The Occult and Hip Hop

Boing Boing guestblogger Mitch Horowitz is author of Occult America: The Secret History of How Mysticism Shaped Our Nation and editor-in-chief of Tarcher/Penguin publishers.

Occulthippp Since the late 1960s a very original and unclassifiable inner-city mystery religion called the Five Percenters has served as an inspiration behind some of the language and imagery of New York's hip hop scene. I recently spoke with All Things Considered host Guy Raz about the strange (and persistent) appearance of occult and esoteric themes in the work of Jay-Z.
"Jay-Z: A Master Of Occult Wisdom?"


  1. My introduction to the Five Percenters came from listening to Howard Stern many years ago. That guy did more to open my eyes to the tapestry of life on this planet than just about anyone else when I was a teen.

  2. 5%s is basically a jail house religion, and used as a way of integrating a gang. It’s no surprise Jay Z is aware of it as anyone who knows someone in jail is aware of it. It’s an incredibly stupid religion (yes more than most), and it’s members are mostly racist believing that only a black man is good and whites are inherently evil. But don’t take my word for it, read all about it yourself:

    A lot of great hip-hop groups use 5% terms in their lyrics and titles, kind of like listening to Screwdriver, I can appreciate the musical goodness even if I totally disagree with the politics.

  3. Man, I hate to think how wide open Mitch’s mind is going to get blown when he gets around to spinning some Killah Priest tracks.

  4. Unclassifiable? Pretty sure it’s a form of Islam, an offshoot of Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam. And it’s not exactly new. My introduction to it came in an early 90’s SPIN Magazine feature (“The Five Percent Solution”, Charlie Ahearn, Feb 1991). Poor Righteous Teachers, Rakim, Brand Nubian, Big Daddy Kane, Busta Rhymes, Gang Starr, Wu-Tang, are all Five Percenters for a start. I think it’s disingenuous and sensationalistic to call it “original”, “unclassifiable” and a “mystery”. Sure, there’s a curious numerological element, but it’s not used for divining the unknown.

  5. #5 is right on; the Nation of Gods and Earths came out of the NOI. Kind of silly to call it occult. Michael Muhammed Knight (awesome author of The Taqwacores) has a new nonfiction book out about it: The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip-Hop and the Gods of New York.

  6. Actually the 5 Percenters are distant from NOI. They have had white members and have a faith and theology entirely distinct. The occult reference is not necessarily to the Percenters influence alone among Jay-Z’s influences/samples. Cheers,m

  7. Most forms of esotericism simply concern knowledge of how the mind works, through self-mastery and awareness, attained individually. When systems of beliefs are formed, things like the complexity of dualism are usually misinterpretated by those who have no desire to truly understand themselves, leading to the development of simple aphorisms to guide the masses (exoteric).

  8. If you think those bands have a great deal of occult symbolism in their lyrics, you really might appreciate some of the stuff by a group called Jedi Mind Tricks. The mystical slant varies across the albums, mostly related to whether one member in particular is involved with the album.. Here’s wikipedia:

    Interesting, Jus Allah (to whom I was referring, above) is mentioned as a 5 percenter..

  9. i have a friend who identifies as a 5%er and he’s one of the most intelligent and interesting people i’ve ever met. takes his mysticism tongue-in-cheek and knows a lot more about that sort of stuff than most.

  10. I’ll stick to Cthulhumas carrols for my occult music. The phrase “hip hop” all but ensures I’m going to consider it unredemed garbage.

  11. @DAEMON

    Well done being closed minded? Maybe educate yourself. There’s a lot of great hip-hop.

  12. I’m not surprised by Jay- Z using Fiver Percenter phrases- Big Daddy Kane was a mentor of his.

    Of course, great lyricists in Hip Hop tend to reference a really wide variety of things to the point where I suspect that the majority of Jay- Z’s fans likely have no idea what many of his lyrics may refer to. Going back to the Five Percenters they emphasised education and reading. Not to mention thinking for yourself. Things to be praised in a religion if you ask me.

  13. JAYZ like many rappers use 5% code in rhyme but he also used to rap with the JAZ who was a known for his 5% hiphop. Check out a skinny JAYZ represent the nation.

  14. Silly me, I always get my 5 percenters and my 1 percenters (outlaw motorcyclists) mixed up.

    Can someone be both a 5 percenter and 1 percenter at the same time? What percent would that make them then?

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