Word Is Bond: An Ex-Con Explains the 5 Percenters

After Jay-Z wore a medallion linked to the obscure 5 Percenter religion, best known through prison stories and hip hop songs, we give you some background on the group and its beliefs.

Usually Jay Z’s bling simply means ‘I am so rich that conventional taste is out the window’. Not at a Nets game a few weeks ago when the rapper sported a heavy gold medallion engraved with the symbolism of an obscure religious cult that’s well known in hip hop circles and behind the wall, but a mystery to most. To those in the know, Hova’s pendant, an eight-pointed nautical star with the number 7 inside, a crescent and another star close by, symbolized the Five Percenters.

I was in a unique position to recognize it, having seen the image tattooed on plenty of black men in prison and having learned something about the doctrine during my incarceration. In fact, I even had a bit of interaction with the 5 Percenter Nation of Gods and Earths. I’ll never forget my introduction:

“Black man god, white man devil!”

As polite as the Gods were about it, this blue-eyed devil knew he was at the wrong table. I wished them the best of luck with the day’s Building and left the Scientists to their Mathematics, as 5 Percenter adherents refer to themselves and their teachings.

Until very recently the meeting would have been broken up by the Department of Corrections’ gang detail; it was only in 2003 that a federal district court judge allowed the Nation of Gods and Earths the right to practice their religion in prisons. Previously the Five Percenters were treated as a criminal gang. The starred seven tattoo was photographed as evidence of illicit affiliation. Ten years ago Jay-Z could not have worn his medallion even on a visit to prison, let alone inside of one.

If the Nation of Islam is actual Islam’s eccentric nephew, then the Nation of Gods and Earths, as the 5 Percenters are called, is that nephew’s unhinged offspring. Clarence 13X founded the belief back in 1964, after his ignominious departure from the very same Temple Number Seven where Malcolm X preached. It seems that Clarence Edward Smith did not hold with the prohibition on gambling, nor did he see any issue with the use of drugs and alcohol. To this day Five Percenters are not discouraged from such activity, although the consumption of pork and ‘scavengers’ like shrimp and lobster is strictly forbidden.

According to the tenets, as passed on in prison yards and Wu Tang Clan songs, humanity is divided into categories. 85% are unknowing slaves, following the self-serving dictates of a hidden elite numbering 10%. This ruling class knows the truth about the godliness of original man, also known as the Asiatic Black Man, also known as anyone who isn’t white, but they suppress this Mathematics. Enter the 5%, who are also aware of who’s god and who isn’t, but are devoted to spreading the Lessons. Unfortunately many of the tens of thousands of this 5 Percent are incarcerated, but conveniently hip-hop has promoted this belief system as its de facto religion, so performers like Jay Electronica and Big Daddy Kane and Ghostface Killah spread the good word.

According to the 5 Percenters it all started like this:

6,600 years ago, a ‘bigheaded scientist’ named Yakub wickedly created the white race through selective breeding on the Greek island of Patmos, which is now a lovely place to vacation. Unleashing this plague upon humanity, Yakub initiated the decline and eventual enslavement of the Original Man. Up until this point, everything is in agreement with the instructions of Fard Mohammed, the sketchily known teacher of Elijah Mohammed, the founder and prophet of the Nation of Islam.

Clarence X accepted the obvious truths herein, but could not truck with the association of Fard with god. It seems that Fard had, as well as a long criminal record, a white mother. Clarence was not fitting in and left Nation Of Islam. The reasons are clouded, but there was the gambling, drugs and drink, as well as Clarence’s propensity to sell two month old copies of NOI’s newspaper Muhammad Speaks to unknowing customers. He left the Nation Of Islam in 1964, and in the five years before he was murdered in a Harlem gambling den called ‘The Hole’, he set the ground for every time you hear ‘word is bond’ on a rap track, part of the Five Percenters’ specialized vocabulary.

The Nation of Gods and Earths differs with the Nation Of Islam on several counts. Polygamy is acceptable, especially because it is only the men who are Gods. Women are Earths, which is a lesser form of deity. The prison yard meeting which I witnessed the opening of, before being dismissed as a devil, was for the dropping of Mathematics. The Scientists get together to discuss Supreme Mathematics, which is a form of Gematria in English, and the Supreme Alphabet, which decodes words into acronyms. Clarence X’s humbly named book ‘Supreme Understanding’ offers the key.

However, much Five Percenter literature is still banned in the correctional system for the same reason that Aryan Nation newsletters are. Racial strife is endemic in that claustrophobic world, and even though the Nation’s ‘Show and Prove’ holiday is recognized as a day that members do not have to work, the system does what it can to minimize the possibility of race riots. For obvious reasons, including the predominance of African American prisoners among the incarcerated population, the New York State Department of Corrections makes concessions. However, material claiming that the bigheaded scientist Yakub crafted the white race out of pigs and dogs is still considered incendiary. Of course, with the recent advances of Odinism, which is the white supremacist religion, perhaps in time all prisoners will be allowed their tracts on racial supremacy.

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Mostly the Scientists of the Nation struggle with vocabulary and share conspiracy theories; Clarence 13X himself only finished his sophomore year of high school and was eventually deemed a paranoid schizophrenic and incompetent to stand trial on charges of vandalizing stores in Harlem (‘Mecca’ in Nation terminology; Brooklyn is ‘Medina’; I’ve made the Hejira!). But in truth they are mostly men struggling with the realities of life in a country with a history of racism and their own poverty, ignorance, and felony records. The Scientists profusely apologized when I left the table at which they had their Cipher. And here’s the good news: after only 35 to 50 years of study, a Caucasian can overcome his devilish nature and join up. America is the land of opportunity after all.