By Tony Muhammad
“My war cry over break beats/Eating a bean pie reading up Muhammad Speaks/Teaching em’ up through flows, snares and samples/Showing them a better way and lead by example.” – Jahi of PE 2.0
The above lyrics by Jahi of PE 2.0 in the song “Spread The Words” (also featuring Jasiri X) on Chuck D’s new album The Black in Man signify connections that many believe to be long lost to Hip Hop culture today; connections that have existed since its inception. Those are Islam and, in general, Black consciousness.
In his book In The Name of Allah: A History of Clarence 13X and the Five Percenters, Wakeel Allah notes how many of the youth that belonged to the various street organizations in New York City throughout the 1960s would routinely visit
Muhammad Mosques under the leadership of The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad. Through the influences of the hard teaching of ministers such as Malcolm X and The Honorable Minister Louis
Farrakhan, many of them would pick up and frequently use the
common colloquialisms used in the Nation of Islam. Among the most popular is the phrase “Word is Bond” which is derived from a question asked by Master Fard Muhammad and the answers given by his student, The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad found in Lost Found Muslim Lessons No. 1 in The Supreme Wisdom of The Nation of Islam.
- Have you not learned that your word shall be Bond regardless of whom or what?
Answer: Yes. My word is Bond and Bond is life, and I will give my life before my word shall fail.
By the late 1960s, through the influence of Clarence 13X and The Nation of Gods and Earth, the language of Islam itself would become more widespread among the youth in New York City. Likewise mimicked would be the mannerisms exhibited by The Fruit of Islam (the military training of men in The NOI), particularly while they held security post; a posture commonly held by Clarence 13X, Justice and others in The Nation of Gods and Earth. When Afrika Bambaataa was putting an end to the warfare between street organizations in the South Bronx, these elements, along with The Teachings of The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, would become integral part of Hip Hop culture. Hip Hop as a cultural and musical expression would ultimately spread throughout the country and throughout the world. Everywhere Hip Hop has spread these Islamic expressions have followed. They would dominantly shape and mold the cultural expression for over 30 years. The FOI security stance would become known as the ever popular intimidating pose that rival Breakers and Emcees would give to one another; “The B-Boy Stance.” The lyrics of Hip Hop artists throughout the 80s and the 90s would become pregnant with the common phrases used in The Nation of Islam and The Nation of Gods and Earth such as “Word is Bond” as well as The Teachings of The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad themselves through artists who themselves have been inspired by or actual members of either The Nation of Islam or The Nation of Gods and Earth. The enormous list of such artists include The World Famous Supreme Team, Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, K-Solo, Gang Starr, Group Home, Lakim Shabazz, Rakim, Poor Righteous Teachers, Paris, Kam, Brand Nubian, Ice Cube, Nas, Digable Planets and The Wu-Tang Clan among many others. Artists would also typically include samples of lectures by Malcolm X, The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, Dr. Khalid Abdul Muhammad, Student Minister Ava Muhammad and other ministers in the Nation of Islam.
By the early 90s, major record labels who had business owners and investors connected to the fashion, liquor and prison industries (among others) began to change the message of the music through their influence with the goal in mind of destroying the idea of (especially Black and Brown) youth being knowledgeable producers and instead becoming more so a generation of violent offenders and unintelligent consumers. The idea has been to totally divorce Hip Hop from Islam and any form of consciousness.
