Russell Simmons’ latest book, Super Rich decided to share a few excerpts on the mogul’s thoughts on Jay Electronica, “Exhibit C”, and Five Percenters. You can order your copy here.
Growing up in Hollis, I always thought the flyest cats in the neighborhood were the Five Percenters. For those who aren’t familiar, the Five Percenters are an offshoot of The Nation of Islam that are named after their belief that people are divided into three groups: the eighty-five percent who are blind to God and the truth; another ten percent) made up mainly of elites like politicians , CEOs and members of the media) who know the truth but use it to exploit and deceive; and the final five percent, from which the group takes its name, who know the truth (namely that God is a Black man from Asia), but rather than abuse it, try to use it to uplift people.
While, as you might imagine, the Five Percenters have never found much mainstream acceptance, they were very well-known in the hood for the flamboyant language and accompanying philosophy they created called “Supreme Mathematics.” Growing up, I used to love to watch the “Gods and Earths” (as members of the group are known) stand on the corners and “drop jewels,” their term for philosophizing about religion and the true role of black folk in America.
While the Five Percenters’ silky smooth style of speech would go on to have a significant, if underappreciated, impact on the language of hip-hop, I personally never got too deep into their entire scene. While I loved listening to those smooth niggas hold court, ultimately I was more concerned with gang banging, getting high, or chasing girls to spend too much time thinking about the jewels they were dropping.
Recently, however, I was reminded of just how deep the Five Percenters really were after I fell in love with a song called “Exhibit C” from the rapper Jay Electronica. In the song, Jay tells a story of living on the streets (“without a single slice of pizza to my name”), where he wastes years “shootin’ dice, fighting and smoking weed on the corners/ looking for the meaning of life inside a Corona.” He remains stuck in that negative cycle until he’s approachd by several Five Percenters, who, as he puts it, “inform” him of a truth which finally awakens him from his unconscious state: In life, they tell him, “you either build or destroy.”
As I listened to “Exhibit C” over and over again, I began to really appreciate the wisdom in the “jewel” the Five Percenters dropped on Jay. Though I had never thought of it in those terms before, it is undoubtedly true that through our actions and our mentality, in life we are either “builders” or “destroyers.” The “builders” are focused on trying to elevate not only themselves, but the world around them (knowing that by elevating others, they elevate themselves). The “destroyers” never awaken from their unconscious behavior and as a result destroy themselves and everything they come into contact with.