Jay Z turned more than a few heads rocking a gold 5 Percent Nation medallion at a Brooklyn Nets game over the weekend.
The New York Post reported that some members of the radical Islamic group were displeased, because Hov is not a practicing member of their faith.
But what some of the media coverage around this latest ‘controversy’ has missing is the long-standing connection between hip-hop and the 5 Percenters — and Jay’s own background with the group.
Founded in 1963 by former Nation of Islam member Clarence 13X (Clarence Smith), the Five Percent Nation (also known as The Nation of Gods and Earths) came together in Harlem against the backdrop of the civil rights movement.
Much like the NOI, the Five Percenters integrated Islamic teachings with messages of black empowerment and social reform.
Practitioners count themselves among the 5 percent of people who are righteous teachers of truth, while they believe another 10 percent of the population controls the remaining 85 using false teachings.
“You’re coming up in a time when a lot of blacks were experiencing resistance from society,” said Sha Mell, a Brooklyn-based cultural critic and member of the 5 Percent Nation.
He tells theGrio that the group’s presence in New York City during hip-hop’s formative stages led to a natural relationship between the two camps.
“You gotta remember, it’s like you had family members or relatives that type of insight, or a neighbor who had that knowledge,” he said. “It was getting spread around like early hip-hop.”
Some of the most legendary artists of hip-hop’s ‘Golden Era’ had some connection to the 5 Percent Nation, either as members or by simply applying certain teachings into their craft, including Rakim, Big Daddy Kane, Wu Tang Clan, Brand Nubian and Nas.
In fact, check out one of Jay Z’s first features of note on mentor Jaz O’s “The Originators,” “Exciting the mic much to the delight of millions of Nubians/and Amorites [a term used to describe Whites] just can’t understand the groove we’re in,” and then ask if his choice of jewelry should come as a surprise.
Mell says that rap’s connection’s to the NGE is powerful because of the caliber of those who represent both.
“The 5 percent of any group is the nucleus. Of anything, any company, of any congregation, they are the keepers of the standard. That’s why KRS-One, Rakim, and Public Enemy and others were so powerful back then because, they could rap about anything, including the positives and negatives in the community.”
Mell went on to say that the media’s critique of Jay’s medallion is misinformed and believes that the rapper chose it to represent certain meaningful aspects of his own life. And he explained the imagery on the chain, which features traditional Five Percenter iconography.
“The piece that he has wearing represented the sun, which was known as a great power in the universe. It has a seven [considered to be a divine number] a moon and a star in it. That represents the man, woman and the child. So that piece on his chain represents that the family is a great source of power. And it’s him, Beyoncé and the baby, and if you notice he didn’t start wearing it till after they had the baby. He’s probably just wearing it to say he’s proud of his family.”