The responsibility to impart knowledge, wisdom and overstanding of the culture has long remained one of Hip Hop’s four pillars. From Prodigy’s post-“Golden Era,” paranoid musings that Illuminati was after his mind, soul and body, until today, notable emcees have expressed equal parts fear and disdain for an oncoming “New World Order” ushered in by a secret society. While fiction works such as Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code have fanned the flames of a so-called Illuminati, real life New World Order references by the likes of President George H.W. Bush in his “Thousand Points of Light” speech lent credence to theories of capital consolidation, government surveillance and the possible existence of a secret society.
Emcees like AZ, Goodie Mob’s Cee Lo, Mobb Deep’s Prodigy, and Wu-Tang Clan’s U-God were all paying attention and addressing the above topics in their rhymes. Society has progressed since those early rhymes powered by an equal mix of plausible governmental distrust and right-wing conspiracy theories. And Hip Hop has also progressed with rhymes that address those keeping society’s marginalized groups under their proverbial thumb. Here, we look at ten of the most notable Illuminati references in Hip Hop.
Prodigy – “I Shot Ya (Remix)”
“It’s time to begin again / Forgot what I already knew / You hear me friend / Illuminati want my mind soul and my body / Secret societies trying to keep they eye on me… ”
Mobb Deep’s Prodigy spit one of the early Illuminati references in Hip Hop in 1995. The idea of a New World Order was new and threatening for emcees, toying with conspiracy theories that felt affirmed with works like William Cooper’s Behold A Pale Horse and real life events like COINTELPRO and increased government surveillance. In later years, P’s ideology would evolve with songs like “Skull & Bones,” where he proclaimed, “Illuminati is us.”
“The origin of that comes from the ancient Egyptians, the Black Egyptians that ruled Egypt,” Prodigy explained in a 2012 interview with HipHopDX. “They had the schools of thought in medicine, technology, and that’s where everything comes from. So that’s what I mean when I say, ‘We are the origin, of all enlightenment / These pirates stole our shit.’ Like, that’s our shit. We are the original illuminated ones. They took it and used it for something evil.”
Cee-Lo – “Cell Therapy”
“Oh you know what else they trying to do / Make a curfew especially for me and you / The traces of the new world order / Time is getting shorter / If we don’t get prepared people it’s gone be a slaughter…”
While 1995 found conspiracy theorists looking far and wide for signs of the New World Order, Goodie Mob’s “Cell Therapy” encouraged an analysis much closer to home. Cee Lo set it off with the song’s second mention of George H.W. Bush’s favorite phrase, and he dedicated his verse to the ever-growing presence of gated communities. Interestingly enough, Big Gipp offered a glimpse into the future. Some 19 years ago, a line such as, “Tag my skin with your computer chip / Run your hand over the scanner to buy your dish towel / No more fishing for your fish,” seemed outlandish. But with the advent of RFID implant chips, biotechnology and virtual currency; Gipp’s bars seem more like foreshadowing than the fanciful tales of a paranoid rapper. Maybe Goodie Mob was just that far ahead of its time.
Amar Pep “We Can’t Win”
“The government plotting a nuclear detonation / Destroying vegetation / Water / The new world order means starvation / The eye on the dollar symbolizes illumination / A society secretly overseeing population / Understand it / The government plans to enslave the planet…”
By the time 1996 rolled around, a more concrete concept of what the Illuminati was emerged. AZ and Amar Pep detailed an exact idea of the methods and motives of secret society members with “We Can’t Win.”
“These secret societies is maneuvering within society to control society / That’s why society is outta control,” the Five Percenter enlights on the intro. A.Z. supports Amar’s claims in his second verse, highlighting the crooked moves of New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, the constant brutality in the black communities in order to decrease the world’s population, and this idea of control or lack of control dictated by an unseen power group. In 2014, when the police are literally executing unarmed black and brown men and women, the idea of a population decrease which targets people of color and conspired by the government, doesn’t seem so far fetched anymore.
Ras Kass – “Soul On Ice (Remix)”
“But on the low though we fightin’ over the scraps / Worshipping the almighty dollar / In God we trust / Look it over / Now what the fuck pyramids got to do with the Pilgrims or Jehovah / Novus Ordo Seclorum means new world order / That’s why I keep my friends close and my enemies closer…”
That same year, Ras Kass released his own reaction to the theories of a New World Order, claiming, “‘Cause while we wanna be N.W.A / they create the N.W.O.” His idea of the Illuminati on “Soul On Ice (Remix)” articulated the separation between money, power and respect, rhyming, “‘Cause see, no matter how much green you make/ you’ll never see the avocado, you’ll just be another broke Versace model.” Much like AZ and Goodie Mob, The Waterproof Emcee focused his attention on capital consolidation referencing electronic currency. Some 18 years after spitting those rhymes, it appears Ras Kass certainly was on point with his intuition. Not only is Tiger Woods no longer up to par, but innovations such as PayPal, Google Wallet and Apple Pay have made electronic currency a reality. You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth.
U-God – “Impossible”
“We want sanitary food / Planetary conquest / Thug peoples on some hard cold body shit / Get your shit together before the fuckin’ Illuminati hit…”
“Impossible” was powerful in so many ways. Ghostface was awarded Verse of the Year by The Source and RZA, U-God and Ghost spit vivid warnings about the rise of murder rates and the countless men and women who fall victim to random violence. U-God’s social commentary intertwined the sense of urgency with his paranoia of the Illuminati’s presence and eventual destruction. The idea that a country would spend billions of dollars a year to bomb foreign countries, masked by the sentiment that they’re restoring peace, without actually having peace and equality in its own country, equated the mastermind of a very dangerous power group to Wu-Tang. Although the destruction U-God feared hasn’t happened yet, the corruption and lack of support for poor and working class folks in this country is more prevalent than ever.
