One of the problems I have as a fan of hip hop is that, simply by playing the music of certain artists, I feel like I am giving tacit approval to any of the questionable beliefs or activities that the rapper supports. For example, at no point in my life could I ever have condoned the idea of doing a driveby, yet N.W.A. gets constant play in my car stereo. I would never associate with someone who deals crack or cocaine, but the Clipse are one of my favorite rap groups of all time. Sometimes I rationalize this by looking at it as if the rapper is acting as a sort of ghetto newscaster: I may not always like what he's saying, but if that's the reality of the situation he is in, then it is what it is.
There is one thing that a lot of rappers have endorsed that I have always had a hard time accepting: the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE) a.k.a. Five Percenters. The Five Percenters have been a part of hip hop since the mid-80's, but its something that has never really been scrutinized by the journalists that cover the music, and I don't think most fans fully understand the references to NGE.
With the recent release of the album 5% Nation by Lord Jamar (formerly of the Brand Nubians), the news of an upcoming Wu-Tang movie, the reappearance of Rakim and the reemergence of Lauryn Hill and the Fugees, it seems like the NGE is about to have a resurgence in hip hop. All of the main hip hop sites have had articles featuring Five Percenter rappers in the past month and you don't have to spend too much time in the comments sections of a couple of the major hip hop blogs to come across NGE advocates spouting their conspiracy theories.
I don't necessarily have a problem with the spiritual aspect of the 5%ers. They believe that every man is his own "god" and is in control of his own destiny (an extremely simplified version of their beliefs, but that's the root of it). I have as much evidence of what the true religion is as the next man -- that is to say, no evidence -- so I'm in no position to question someone else's faith (or lack thereof). While the NGE is an offshoot of the Nation of Islam, it is only distantly related to Islam and many Fiver Percenters do not consider it a religious movement.
Their system of Supreme Alphabets and Supreme Mathematics seems a bit ridiculous to me, though, and if you "build" (their term for having a conversation) with a 5 percenter you'll need to bring along your secret decoder ring to figure out what they're saying.
That's a minor issue though. My real problem is the fact that the Nation of Gods and Earths is as inherently racist as any white supremacist group. NGE teaches that the world's population can be divided into three groups: 85% are deaf, dumb and blind to the "truths" of the world. 10% know the truth, but use this knowledge to oppress the 85%. Finally, the remaining 5% (the poor righteous teachers) know the truth and are attempting to liberate the 85% from their ignorance.
The NGE was founded in the early stages of the Civil Rights movement and their view of white people can be somewhat excused as a backlash against the racial prejudices they were fighting against. Yet 40 years later, these beliefs are still a central theme of the NGE. Five Percenters believe that among the 10% are white people, a.k.a. white devils, though there was a white member among the founders of the organization. The NGE believe that white people were created by an evil scientist named Yacub 6,000 years ago. It sounds like something out of a poorly written Superman comic, yet its treated as fact among the "gods." Tastes just like Scientology, but with 100% more racism!
Its amazing to me that artists whose sales rely so heavily on white listeners are able to not only believe this but are also able to drop lyrics referencing the NGE and not be called on it. This shouldn't just be an issue for white hip hop fans, though. Just as the majority of white audiences are disgusted by teenage singers Prussian Blue, black fans should be similarly embarrassed by the lyrics of Five Percenters.
What makes things difficult for me is that if you were to put together a list of NGE-influenced rappers, it would read like a hip hop Hall of Fame list. Rakim, Nas, Big Daddy Kane, Busta Rhymes, Jeru and Wu-Tang are just a few of the Five Percenters in the rap game. I have to admit I own a lot of CDs by these artists, though you won't catch me playing any Brand Nubian songs. Unlike the other rappers listed, Brand Nubian have no redeeming qualities that could justify me listening to them. While Rakim, Kane, Nas and (some members of) the Wu are all dope lyricists, all three members of Brand Nubian are mediocre rappers at best. Coincidentally, Brand Nubian is one of the few groups that has actually received mainstream criticism for their Five Percenter lyrics.
