The Five Percent Nation medallion worn by hip hop moguls such as Jay Z and Jay Electronica tends to raise a bit of controversy. We unravel the history behind this piece and what it exactly means to be a part of this Five Percent Nation.
Last week, at the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, Jay Electronica gave fans a set to remember as he brought out labelmate Jay Z, Mac Miller, J. Cole, and Talib Kweli. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Jay is an elusive rapper and producer who joined Jay Z’s Roc Nation roster label in 2010. While it was impressive that Hov made a guest appearance during Jay Elect's set, something else stood out even more. It was the thing hanging around Jay Electronica’s neck: the Five Percent Nation medallion.
Today we're giving all the HNHH users a history lesson, on what exactly the Five Percent Nation is.
The Five Percent nation (sometimes called the Nation of Gods and Earths) is an organization created by Clarence Smith in Harlem, New York in 1964. Clarence, a former member of the Nation of Islam, was originally a student of Malcom X, who was an African American minister and human rights activist. The Nation of Islam is a religious movement whose goals were to improve the economic, mental, and social condition of African Americans in the US. Clarence left the movement after an unresolved dispute with the Nation’s leaders over the definition of God.
Those who followed the Nation of Islam believed that their founder, Wallace Fard Muhammad, was God. Smith disagreed. He believed that God was “purely black,” while Muhammad was bi-racial. On top of that, Smith believed God was not a supernatural being, but rather something found in all black males. He believed women were subordinate to men, and therefore did not possess God.
Members of the Five Percent Nation subscribed to the idea that all white people are “weak, wicked, and inferior,” as stated by Michael Muhammad Knight, who has written two books on the Five Percenters. As he put it, whites were described as an “errant child who needs to be corrected.” While Smith claimed that black women did not contain God in them and were seen as subordinate, he still believed they held a higher standing than white people.
The name Five-Percenters comes from the notion that only a mere five percent of all of humanity know the real truth about existence. They describe themselves as “poor righteous teachers” whose goal is to tell everyone in the world the truth. They believed another ten percent of the people in this world also know this truth of existence, in which those elites propagate a theory of a “mystery God” to the remaining eighty-five percent, of whom they consider ignorant and under their control. Being the remaining five percent and the nation’s only hope, they were determined to enlighten the rest of the world.
In the beginning, the Nation of Gods and Earths were seen as a little more than a branch of the Nation of Islam. Representatives taught that Islam is a natural way of living. Moreover, they taught that Asiatic black people (the non-whites) were the original human beings on earth, deeming them the fathers and mothers of civilization. They believed the Asiatic black man is God, and goes by the name Allah, which is “God” in Arabic.
Members of this group must learn the Supreme Mathematics and Supreme Alphabet. These are powerful tools that are used to interpret the meaning the universe. Each letter and number will yield a concept. For example, 1 is knowledge, 2 is wisdom, A is Allah. The number 7 that appears on Jay’s medallion represents God.
Clarence Smith passed away in 1969 after being murdered in his housing project in Harlem. He certainly left his mark, as the Five-Percenters are active to this day. They also picked up many followers in the rap world- Busta Rhymes, the Wu-Tang Clan, and Lord Jabar of Brand Nubian to name a few.
On February 5, 2010, amongst a blizzard storm, hundreds of people converged for “The Legends of Hip Hop: Return of the God MC’s” show in Trenton, New Jersey. The headliners were Rakim, Brand Nubian, Cappadonna and Masta Killa of the Wu-Tang Clan, and Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers.
As the rappers took the stage and showcased their talent through the mic, the show eventually began to turn another direction. The emcees started to touch on a more spiritual level. It became much more than the music, and even more than a message. It became a manifestation for what we now know as hip hop culture.
With Five Percenter vibes riding with them along the way, these lyricists incorporated the teachings of the Nation of Gods and Earth into their songwriting. Some of the best to have ever been on the microphone have either been students of, or have been influenced by, the teachings of the Five Percenters.
