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The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip-hop and the Gods of New York Paperback – October 1, 2008
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Korean War vet and martial-arts enthusiast Clarence Jowars Smith founded the Nations of Gods and Earths in Harlem in the late 1960s. Known as the Five Percenters, the group was seen as an offshoot of the Nation of Islam (NOI) by many and as pure heresy by many traditional Muslims. Excommunicated by the NOI, Smith used the new movement to teach his idiosyncratic take on Islam, for which he renamed himself Clarence 13XAllah to adherents. The movement grew in strength, numbers, and influence, even after the (still unsolved) murder of Clarence 13X in 1969; and hip-hop royalty Rakim, Wu Tang Clan, and Busta Rhymes are purported members. Critics decry the Five Percenters as racist, and with alleged connections to the 1971 Attica prison riot, crack-dealing turf wars, and other dirty business, the Nations of Gods and Earths is often considered a street gang by the minions of justice. This exhaustive study of it scores high for gritty realism and insight into contemporary urban street life and culture. Tribby, Mike --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"Knight does an excellent job of presenting the movement's founders, belief system and its history as seen by the people who live it." Monsters and Critics
Top customer reviews
Mr. Knight has obviously done an immense amount of research into the topic and not as an objective outsider trying to offer a scholarly approach but as someone invested with the Gods as an ernest interest. The prose style of writing and the narratives of his encounters keep a work that in someone else's hands might become boring or dry, fresh and relatable. He makes you want to know more and keep digging into the subject to find the full 360 of every intricate detail.
This book isn't a light read and it isn't for someone with a passing interest just looking for a sound bite sized chunk of condensed knowledge but for those who really want to know about a very important but often overlooked and misunderstood piece of American cultural history that can get misrepresented or turned into something else by the other "85%".
If you've read any other works by Mr. Knight I urge you to check this one out as it's well worth the read.
Knight’s history of the Five Percenters and Hip Hop, while less personal than some of his other writings, and not as exciting or manic in its research, it follows them in its defense of American religious innovation and adaptation. The Five Percenters are not Muslims, and where appeals to the reformation of criminals and addicts, and immersion into some international framework has sometimes formed the basis of validating the Nation of Islam, the Five Percenters don’t offer, seek, or provide the same validation. These are people who fight in the military, drink what they want, celebrate Christmas, and don’t apologize for it. Apple pies are really Dutch or English, but the Five Percenters are as American as hip hop, and while the movement’s vocabulary and rhetoric might be drawn from any number of places, hip hop has disseminated it widely.
There was something odd and apt about a recent exchange between Lord Jamar and Michael Muhammad Knight over the former’s homophobic comments and the latter’s criticism of them, and what the recent exchange showed was Knight’s possible myopia in the book, his embrace and defense of the movement overlooking the powerful voice it has to disseminate sometimes reactionary rhetoric. Knight writes extensively about Brand Nubian and Lord Jamar in this book; but Brand Nubian was getting in trouble for violent homophobic lyrics back in 1992 when homophobia was even more commonplace.
I have not read “Why I am a Five Percenter,” but look forward to doing so. In the recent exchange with Lord Jamar, Knight was critiqued as something of an anthropological tourist, an exploiter of the movement, which seems off to me, but also seems troublingly difficult to shrug off or dismiss.
If you have never read anything about the 5% this is a good place to begin as far as I am concerned.