For further listening, check out the mixtapeshow.net's Religious Studies episode, including a track from Lord Jamar. You can download it here.
For the sake of full disclosure, I was in part inspired to write this post after being contacted by rapper Wise Intelligent. He is a former member of the NJ group Poor Righteous Teachers, and a Five Percenter. He was looking for someone to direct a video for a new single he is about to release. I put him in contact with a friend of mine who has been directing videos in Jamaica for the past couple of years. Wise Intelligent is a good dude, but I still had some reservations about helping him out. In the end, for the sake of furthering my friend's career, I put her in touch with Wise. Its possible this makes me a hypocrite.
7/12/2006 8:40:03 AM posted by Fresh
>Nas, Jeru and some of the members of Wu-Tang do not claim to be part of the Nation of Gods and Earths.
Part of that was sloppy editing on my part. The sentence in my post should have read "Rakim, Nas, Big Daddy Kane, Busta Rhymes, Jeru and Wu-Tang are just a few of the artists in the rap game that have been influenced by the Five Percenters."
>We do not believe white people were 'created' by a 'wicked' scientist. White people came from black people.
>Yacub represents the mind state of the people in that controlled environment.
I'm sorry, but this goes against everything I have been told by Five Percenters and everything I have read about them. The NGE teaches that Yacub was a scientist born outside of Mecca. He set out to create a Devil, grafted through the Original (black) people. By killing the Black skinned offspring and allowing the lighter skinned children to live, Yacub created a weaker race, whites, who had to rely on tricknology to make up for their inherent weakness. The NGE teaches that the white man has a smaller brain than the original man and his evil ways can only be reformed by grafting him back to the original man.
Please explain to me how the Yacub doctrine, a doctrine that teaches that the people of a certain skin color are inherently weaker and morally corrupt, is not a racist doctrine.
Most traditional Muslims reject the Yacub doctrine, but I have yet to speak with any 5 Percenter that does not take it at face value.
> 5, 10 and 85 has nothing to do with race or ethnicity.
As I said in my post, "Five Percenters believe that among the 10% are white people." No, not all of the 10 are white, but can you really deny the underlying racial message being conveyed by the teachings? I have never heard a 5 Percenter use the word "devil" in reference to anyone who wasn't white.
I appreciate you taking the time to respond to the post, and I do respect your personal beliefs, but I have a very different perspective on the NGE teachings.
i have to agree with everything fresh says. and also point out the hypocrisy in more than just the five percent nation followers. there are many many black rappers that say things about white people in general which, if said about black people, would cause an absolute riot. but these idiots think they can say whatever they want because of what happened long before they were even born and was cause by a tiny majority of white people. these rappers disgust me and a large percentage of rappers who are viewed as hip-hop legends are included in that.
11/30/2006 12:49:01 PM posted by Jack
Thanks for coming through, MightyIntell. I appreciate you taking the time to respond. Just wanted to respond to a couple of points that you brought up:
"And your statement that you find Supreme Math and Alphabet a bit ridiculous is just as insulting as saying the bible is ridiculous to a christian."
I appreciate what you're saying, but I would argue that a significant portion of Christians and Jews don't take the Bible at face value. They continue to read it for its tradition and view the stories as parables. The Supreme Mathematics and Alphabet seem to be accepted at face value, and its hard for me personally to accept that. "Ridiculous" was perhaps harsher than it needed to .
"There are those of the NGE that don't take all of allah's(the founder)teachings for face value, such as myself. I do not study or promote inequality among races in agreement to your statement that it is no different from any white supremacy group."
And NGE members like yourself I have no real problem with. I would still argue, though, that just because you yourself choose not to believe certain aspects of the movement doesn't make the movement itself any less racist. Certain members, like yourself, may be more enlightened, but that doesn't change the core of 5%ism.
"I also believe that "devil" is not a race but a state of mind, not limited to skin complextion."
You say its not limited to skin complexion, but do you believe that skin color can be a determining factor in identifying "devils?" I'm not trying to nitpick, I just wasn't sure from the way you phrased that.
2/6/2007 6:49:58 PM posted by fresh
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