By D.L. Chandler (Hiphopwired)
In Hip-Hop music and culture, the terms “Peace, God,” “Word Is Bond,” and “Cipher,” among others, all pepper the language of the participants and proponents within the culture. While the phrases and terms have flair, the sayings have origins that were established just as Hip-Hop was forming as a known entity. The Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE), also referred to as the Five Percent Nation of Islam, is the source of those and other popular phrases.
The Nation of Gods and Earths has developed a connection with Hip-Hop culture that stretches far beyond the sharing of lingo. Labeled as the “Rastafarianism of Hip-Hop” because of the similarity to many Reggae artists embracing Rasta faith, several Hip-Hop artists have claimed ties to NGE culture. The most famous NGE Hip-Hop artist is Rakim Allah, who still remains as one of the most influential rappers ever. The “God MC” has many contemporaries as Poor Righteous Teachers, King Sun, Lakim Shabazz, Busta Rhymes, Wu-Tang Clan, Jay Electronica and others have all delivered NGE ideology within their verses.
“The Five Percent is built on the premise that 85% of the population lack ‘knowledge of self’ while 10% percent have this said knowledge & hide it from the larger group.”
Nas, AZ and rap duo CNN also dropped occasional hints of the culture in their songs. Other acts such as Digable Planets, Big Daddy Kane,Gang Starr and X-Clan also followed suit by consciously putting some of the culture’s ideas forth via their recordings. Worth noting; MF DOOM, often confused with being a member of the Five Percent, was actually part of the Ansaar Allah community.
Considered an offshoot group of the Nation Of Islam (NOI), the Nation of Gods and Earths fashions itself as a separate group forging its own identity. Using “degrees” or lessons fashioned after the NOI’s Supreme Wisdom, the “120” degrees are a slightly varied version of scientific facts, conversations between NOI leaders Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Wallace Fard Muhammad, and a vast history lesson as well. The lessons teach that Blacks are the original people of the planet Earth and responsible for every facet of civilization.
The degrees also present a complex set of machinations that led to Black people suffering under the rule of White slave owners by way of oppression and fear. The Five Percent angle is built on the premise within the lessons that 85% of the population lack “knowledge of self” while 10 percent of the population have this said knowledge and hide it from the larger group. Five percent of that population are the “poor, righteous teachers” who will liberate the minds of the 85%.
The Father, or Allah as he was also known, was the founder of the Five Percent Nation and his approach to Islam was not much different than the NOI’s but far more inclusive. The Five Percent’s rise to prominence happened by way of the defiant nature of The Father, a one-time lieutenant in the NOI. Then known as Clarence 13X, the Virginia native saw a need for the Supreme Wisdom to be taught to the youth in the street.
The Father felt that the rigid nature of the NOI would turn away the urban youth, and he was more comfortable amongst the people than in the temple. By empowering Black male youth in referring to them as God, Father Allah sought to inject a sense of importance into members of the Five Percent Nation. Female members were referred to as Earths or Queens, placing heavy emphasis on the woman’s ability to give birth. It was custom to greet another Five Percenter with an exuberant “Peace!”
Members were bestowed with names by their “enlighteners” or teachers. In earlier times, the names would mirror those found among NOI members. As time went, Gods and Earths would choose names based on their lessons. These names, or “attributes,” would be chosen based on how that person would see themselves. Titles such as Knowledge Born, Father Divine, Heaven Equality Earth and other names would become customary.
As told in The Bomb: The Greatest Story Never Told by Beloved Allah, which serves as an unofficial biography for the Father, he would join the NOI after his wife, Dora, became a member of Temple No. 7 under the leadership of Malcolm X while her husband was away in the military. For both future students and the generally curious, the tale is as comprehensive a guide to the beginnings of the Five Percent Nation as any.
“Both Hip-Hop and the Five Percent culture developed out of the streets of New York, so the two grew up together.” J-Live
The Father would develop the systems Supreme Mathematics and Supreme Alphabet, built on the Arabic numeral and the Latin alphabet systems. 10 principles were applied for the numbers 1 through 9, adding zero as well. The same was done for all 26 letters of the alphabet. Through complex interpretations that some have compared to Egyptian hieroglyphics, the Supreme Mathematics and Alphabet serve as the basis for the common “language” spoken among NGE members. Those who study lessons are typically asked on occasion to be able to explain the concepts in their own words and “build” (discuss) amongst other members. As a student advances, the systems can be spoken and tied to the 120 Degrees in a seemingly infinite variety of ways.
Brand Nubian’s 1991 track “All For One” incorporated strong use of the Supreme Mathematics, especially in Lord Jamar’s anchoring verse.
“You gotta know the ledge and wise the dumb/and understand your culture of freedom/power equally with the Gods/So you can build and born your cipher/all your life you must teach truth/of the true and living god, not a mystery spook…”
Jamar’s verse interpolates and condenses the basics lessons of the Supreme Mathematics cleverly into rhyme form, with several splashes of Five Percent phrasings throughout. Erykah Badu’s smash hit “On & On” also references Supreme Mathematics and the lessons. The Supreme Alphabet gets a lot of mileage with rappers as well, most especially on the Wu-Tang Clan’s “Careful (Click, Click)” and RZA’s opening verse where he uses the Alphabet to utter a harsh expletive towards police (“Father You See/Cee King”).
Because of their rapid rise in New York, the Five Percent naturally attracted the attention of authorities who had a curiosity about the youth-based movement. The Father would teach his students that they were neither pro-Black nor anti-white. Instead, he preached that positivity, clean living and righteousness were primary goals. What could not be ignored, however, was the strong sense of Black pride attached to the Nation’s growth – indicative of the surging Civil Rights Movement of the time.
The Five Percent Nation caught the focus of then-Mayor John V. Lindsay, who saw that the youth-driven focus of the group was necessary for him to build ties in collaboration with his office. Forming a task force to connect with community leaders in gang-ridden New York, a curious partnership formed between Father Allah and Lindsay and culminated into the creation of the Allah School In Mecca Street Academy – which also serves as the NGE national headquarters to this day.
The Father was gunned down in an assassination on June 12, 1969 – the details remain murky even in present day. The murder shook the core of the Nation as tensions grew between the group and the Black Muslims who some suspected carried out the shooting. The Nation would grow and without a leadership core, many members splintered off, struggling hard to maintain the concepts put forth by the Father.
Some members of the Nation would become lawless and use the banner of the Five Percent to mask their seedier intentions – an unfortunate trend that culminated most infamously with the Queens-based “Supreme Team” drug ring in later times. Supreme Team soldier Kelvin “Shameek Allah” Martin, also known as street tough 50 Cent, terrorized New York all while claiming allegiance and reverence for the Nation.
Celebrated producer, rapper and DJ J-Live has enjoyed a long-running career on the independent Hip-Hop scene. The former middle school teacher is also one of the Five Percent’s most vocal proponents, infusing the Nation’s lessons creatively in his album and song titles. J-Live spoke exclusively with Hip-Hop Wired and offered some insight on his time as part of the Nation. “I think a lot of the mainstream attention we do get is sometimes for the wrong reasons,” shared J-Live. “Things taken out of context, the poor examples of the misguided and the agenda of our detractors. Helpful or hurtful, I’d say it’s natural. It’s the five percent for a reason.”
“Both Hip-Hop and the Five Percent culture developed out of the streets of New York so the two grew up together,” continued J-Live. “So terms like “word is bond” and standing on your square in a b-boy stance, and calling your brother ‘sun/son’ go hand in hand. The Five Percent have influenced Hip-Hop. And Hip-Hop has influenced the Five Percent.”