Book Review: "Why I Am a Five Percenter" by Michael Muhammad Knight

Knight's anecdotes about interactions with RZA, for instance, are just as compelling as his self-effacing comparisons of himself to John Walker Lindh, a/k/a oeThe American Taliban.

At times reading like a textbook, at other times a Hip Hop tale – and yet written in first person, as a memoir – Michael Muhammad Knight's book Why I Am a Five Percenter (Tarcher/Penguin) takes the reader on a journey through the world of Five Percenters, a branch off of the Nation of Islam tree, which itself is of course a branch of Islam. Many Hip Hop legends who emerged in the 1990s were influenced by the Five Percenters theology and terminology (referring to each other as “God” or calling women “Earths,” for example.) Yet, Five Percenters kept their profile pretty low. As Knight explains in this book, it was a cliquish type of group.

Knight, a white man, casts himself as both a scholar of Five Percenters and as a participant in the culture. He avoids being preachy through strong prose that, much like President Barack Obama's memoir Dreams From My Father, is an exercise in finding one's place in the world. Knight's anecdotes about interactions with RZA, for instance, are just as compelling as his self-effacing comparisons of himself to John Walker Lindh, a/k/a “The American Taliban.” Some of this stuff is eyebrow-raising, to say the least, and some readers could even think Knight is batshit crazy for writing the stuff he's writing. With that said, it should be noted that reading Knight's book requires a certain level of open-mindedness and interest in understanding a subculture, to begin with. In other words, Why I Am a Five Percenter is an anthropological excursion – it is not the latest tell-all from a basketball wife.

As far as hip-hop fans are concerned, Why I Am a Five Percenter is important because Five Percenter ideology inspired Jay-Z, Nas, Rakim, the Wu-Tang Clan and many other prominent artists. The words and concepts embedded in the lyrics are recited by millions of fans all over the world – most of whom can only guess at their origins. Knight connects the dots extremely well. Even the historical passages of his book are rather interesting – again, for readers who enjoy reading history and not Anne Rice novels. Knight explores how the Five Percent movement began with founder Clarence 13X – who was at one point imprisoned and placed on the FBI's Security Index, and assassinated in 1969 – and became a referenced theology in rapper's lyrics.

At times, the reader won't be able to help it but to think, “why is this relevant?” Truth is, it's really not. Five Percenters are a marginalized subculture, and no matter how influential their theology was – or is – for rappers, it didn't serve any purpose other than make certain artists with a certain street background appear more grounded in religion (which was a joke to other rappers, for instance, think about that time Jim Jones wanted to smack Nas' kufi off). This helped them appeal to the college-educated, suburban white kids – who, of course, were their primarily customer base throughout the '90s. Not to say that that's all bad – the trivial knowledge is useful when you run out of stuff to talk about at a social gathering.

Purchase Why I Am A Five Percenter by Michael Muhammad Knight

35 Comments

  • Irule

    If any body don't like 5 we'll you never learn the truth

  • Irule

    5% are very smart they speak the true we as black people need to wake up to reality and get out of the white mans ways.

  • Anonymous

    You all managed to downplay the influence of the 5% philosophies and principles, let alone -mathetmatics- by demystifying and alluding to trite analogies. Pathetic.

  • uptownfirst

    How you gonna discuss rappers who allude to the teachings of five percenters and totally neglect Brand Nubian a group who represented five percenters get up on your history.

  • crackers

    an uneducated cracker must've written this review. go spread small pox or something

  • abc

    Fuk a 5 Percenter, callin themselves god, fukouttaherewiththatbullshit!

  • ANONYMOUS

    Who ever wrote this fuckin article, you are fuckin moron for writing this shit. Michael Muhammad Knight is not a Five Percenter. That white crazy ass is making money off our nation so that you can also write stupid shit like this. Hip Hop is nothing without the Nation of God and Earth philosophical base and culture. Peace to all the GODS AND EARTHS that know what the knowledge of self is truly about. Hiphopdx ya a bunch of white faggots not knowing what to write.