Flash forward to the present. The corporate takeover of Hip Hop has resulted in it being reduced to a musical expression that lacks substance and is driven almost exclusively through the overabundant pleasing of the senses (i.e. alcohol, sex, drugs, violence). This trend continues with the new drama series on FOX about the music industry centered on Hip Hop, Empire. The show by itself details a family’s involvement in the cut throat and oft times illicit orientation of the commercial music industry in an age when artists and record industry personalities use deception as the base for professional and personal “advancement.” In addition, sexual promiscuity, homosexuality and overall moral debauchery are presented as an everyday norm in the culture. In fact, the insidious nature of the show is meant to intensify as it continues (This is how they will be able to keep a loyal viewership). Recently, Islam, specifically the Teachings of The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, which has bred so much knowledge, wisdom and spiritual guidance historically in Hip Hop culture, has now come under attack through this show. In episode 4 titled “False Imposition,” Lucious Lyon (played by Terrence Howard) becomes interested in signing who he terms as “the most authentic rapper since Tupac,” “Titan,” who at the time was already signed by a rival label. In the midst of it all, it is discovered that Titan grew up in the Nation of Islam which briefly troubles Lucious because “his father was killed by The Nation of Islam.” After being sent to jail for shooting and killing a rival rapper backstage at a concert, Titan is visited by Lucious who offers him a deal that would cause him not only to breech his contract with the record label that he is signed with but also enter into a contract with Empire that will have him further compromise the principles that his community represents. Lucious makes it clear to him that while he never would help The Nation of Islam, he will fund the rebuilding of his community (which was burned down by the rival rapper he killed) and have the recording studio in it named after him.
While the story itself is fictitious and does include some positive imagery of The Nation of Islam (i.e. How it is said that Titan’s mother held prayer services for female prisoners when Empire Executive Cookie Lyon was in prison), to so casually and vaguely slip the idea that members of the Nation of Islam, specifically The FOI, are murderers is not only cheap, it is outright dangerous. This is especially considering that Americans in general still to a significant degree still do not know enough about what The Life Giving and Life Changing Teachings of The Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad and Islam as a general idea are truly about. Most peoples’ idea of Islam is shaped and molded by commercialized media, which often times has a sensationalized and iniquitous agenda of portraying Muslims as intolerable violent people. One would have to question what the motives of the writers and producers of the show truly are.
Overall, there is no coincidence in terms of the timeliness of airing such a show. In the previous seven months prior to the show airing, the Hip Hop community has been experiencing a form of resurgence in Islamic expression. It began with the showmanship displayed by Jay Electronica at the 10th Annual Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival in July, performing on stage with an FOI uniform while Brothers in The Fruit of Islam held post around him. This event was followed by Jay Z taking his gold chain with a Nation of Gods and Earth Universal Flag on it and placing it around the neck of Jay Electronica, symbolizing the union of the two communities. Also significant has been the meetings The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan has had with the artistic community. Likewise has been the activism of artist Jasiri X, traveling the country not just for concerts but also for demonstrations against the injustice of police brutality and murder of Black and Brown men. Also noteworthy has been the work of Professor Griff, consistently traveling the country teaching the youth about the truth behind the music industry and the reason why Hip Hop has been altered the way that it has. He often times mentions the name of The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan and his work and, hence, points his audiences in the direction of the many Mosques and Study Groups found throughout the country.
What is truly needed in these times are programs that inspire us as a people to think differently and envision greater, rather than carrying on with an old paradigm on how to make music and conduct music business that is obviously obsolete and has landed too many of us either in prison or dead – from the commercial level all the way to the street level all in the name of trying to gain a little money and a little fame. We need a new system that is oriented towards properly educating the masses of the people in every aspect of life imaginable so that we can prosper and grow as a people. The old model of entertainment business that works at the expense of artists and their potential consumers is out. We need a new music industry where artists work hand in hand with community organizers and produce projects that service the needs of people and communities with the intent of developing and strengthening them; bringing Hip Hop back to its original purpose to foster Peace, Unity, Love and at the same time righteously having fun. Change in Hip Hop as a musical expression will come when this is most realized. For those of us who know and have vision, we must put into effect the principle of “each one, teach one” and do our part.
Until next time, Allah (God) Willing! Peace!
Tony Muhammad has been teaching Social Studies in Miami-Dade County Public Schools for over 15 years. Tony is most noted for his work as publisher of Urban America Newspaper (2003 – 2007) and co-organizer of the Organic Hip Hop Conference (2004 – 2009). He currently serves as a student assistant minister to Student Minister Patrick Muhammad at Muhammad Mosque #29 in Miami, Florida.