Zack (short for Zacarias) de la Rocha was born in Long Beach, California on January 12, 1970, to Beto and Olivia de la Rocha. His mother, Olivia, had a Ph.D in Anthropology from the University of California, Irvine. His father, Beto, was a Chicano muralist in the political art group Los Four. They separated when Zack was one year old; Olivia retained custody, living in Irvine, California with Zack.
In 1983, Zack's father suffered a nervous breakdown, and took his religious ideals to extremes. He destroyed his art and when Zack visited him on the weekends, he was forced to fast and sit in a room with the curtains closed and the door locked, and also to help his father destroy his paintings -- paintings which had helped him establish a sense of Chicano identity. After a while, he was unable to cope with this lifestyle, and stayed with his mother in Irvine, which at the time was "perhaps one of the whitest cities" in Southern California.
The lifestyle Beto forced upon Zack brought on culture shock, and an identity crisis. He was alienated from the Chicano community, and was an outsider in the California suburbs where Chicanos were typically only seen doing menial work. In high school, he became involved in the punk and hardcore scene, and played guitar and sang for a straight edge band called Hardstance. His interest in bands like the Sex Pistols and Bad Religion turned into an appreciation for other bands like Minor Threat, Bad Brains, and Teen Idles.
Zack eventually formed Inside Out, which gained a large following in Huntington Beach and Irvine. They released a single record, No Spiritual Surrender on Revelation Records in 1990, before breaking up. In Zack's words, Inside Out "about completely detaching ourselves from society to see ourselves as...as spirits, and not bowing down to a system that sees you as just another pebble on a beach. I channeled all my anger out through that band."
Zack's Chicano heritage separated him from the rich, white kids that surrounded him; although he was never economically deprived as his fellow Chicanos, he felt the same tension and rejection as they did. He found himself relating to hip-hop acts such as Public Enemy, KRS One, and Run-DMC. After Inside Out broke up, he embraced hip-hop and began freestyling at local clubs, where he met Tom Morello and Brad Wilk. Eventually, Zack's friend Tim Commerford joined them, and Rage Against the Machine was formed.
Before long, Rage Against the Machine was on the main stage at Lollapalooza II, and was one of the most politically-charged bands ever to receive extensive airplay from radio and MTV, and Zack became one of the most visible champions of liberal causes around the world, fighting for the causes of Leonard Peltier and Mumia Abu-Jamal, and supporting the Zapatista movement in Mexico. He even spoke on the floor of the UN, testifying against the US and their treatment of Abu-Jamal. The music and the message were so intertwined for him that he did not consider any of Rage's albums a success unless they provoked tangible political change.
Rage's second and third albums peaked at number one, but did not result in the political action Zack had hoped for. He became increasingly restless, and undertook collaborations with artists like KRS One and Chuck D.
In October 2000, Zack left Rage Against the Machine, due to "creative differences" (it's rumored that Tim Commerford's stunt at the 2000 MTV Video Music Awards where, urged on by Michael Moore, he climbed on one of the fixtures on stage was the catalyst for Zack's decision to leave the band). In 2001, he was recording material on separate occasions with The Roots' drummer ?uestlove and Company Flow frontman El-P. He has yet to release an album, although a collaboration with DJ Shadow, "March of Death", was released in 2003 in protest of President Bush's war on Iraq.