A Brief Survey of the Sources of Black Esoteric Thought - Spirituality in Hip Hop, Part I: The Universal Zulu Nation
There are many organizations within the Africana religious paradigm that are often over looked because of their fringe nature. That is to say, some movements are in danger of being lost in the annals of history because they lack a mainstream voice like African American Christian groups or because they have not attracted Hooveresque attention like many African American Muslim organizations. These movements I label Black Esotericism because, while they may be well-known in particular neighborhoods in certain urban locales, their culture and presence are largely unknown and histories often overlooked. Further, these groups, while not formally private organizations, remain mysterious and veiled to the majority of Americans, African descended or otherwise. With this understanding, I will examine the culture and religious make-up of the Universal Zulu Nation (UZN) as a Black Esoteric spiritual movement and as an organization which illuminates the religious underpinnings of Hip Hop culture.
To elaborate, one advantage that comes with studying the UZN is that its’ history runs parallel to the founding and flourishing of Hip Hop culture in the city of New York. As a matter of fact, one cannot study the UZN without discussing Hip Hop history and vice versa. The UZN rises out of the war torn Bronx borough much like Hip Hop. As well, much like Hip Hop culture, the UZN was created to redirect some of the more problematic energies which dominated the focus of young people throughout the city, such as violence and drug abuse, into something that was more productive to the impoverish residents. This effort of the UZN was nothing less than a spiritually centered movement that attempted to incorporate all aspects of an individual’s being into a force for positive growth and change. Emmett G. Price, III author of the introductory text Hip Hop Culture adds that after a prominent gang member was murdered in the Bronx street organizations “met to discuss the possibilities of finding a better way to handle their aggression and for having peace on the streets of their city.”
Impetus for the name of the UZN came from movies inspired by the struggle between European colonizers and the southern African Zulu people. Films like Shaka Zulu became motivators for young Afrika Bambaataa (born Kevin Donovan) to unite rival gangs in a common effort for unanimity and peace in the violent streets of the South Bronx. From its founding the UZN was amalgamation of street organizations, in particular the Black Spades, Savage Nomads, Seven Immortals and Savage Skulls. The endeavor to coalesce opposing streets gangs is very similar to the unifying efforts Shaka Zulu made in the early 19th century with the Zulu nation. Furthermore, Bambaataa’s push for unification was not just focused on nonviolence but an ecumenical enterprise centered on the spirituality of New York City’s young people. Evidence of this comes from their beliefs (or factology as they term it) which state: “We believe as Amazulu, we will not fight or kill other human beings over which proper name to call God. We will recognize them all to be the same one God. We believe God will come to be seen to the human eye and will straighten out the problems that Human Beings brought upon this planet so-called Earth.” It is clear from this first tenet of the UZN that unified spirituality is of primary importance for Bambaataa and his nation, not money, weapons nor a political agenda, but union of the human spirit.
Though the UZN is not a religion in the formal sense, it, much like the Nation of Gods and Earths as well as the Nuwaupians, has a mystical focus at its core dedicated to raising the spiritual consciousness and awareness of humanity. Evidence of this is made clear through the beliefs of the UZN: “We believe in one God, who is called by many names-Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, RA, Eloahim, Jah, God, The Most High, The Creator, The Supreme One.”  It becomes apparent from this passage that there is not just a spiritual focus for the organization but a conscious effort that chooses ecumenicalism as it top priority. The only substance of use for the UZN is unity, and spiritual unity seemed to be the most important material available for impoverished communities.
