A Brief Survey of the Sources of Black Esoteric Thought - Spirituality in Hip Hop, Part II: The Nation of Gods and Earths
This series briefly discussed the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE or 5%ers) in conjunction with the movement and growth of African American Islam. As an African American Islamic tradition, the 5%ers are an extension of the Moorish Science Temple of America and the Nation of Islam. However, the NGE are best known as a movement which has dynamically shaped Hip Hop music and culture. Further, much of the theology of the 5%ers may be better understood as African American Islamic Esotericism particularly because of the way their philosophy and language is coded. Given the belief system of the Gods and Earths as well as their omnipresence within Hip Hop culture, the 5% will be discussed as a manifestation of Black Esotericism, African American Islam and Hip Hop culture.
The NGE was founded by Father Allah, formerly known as Clarence Smith, in Harlem, New York during a time of cultural upheaval in the 1960s. After leaving the military, Smith joined the Nation of Islam and was given the Lost-Found name, Clarence 13X. However, it was not long before 13X would become disillusioned with the corruption within the NOI and as a result left the organization to develop his own understanding of truth. 13X renounced the NOI around the same time Malcolm X did in 1963, claiming that the figure being displayed as the image of God, Wallace Fard Muhammed, could not be God, simply because he was not Black.
Questioning the divinity of Fard within the NOI is deeply heretical, however, 13X took an extremely literal understanding of the NOI’s theology: God was as black as the night sky and there was no place for a mystery God or spookism. Therefore, having images of Fard Muhammed, a more-white-than-black mystery man who disappeared one day without a trace, in every NOI temple and home became extremely problematic for 13X. Once out of the Nation, it did not make sense for him to keep his Lost-Found name Clarence 13X, so he renamed himself Father Allah because he was “best knower” and began developing and organizing his knowledge with Shahid (formerly John 37X Brooks of the NOI) to form the NGE.
The NGE get their moniker 5%ers from their theological understanding which originated from the Secret Ritual of the Nation of Islam; components of this document combined with the catechistic format of the Koran Questions for Moorish Americans formed the Supreme Wisdom Lessons for the NOI. In this text, it is postulated that the population of the world can be best understood when broken down into three percentile categories: the 85%, the uncivilized, blind, deaf and dumb slaves; the 10%, the rich corrupt slave makers of the 85; and the 5%, which are the poor righteous teachers also known as the civilized Asiatic Black Man. Father Allah believed that there was truth to this percentile breakdown of humanity, but also believed that many within the Nation were not living up to their charge as poor righteous teachers. Further, he understood that to reach African Americans it was not particularly prudent to do it with bowties and Muhammed Speaks newspapers, instead they had to meet the people where they were, “on the street corners, preaching to Harlemites in their own language and knowing their stories.”
With respect to their contributions to Hip Hop, the NGE make the argument that their philosophy had omnipresence in New York City when Hip Hop culture was founded. Evidence of this can be seen in 5%er language in particular, which became part of the everyday lexicon of Hip Hoppers. Michael Muhammed Knight, author of The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip Hop and the Gods of New York, speaks to this: “[t]he language of the Five Percenters became the language of early rap: expressions like “peace” and “dropping science” come straight from the Gods and Earths. Even the affirmation, “word!” had its start with Five Percenters, as an abbreviation of the phrase “word is bond” from the 120.” Further, this language, combined with the Gods ability to rhythmically give their lessons on the streets of New York, formed the foundation of emceeing or rapping.
Moreover, the Supreme Mathematics and Supreme Alphabet form a large part the lexicon and esoteric foundation for the NGE. These teachings essentially give every alpha and numeric digit a value that is germane to the philosophy of the NGE. Further, memorization of these values are not just for rote exercises, but instead should be mastered to a level that recitation of them is rhythmic and poetic. Pen Black argues, “by using Supreme Mathematics and Alphabets we elevate our intelligence, improve our memory and develop great oratorical skills.” In the song “12 Jewelz” from the album The Pick, The Sickle and The Shovel, The RZA (member of the NGE and founder of the Wu Tang Clan) provides an example of 5% oratory in Hip Hop:
I say the wise man don’t play the role of a fool
The first thing a man must obtain is Twelve Jewelz
KNOWLEDGE, WISDOM, UNDERSTANDING
To help you achieve FREEDOM, JUSTIC, EQUALITY, FOOD, CLOTHING and SHELTER
After this, LOVE, PEACE and HAPPINESS
He had the nappiest head/I told him total satisfaction is to achieve one goal in the scheme of thing
He who works like a slave, eats like a King.
The language of the NGE, comprise not only the philosophical foundation for the organization, but as well display the vocabulary and grammar for their spiritual identity. Additionally, some of the most prominent Hip Hop emcees of the late 80s and early-mid 90s, like Rakim Allah, Big Daddy Kane, Brand Nubian, Nas, Busta Rhymes, AZ as well as the entire Wu Tang Clan, came directly from the Allah Schools in New York City.
As a source of African American Religion, again, I must argue that it is the ability of the 5%ers in transforming their appropriated teachings into something relevant for the African American youth at a critical historical junction which is the source of religious thought. To be fair, the NGE do not understand their belief as religious, but instead argue it is a science. However, the use of the term science like with the MSTA is better understood as a methodological spiritual understanding. This simply means that the 5%ers and other similar organizations distill their perception of the world through their particular prism thereby creating different sources of spiritual understanding. Further, the use of this prism in Hip Hop culture adds a religious flavor and fervor that is extremely unique. Phenomena such as this make it clear that Hip Hop music, in part, is the gospel of the streets where those rejected by mainstream culture developed their own understanding of divine worship.
 Michael Muhammad Knight. The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip Hop and the Gods of New York. (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2007), 15.
 Michael Gomez. Black Crescent: The Experience and Legacy of African Muslims in the United States. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 318-319. The author discusses the 5% nation as an esoteric group.
 Michael Muhammad Knight. The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip Hop and the Gods of New York. (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2007), 35-37.
 Ibid., 49.
 Ibid., 25.
 Ibid., 225. The critical importance of family also forms the apex of their Supreme Mathematics; numeral 1 represents, knowledge, the Sun, God/Black man, 2 is Wisdom, the Moon Earth/Black woman and 3 is understanding, the stars/Black children. Felicia M. Miyakawa. Five Percenter Rap: God Hop’s Music, Message and Black Muslim Mission. (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005), 28.
 Michael Muhammad Knight. The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip Hop and the Gods of New York. (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2007), 39.
 Ibid., 178.
 Felicia M. Miyakawa. Five Percenter Rap: God Hop’s Music, Message and Black Muslim Mission. (Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2005), 29.
 Pen Black. Gods, Earths and 85ers. (Brooklyn: True Life Publishing, 2007), 2.
 The Gravediggaz. Album: The Pick, The Sickle and The Shove, (1997). For the NGE, the capitalized words are known as the Twelve Jewels of Islam.
 Michael Muhammad Knight. The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip Hop and the Gods of New York. (Oxford: Oneworld Publications, 2007), 205-206.
 While New York City has the most, in numeration and prominence, 5%ers in Hip Hop music, it is by no means the only geographic location represented by the NGE. For example, Erykah Badu (see song: On & On (1997)) is a well-known Earth from Dallas, TX as well as members of Funkdoobiest (see song: Dedicated (1995)) from Los Angeles (known as Love Allah to the 5%).