in the Hottest 100 of all time countdown poll, conducted by Australian radio station, Triple J. More than half a million votes were cast.[1] The song was also voted at number 17 in the 1998 edition of Hottest 100 of All Time and was voted number 6 on the Hottest 100 list in 1993.

In 2007, "Killing in the Name" earned a spot on Guitar World's list of the "100 Greatest Guitar Solos" at number 89.[53][54]

In 2002, Rolling Stone magazine listed "Killing in the Name" as the 24th in its 100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time and as the 207th in its "Top 500 Greatest Songs of All Time".[2][55] In March 2023, they ranked "Killing in the Name" at number 38 on their "100 Greatest Heavy Metal Songs of All Time" list.[56]

In 2010, the New Statesman listed it as number 12 on their list of the "Top 20 Political Songs" as voted for by the Political Studies Association.[15]

In 2010, 2011, and 2012, The Rock radio station in New Zealand held the Rock 1,000 countdown which counts down the top 1,000 rock songs of all time, as voted by the public; in 2010 and 2011, the song was in the top five, while in 2012, the song was number seven. In 2011 and 2012, "Killing in the Name" was played uncensored, with a preceding message from the prime minister, John Key, approving the playing of the uncensored version of the song due to the large number of complaints received by MediaWorks New Zealand regarding the 2010 countdown not giving any warning that the song was uncensored.[57] In 2017, "Killing in the Name" made it to number 1 in the Rock 1500 and was presented by long serving broadcaster, Roger Farrelly.[58][57] In 2021, "Killing in the Name" made it to number 1 in The Rock 2,000.[59]

In 2021, the UK Official Charts Company announced that "Killing in the Name" had been named as the 'UK's Favourite Christmas Number 1 of All Time'[60] in a poll commissioned to celebrate the 70th Official Christmas Number 1 race (and as a tie-in with the book The Official Christmas No. 1 Singles Book by Michael Mulligan).[61][62]

Live performances[edit]

Rage Against the Machine burning the American flag onstage while playing "Killing in the Name" during Woodstock 1999.

The song was performed as an extended instrumental at their first public performance at Cal State in the Quad, on October 23, 1991. Bassist Tim Commerford is known to chant the backing vocals of "now you do what they told ya" of the chorus during most live performances.

Zack de la Rocha sometimes changed the lyrics in the second verse from "Some of those that work forces are the same that burn crosses" to "Some of those that burn crosses are the same that hold office" when playing live.[63]

As part of supergroup Audioslave, guitarist Tom Morello incorporated instrumentals from Rage Against the Machine including versions of "Killing in the Name" into their performances.[64]

Rage Against the Machine performed the song live in 1999 at the Woodstock '99 festival, burning the American flag during the song. In this performance, de la Rocha changed the lyrics to "Some of those that work forces are the same that burn churches".[65]

Track listing[edit]

1."Killing in the Name"5:13
2."Darkness of Greed"3:40
3."Clear the Lane"3:47
Total length:12:40

"Darkness of Greed" and "Clear the Lane" were re-mastered versions of the respective demo tracks. Another version of "Darkness of Greed", titled merely "Darkness", was included on the 1994 soundtrack album for The Crow. The previously unreleased demo appeared on the XX 20th Anniversary Edition of their debut album, which was released on November 27, 2012.[66]




Region Certification Certified units/sales
Australia (ARIA)[78] Platinum 70,000^
Denmark (IFPI Danmark)[82] Gold 45,000
Germany (BVMI)[83] Gold 250,000
Italy (FIMI)[84] Platinum 70,000
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[85] Gold 30,000
United Kingdom (BPI)[86] 2× Platinum 1,200,000

^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

Other uses[edit]

An image of George W. Bush stencilled in light blue with the words "Killing in the Name of" written above it.
Lyrics from "Killing in the Name" appear throughout popular culture.

During one of his last performances before he died, American comedian Bill Hicks ended a set by smashing his microphone against a stool while singing along to "Killing in the Name" playing over the loudspeakers.[87]

As part of the US War on Terror, the song was used by military interrogators at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp. Music was played at painfully high volume levels for hours on end, as a form of psychological torture. "The fact that music I helped create was used in crimes against humanity sickens me," noted Morello.[17][88][89][90]

During the 2019–20 Chilean protests, the song was covered with some of the lyrics modified alluding to the Chilean police force's misuse of violence in repressing peaceful protestors.[91]

On June 29, 2022, a Vancouver radio station, CKKS-FM (branded on-air as KISS Radio), stunted by repeatedly played "Killing In The Name" for 30 hours.[92] The song was repeatedly played on loop after the station dropped its hot adult contemporary format, resulting in the firing of its airstaff. The station occasionally paused the loop to take call-in requests, only to continue playing the song.[93] At 6:00 AM PDT on June 30, 2022, the station rebranded to "Sonic", which plays a modern rock format.[94]

Cover versions and parodies[edit]


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