  • dtownbaby

    Yall gotta be the most uneducated muhfukas, look up Orthodox Muslim and you will see what it is to be like a REAL Muslim, not these fake ass wannabes tryna look righteous, how bout get on the right path and then be humble and spread love to your brothers, fake ass muhfukas make me sick

    • scholar

      Orthodox Muslim is just the same as christianity, they worship what they no not and is full of different beliefs and everywhere. Worshiping spirits and fake carvings of how you wish the world to perceive the prophets of God, interfered with and run by the white man. Get some Truth and physicality of world history, read just a little and then start talking about whats REAL and whats FAKE

    • i think ur uneducated

      5% isnt muslim, isnt trying to be a REAL muslim, its not even a religion, get ur facts straight

  • Anonymous

    Study the supreme wisdom lessons by W.F.Fard Muhammad

  • caucasian hairy devil from da cave

    author of book is white and so is reviewer = irrelevant

  • fuck Slav

    the last paragraph is a bitch move. he's either a cracker or uncle tom

    • Anonymous

      It's the price you have to pay for Truth!

    • Anonymous

      of course it is, it mentioned he was white in the second paragraph, but yea I don't think a "white man" has any business writing a book/turning a prophet from the 5% nation, I ain't interested... next!! PS - fuck DX wack ass white dudes tryna fit in to the culture, PEACE to my real white cats holding it down, fuck these college clowns tryna make a buck off of culture... faggots

  • Yasir Allah

    Yo what the F is the dude talking about!!! It would not be ANY hip-hop music without the 5%! His name is Slav though so he's probably a devil so that last paragraph is expected. Still how you gonna "love" hiphop and not love the Gods? That's like loving hamburgers and hating cows.

  • Adeeb Shabazz

    This "5 Percenter" in particular would love to meet you face to face and show you exactly how "ignorant" we are. I don't know who you are "kangaroo pimp", but I'd be willing to wager that you'd stand little intellectual chance in the face of myself or my brothers in a debate. I'd love to put it on YouTube for you and your superior friends to watch over and over again to remind you how "ignorant" we are. Of course you are just someone hiding behind a computer who would never have enough courage to rise to such a challenge.

  • KangarooPimp

    The last paragraph is nothin but the truth, 5 Percenters must be the most ignorant persons on earth.

    • Anonymous

      This "5 Percenter" in particular would love to meet you face to face and show you exactly how "ignorant" we are. I don't know who you are "kangaroo pimp", but I'd be willing to wager that you'd stand little intellectual chance in the face of myself or my brothers in a debate. I'd love to put it on YouTube for you and your superior friends to watch over and over again to remind you how "ignorant" we are. Of course you are just someone hiding behind a computer who would never have enough courage to rise to such a challenge.

  • lance a lot

    wow. reviewer is clueless. book looks usless though

  • Riz

    Five Percenters are NOT MUSLIM...end of story...Fuk NOI

  • duff

    sounds like my man is disses the gods? he wack 4 that.

  • Protektah X

    Five percenters are truth. If you wanna listen quality hip hop listen five percenters!

  • NAS

    "i grab the bitch by her tits, she tried to say he earted"

  • slim

    yea the last paragraph threw me off. the writer needs to do his homework before he writes about shit like this. Especially if youre going to be a hip hop writer.

  • Anonymous

    the author needs to be smacked for that last paragraph

  • Immy

    I would just like to point out that the nation of islam has nothing to do with Islam apart from the name; the nations beliefs completely contradict those of Islam, such as the belief in elijah mohammad as a messiah/prophet, which is derogatory and a sin to believe in another prophet after Muhammad (pbuh) from a muslims point of view.

    • elam

      The honorable elijah muhammad brings bible scripture to life, and his teachings are confirmed within the Holy Quran

    • I

      Same thing you said when prophet jesus came to you preaching the gospel....call the Truth a Lie. Then he suffered persecution and was assassinated.