(ignore the "Barack Obama" title on the above Youtube video)
6 pm Mountain Time
If you’ve ever listened to hip hop, then you’ve heard the influence of this remarkable and mysterious community. They’re a decentralised, non-hierarchical society whose members number in the tens of thousands.
Chances are you’re familiar with them even if you didn’t know it. Their most famous citizens include the Wu Tang Clan and members such as Method Man, the RZA and Raekwon, the singer Erykah Badu, the groups Brand Nubian and Poor Righteous Teachers, rappers Rakim, CL Smooth and Busta Rhymes, to name just a few.
But their influence goes far beyond their population, because through hip hop, their teachings and vocabulary have become part of North American culture. Terms and phrases such as G, the bomb, break it down, manifest, represent, do the math, and peace were introduced, reinvigorated or redefined by them. Through their influence, the phrase “word is bond” became over time “word up” and simply “word.”
Those who know hip hop music have heard numerous references: dropping science, show and prove, Original Man, Knowledge of Self, and step into the cipher, among many more.
It’s fair to say that hip hop as we know it would not exist without their members, because beginning in the mid-1960s of New York City, the Five Percenter youth began memorising, reciting and expounding upon a series of lengthy mystical lessons including the 120, the Supreme Alphabet and the Supreme Mathematics, and a set of geographical and astronomical information including the weight of the earth and the distance between the earth and the sun.
Why should adherents, who began as impoverished African-American teens on the streets of New York City, have cared about such lessons? Partly it was because the rigours of learning, reciting and interpreting their philosophy earned members respect for their intelligence.
But also because the Five Percenter paradigm taught the interrelatedness of all things in the universe, which could be understood through regular recitation and interpretation of their lessons in a ceremony called the Daily Mathematics.
Those affirmations and reflections included a redefinition of the word god, so much so that male members call themselves gods. Using the wordplay of “backronyms,” some have redefined the word Allah as being “arm, leg, leg, arm, head,” meaning that there is no invisible, mystery god like that found in Judaism, Christianity or Arabic Islam—just human beings.
The word “Islam” is the source of much confusion regarding the group, especially since the Five Percent founder, Father Allah, had previously belonged to the Nation of Islam under the name Clarence 13X, and because like the NOI, the Five Percenters use a variety of references to the culture and geography of Arabic Islam, even rebranding Harlem as Mecca and Brooklyn as Medina.
But the Five Percenters are not trying to be Muslims, and the men make it clear by calling themselves gods. The name Five Percenter derives from a Nation of Islam lesson teaching that 85% of humanity has been duped into mental slavery by 10% which owns the wealth of the planet. Only 5% remain who know the truth—the “poor righteous teachers” whose duty it is to teach freedom, justice and equality.
Tonight we’ll hear part one of my recent conversations with two authors who are authorities on the Nation of Gods and Earths. Nation member C’BS Alife Allah is the writer behind the blog Journal of Allah’s Five Percent, and author of the forthcoming book, Knowledge of Self: The Science of Everything in Life.
Raised in a Western Christian household, C’BS Alife Allah has been a Five Percenter for almost two decades, and through his blog has been a powerful and eloquent voice for his community on a range of issues including fatherhood, the vegan lifestyle, and cultural development.
Euro-American novelist and memoirist Michael Muhammad Knight seems an unlikely source. Although his father was a neo-nazi, Knight converted to Arabic Islam as a teenager after reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X. He’s received great access to the Nation of Gods and Earths and is the author of The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip Hop and the Gods of New York.
For further reading:
Wakeel Allah’s In the Name of Allah
Mattias Gardell’s In the Name of Elijah Muhammad: Louis Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam
Felicia Miyakawa’s Five Percenter Rap: God Hop's Music, Message, And Black Muslim Mission
Prince-A-Cuba’s "Black Gods of the Inner City"
Ted Swedenburg’s "Islam in the Mix: Lessons of the Five Percent"