Sunday, April 25, 2010

Spiritual Strains of Hiphop

Within the culture of hip-hop lies another element often ignored by mainstream society -- religion. There has always been the question of where the people of hip-hop get their energy from, and the answer is often umbrellaed as an energy that is used to fight freedom. However there is a deeper layer in the hip-hop community than the mere desire to be equal, and most people attribute it to a form of religion within hip-hop culture formed by hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa.

Before he became "The Godfather of Hip-Hop," Bambaataa was a leader of the Black Spades, a notorious Bronx-based gang. After he discovered hip-hop and Zulu, he made it a purpose to fuse the values as an Amazulu believer with the tools in hip-hop. He not only left a legacy consisting of great music like "Planet Rock" and "Looking for the Perfect Beat," but he also started the Universal Zulu Nation, an international group of b-boys and b-girls, DJs, emcees and graffiti artists who are dedicated to pushing the beliefs of Zulu and Afrocentrism through the artistic elements of hip-hop.

The Zulu Nation carries some similar and different religious values other major religions of the world have. For starters, they believe in no single god figure and that all major religions of an omni-God faith (i.e. Christianity, Islam and Judaism) are essentially the same. According to their first tenet, "We believe in one God, who is called by many names -- Allah, Jehovah, Yahweh, RA, Eloahim, Jah, God, The Most High, The Creator, The Supreme One... We will recognize them all to be the same one God."

Their tenets also stand against any form of racism, instead promoting peace among every human and the environment. It also references Supreme Mathematics as the foundation for "life, creation, everything." An example of Mathematics in hip-hop could be directed to the Wu-Tang Clan's debut album
Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers:

There is a story behind why the famous hip-hop group named their album 36 Chambers, and it is due to their value of mathematics. In Supreme Mathematics the number 9 means "to bring into existence" (also known as a debut). At the time of their debut album, Wu-Tang had 9 members, each members having 4 chambers of the heart (2 atria and 2 ventricles), and if you multiply 9 and 4 you get 36. Hence the title 36 Chambers, meaning a total of 36 chambers within the hearts of the Wu-Tang Clan.

Over its years, the Universal Zulu Nation began to take a more Afrocentric turn, embracing thoughts and ideas from the Five-Percent Nation of Islam. Specifically, the notion of overthrowing white supremacy was through centering their spiritual beings around the Black men, i.e. claiming the Black man as God. For example, if you listen to a lot of Wu-Tang's early music (in particular, 36 Chambers), they will greet each other like "Peace God" or "God, check it..." greeting each other as if they are a god because that is the belief of the Five-Percenters.

Other famous hip-hop artists with ties to the Universal Zulu Nation and the Five-Percent Nation of Islam:
  1. Eric B. & Rakim
  2. KRS-One
  3. X-Clan
  4. GURU
Recently, the Universal Zulu Nation joined forces with the Temple of Hip-hop to form the Declaration of Peace. This declaration proclaims hip-hop as a nonviolent culture that seeks "a foundation of health, love, awareness, wealth, peace and prosperity for ourselves, our children and their children's children, forever."

A good book that explains everything religion-wise in hip-hop is "The Gospel of Hiphop: The First Instrument" written by KRS-One. It is essentially a bible aimed at the hip-hop culture using the same principles established by the Universal Zulu Nation and the artistic elements of hip-hop as tools for social and political change. It is a book that explores the science and religion of hip-hop.

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