Investigation of the UZN reveals much in the way of not only the spiritual focus of the Nation but the spiritual focus of the Hip Hop cultural movement as a whole. To elaborate, Price states “former and present gangbangers and drug dealers would lay down their weapons and drug paraphernalia for a time at Zulu Nation functions and join the burgeoning Hip Hop community. Armed with the motto ‘Peace, Love, Unity and Having Fun,’ Bambaataa, through his ‘Infinity Lessons,’ not only aimed to offer and expressive outlet but also encouraged intellectual pursuit via study, affirmations, and a systematic process of getting to know one’s self.” Bambaataa being the founder of the UZN as well as one of the fathers of Hip-Hop culture centered his focus on the spiritual well-being and advancement of the youth of the world at a time of serious crisis in the United States. Keeping these contributions in mind, it would not be completely outlandish to suggest that Bambaataa and the UZN are responsible for the reorientation of an entire generation of people headed toward an Orwellian state of being. Further, this reorientation was not just about the sound and style but the realignment of the human spirit towards love and acceptance.
In summation, the UZN, in an effort to quell the violence of their time, found a creative outlet for the rogue youth of New York City and developed a spiritual movement that directly contributed to the founding of new understandings of sound, style, and spirit. Further, as a spiritual movement the organization unified the youth under a banner of 'fun', a simple but powerful statement against violence and death. This notion of fun is a potent spiritual statement that is part of the core beliefs of the UZN movement. Fun: an incredibly complex and simple expression that requires more analysis with respect to the spiritual growth and enlightenment of humanity; yet as a spiritual countenance of the UZN and Hip-Hoppers the world over this word and concept speaks to an entire movement's effort to create social and spritiaul change throughout the world.
 Jim Fricke and Charlie Ahearn. Yes, yes, y’all: Oral History of Hip-Hop’s First Decade. (Cambridge: Perseus Books Group, 2002), 5.
 Emmett G. Price, III. Hip Hop Culture. (San Barbara: ABD-CLIO, INC., 2006), 9.
 Film: Shaka Zulu (1983). See also: Zulu (1964) and Zulu Dawn (1979).
 Website: http://www.zulunation.com/about-zulunation/. Emmett G. Price, III. Hip Hop Culture. (San Barbara: ABD-CLIO, INC., 2006), 9-10. Donovan was fourteen at the time he started organize the rival gangs of New York.
 Ibid., 10. Jim Fricke and Charlie Ahearn. Yes, yes, y’all: Oral History of Hip-Hop’s First Decade. (Cambridge: Perseus Books Group, 2002), 5.
 Donald R. Morris. The Washing of the Spears: A History of the Rise of the Zulu Nation Under Shaka and Its Fall in the Zulu War of 1879. (New York: Da Capo Press, 1998), 40-68. Ian Knight. The Anatomy of the Zulu Army: From Shaka to Cetshwayo 1818-1879. (Mechaniscburg, Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 1995), 31-35. To explain, Shaka is well known for a number of reasons: he revolutionized the Zulus approach to warfare, he redesigned the primary weapon of the Zulus changing the long traditional spear (assegai) to a shorter more versatile weapon called the iklwa, as well he conducted a campaign of forced unification of the southern African kingdoms and nations into one all-encompassing Zulu nation.
 This effort was also allegorized in the movie The Warriors (1979).
 Webpage: http://www.zulunation.com/the-beliefs-of-the-universal-zulu-nation/.
 Webpage: http://www.zulunation.com/the-beliefs-of-the-universal-zulu-nation/.
 Jeff Chang. Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation. (New York: St. Martins, 2005), 105. Emmett G. Price, III. Hip Hop Culture. (San Barbara: ABD-CLIO, INC., 2006), 13.
 Murray Forman. The ‘Hood Comes First: Race, Space and Place in Rap and Hip-Hop. (Middletown, Connecticut: Wesleyan University Press, 2002), 141. The author points out that the efforts of non-violence and cultural upliftment for Bambaataa and the UZN reach global audiences with the release of the single “Self-Destruction”. Murray states: “KRS-One, Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy, Heavy D MC Lyte, Kool Moe Dee, Just Ice and Afrilka Bambaataa, recorded the twelve-inch sing ‘Self-Destruction’ (1989, Jive Records), which entered the Hot Rap Singles chart at number one on March 11, 1989 and eventually went gold.”