This includes a wide range of artists- Jay Z, Nas, Rakim, Busta Rhymes, Wu-Tang Clan, Brand Nubian, Poor Righteous Teachers, Gangstarr, Big Daddy Kane, LL Cool J, Big Pun, and even Erykah Baduh.
“Radios on card tables, Benetton. The Gods building. Ask for today’s Mathematics, we Allah’s children. And this was going on in every New York ghetto. Kids listen, Five Percenters said it’s pork in Jello-O,” Nas raps in “No Idea’s Original.”
Popularity of the group is prominent among many African-American male youth, mostly in poor, urban areas. This popularity is helped along by many rap and R&B artists. The rappers mentioned above have their lyrics laced with the Five Percent doctrine, whether you've noticed it or not. In addition to implementing their beliefs into their music, they also have used the Five Percent flag on their album covers. The vast majority of the Five Percenters appears to be on the East Coast, not coincidentally also the birth place of rap and hip hop music.
Russell Simmons, a founding father of the rap music industry, labels the Nation of Gods and Earths as an “important influence” in the history of hip hop that has been overlooked.
“During the period when the gangs I hung with in the '70s gave way to '80s Hip Hop culture,” Simmons writes in his autobiography. “It was the street language, style, and consciousness of the Five Percent Nation that served as a bridge.”
Two of hip hop founder’s Kool Here and Afrika Bambaataa personally studied the works of the Five Percenters as well. Of course, as we've already mentioned, Jay Z is another rapper to help the cause.
The Brooklyn native was seen sporting the same medallion, an eight-pointed star with the number seven in the middle, at a Nets game in early April of this year. This event raised many eyebrows at the Barclay’s Center where the game took place. The photograph of the power couple began to circulate social media and turned many heads. An article was even written with the title “Jay Z’s bling from ‘whites are devils’ group.”
According to the Daily Mail, when a reporter asked if the medallion was meaningful to him, Jay Z responded, “A little bit.”
Note this is not the first time Jay Z was spotted representing the group. Last summer, he was linked to the organization during his promotional tour for his most recent album Magna Carta Holy Grail. He was again photographed while giving radio interviews wearing a medallion very similar to the one worn during the Nets game.
Additionally, he references the group on his track “Heaven,” which is from the album. Going into the first verse, he spits the Five Percent Nation’s acronym for Allah. “Arm, leg, leg, arm, head- this is God body. Knowledge, wisdom, freedom, understanding- we just want our equality.”
While this sighting turned audience’s heads, it more importantly caught the attention of members in the group. Some followers took offense as they believed Jay Z was using their symbol as a fashion accessory.
Saladin Allah is a representative of the group’s upstate region. “Jay Z is not an active member- no one has vouched for him,” Allah told The Post. “It was always understood that you don’t wear the regalia if you don’t totally subscribe to the life.”
Returning to Jay Electronica, whose real name Timothy Thedford, the connection to the Five Percent Nation becomes clearer after reading about his childhood and upbringing. He was born on September 19, 1976 in the Mangolia Projects of New Orleans, which is well known for holding some of the highest crime rates in the country. At the age of 19, Jay left the city to pursue his music career. The struggles of living a nomadic life came into play as he bounced around from city to city. Time after time he was booed off stage due to his Southern accent and dialogue.
“Not in general, but as a rapper because of all of the negative things that people in the States put on the South,” Jay states.
His career finally went under way as he settle in the city of Detroit and linked with J. Dilla and Mr. Porter. His big break came after he released Act I: Eternal Sunshine (The Pledge), which was available via MySpace in 2007. This project was considered a “timeless classic.” In 2009, he released two singles “Exhibit A” and “Exhibit C,” both produced by Just Blaze.
To this day, Jay Electronica is an active member of the Five Percent Nation. While this group’s views may be taken to the extreme by many, Jay’s decision to represent his involvement the group is a harmless way of standing up for what he believes, a positive message that shouts racism should not exist.