Digging the Digital Crates: The Five-Percent Nation and Hip-Hop
The following music video was banned on MTV in 1990. Can you guess why?*
*Just a caveat, this is not the original video which seems to have been also banned from the internet in general...
Originally the video was banned for portraying a black man as a devil in white face (wearing white make up) and for espousing Five-Percent Nation ideology, which MTV considered hateful.
The Five-Percent Nation, or the Nation of Gods and Earths, is a sect or religion influenced by Islam (depending on your religious beliefs) that preaches all black men are gods, all black women are earths, and white people are the devil. Five-Percent ideology began when a member of Malcolm X's Nation of Islam mosque in Harlem named Clarence X split off from the group in 1964 because he claimed to be an incarnation of Allah. Clarence X believed that Elijah Muhammad (the leader of the NOI) was not teaching Islam properly because while he identified the white man as the devil, he did not identify the black man as a god.
The Five-Percent Nation believes that 85% of all people are unconscious or sleeping, unaware of their oppression; 10% of all people know the truth of existence and work to oppress and suppress the 85%; 5% of all people are Poor Righteous Teachers who attempt to teach the 85% the truth of their oppression to overcome the elite 10%.
Five-Percenters believe in a version of the Nation of Islam's revisionist history that claims that the black man is the original man on Earth and thus worthy of dignity. They also believe in a Supreme Alphabet (A is Asiatic Black Man, B is birth, C is cee or see, D is divine, etc.) and a Supreme Numerology (0 is the cipher, 1 knowledge, 2 wisdom, 3 understanding, etc.) that serve as codes for their theology.
Some believe the Five-Percent Nation to be a hate group because of its construal of white people as devils, and others believe that it bestows dignity upon the poor and marginalized and thus is a productive avenue of being. It is also critiqued for reactionary gender politics, in which women are either "moons" (i.e. reflection of men who are "suns") or "earths," not "gods." The Five-Percent Nation is very unique from other sects or Islamic-influenced religions because it does not bestow a code of conduct upon its practitioners. It believes that each person needs to determine their path of righteousness and while some respectability politics still exist within it, it is much less rigid than other religious morality codes.
So what does this have to do with hip-hop?
In the early 1990s, Five Percenter ideology was a viable alternative to many political beliefs and styles that poor, black, and urban folks found alienating. Groups like Brand Nubian and the Poor Righteous Teachers made it the mission of their music to spread their ideology while other famous artists like Wu-Tang, Nas, Busta Rhymes, Big Daddy Kane, and Rakim adopted Five Percent Language and ideology into their work.
Brand Nubian's "Allah and Justice" (1990)
This Brand Nubian track explains Five-Percent numerology.
Eric B. and Rakim "My Melody" (1987)
"I drop science like a scientist / My melody's in code" @0:24
Wu-Tang Clan "Wu-Revolution" (1997)
"The Universe is not completed without the Sun, Moon, and Stars" @ 1:30
Jay-Z "Heaven" (2013)
"Arm, leg, leg, arm, head / This god body / knowledge, wisdom, freedom, understanding / we just want our equality" @0:32
The Five-Percent Nation is deeply influential to hip-hop, introducing phrases like "word is bond," "peace," "droppin' science," "break it down," and "represent" all are popularized by Five-Percent rappers. From the Poor Righteous Teachers to Nas to Jay-Z, Five-Percent ideology is fundamental to understanding hip-hop culture and its subscripts.
The information in this article is based off information in this Vibe article: https://www.vibe.com/2014/04/8-rap-lyrics-reference-five-percent-nation/wu-tang-five-percenter-rap-references/
And Felicia Miakawa's excellent study of Five-Percenter Rap aptly titled Five Percenter Rap (2005)