Bun B – “Purse Come First”
“Look up in the sky / It’s a bird, it’s a plane / No it’s just another drone spying on us mayne / It’s a new world order / At least that’s what I read / Big brother is watching / I just heard somebody say it / Jesus was married to Mary / And they both had a kid / And it’s a piece of history that the Catholic church hid / Man fuck The Da Vinci Code / Fuck Illuminati / Only secret society is Rap-A-Lot and John Gotti…”
By 2009, various conspiracies were more developed, and artists were drifting away from the fear of an unknown secret society and focused more on the illegal and very calculated workings of the government. “President is the supplier, government got all the coke,” Pimp C rapped on the opening verse. Granted, Bun B’s verse was filled with Illuminati talk; however, his lyrics were meant to enlighten rather than solicit fear.
“They send us off to war, kill us and got paid too / America, open yo eyes, these niggas played you,” he rapped. Bun B still working out his feelings about a New World Order was clear on one thing, a society with ill intentions was in full effect, it wasn’t much of a secret, and we were all paying tax dollars to contribute to its power.
Jay Z – “Free Mason”
“He without sin shall cast the first stone / So y’all look in the mirror / Double check y’all appearance / Bitch I said that I’m amazin’ / Not that I’m a Mason…”
Jay Z has without a doubt has received the most heat in the Rap game for his alleged involvement in the New World Order. Conspiracy theorists have interpreted videos of his, album cover art and even the removal of the hyphen from his Rap name as evidence of his participation with some omnipotent secret society. But in 2010, ‘Hov put the rumors to rest.
“Niggas couldn’t do nothing with me / They put the devil on me / I would have preferred they squeeze the metal on me,” Jay spits in his opening bar on “Free Mason.” He chalks up the Illuminati talk to straight up hate, claiming they can’t talk about his rhymes and actual Rap skills, so they associate him with the workings of the devil in order to bring him down. In one hell of a verse filled with countless double entendres, he settles the matter once and for all saying, “Fuck all these fairy tales, go to hell / This is God engineering.”
Wise Intelligent – “Illuminati”
“All of this talk about Jay Z, being Illuminati / Or whether they got to Kanye, or whether or not they both gay / This is irrelevant subtext, call it celebrity gossip / Your taking it out of the context of Lucifer’s pertinent subjects / We live in the projects, we descend from slaves / A lot of us don’t even got shit, and do anything to get paid / Who Jigga, that nigga ain’t Satan, and West just hood at best / And If they homo, I do not know and I could care less…”
Wise Intelligent flipped the script by bringing up the class war implications of the constant attachment with the Illuminati and Hip Hop. Wise challenged the status quo of thinking with his take on the Illuminati and Jay Z’s involvement in the satanic following. During an interview with HipHopDX in 2011, he articulated his reasoning behind dubbing the Hov/Kanye secret society connection irrelevant.
“My point was to bring the Illuminati out of the boogieman space… We have 10% of the people all over the world making life miserable for 90% of the world and [all] we wanna talk about is, ‘Jay-Z gay? Is Kanye gay?’” Wise quipped. “It’s not a secret society, it’s right in your face.” Wise Intelligent utilized his record as a form of protest; protest against disenfranchisement, mass incarceration, poor and limited education in urban communities.
Talib Kweli – “The Wormhole”
“Illuminati’s enlightened, the owl see in the darkness / Masonic roots still survive from the book of dearly departed / Egyptologist and scholars, symbologists at the college / Will all acknowledge that ancient Kemet is where it started / Way farther back than the knights or the Rite of the Scottish / You need to wake up, no new Bugatti / My enemy tryin’ to stop me but I don’t stand a chance…”
Talib Kweli delivers a strong social commentary about the Illuminati and Rap connectivity on “The Wormhole,” pointing out all the absurd flaws and baseless assumptions that fuel the conspiracy theorists. Kweli acknowledges the real history of the secret society, dating back to ancient Egypt, and he also asserts that the Illuminati jargon is really meant to distract the masses from the real world domination.
“The Illuminati was a real organization and quite possibly could be a real organization now, but the amount of power that people allow it to have on their lives is based on them,” Kweli said in a 2013 interview with VladTV. “We have the International Money Fund, the World Bank. We have rich families that are conspiring and getting together to have one currency, to have one world order to make shit easier for them.”
Talib cites the legit, legal organizations working in conjunction to keep the poor in poverty and inhibit the wealthy elite to achieve total power and control. And conveniently, while the true power players hide behind calculated conspiracies, rappers are being scrutinized for them, despite those same theories affecting their families and communities. Talib Kweli’s angle is clear. The real devils remain seemingly blood free and occupy public office.
Rakaa Iriscience – “Century Of The Self”
“Now I don’t bother with if Jay’s Illuminati or not but / I know TSA got me throwing the Roc up / Hollywood rules, the illusion is cruel / Bank awards planned and confusions’ a tool / In fact, vampire swarms attack us, grappled with corporate Draculas / Tried to consume our worlds, battled Unicron, Galactus…”
Rakaa Iriscience offers a unique interpretation of the Illuminati in 2014. He analyzes the impact of big businesses, corporate culture and the universal selfish agenda of capitalism, in affiliation with the Illuminati. Iriscience calls out the notion of an intangible devil worshipping group that is out of our hands and points towards more tangible issues like the TSA and X-ray body scanners. When Rakaa was interviewed by HipHopDX this year about the record, he asserted people would rather believe the fables of a secret society because then they don’t actually have to address real life issues and responsible agency. Rakaa added that popular culture turned it into a catch phrase because of it’s rhyming ability rather than its danger.
“That’s easier than actually dealing with what it is and getting to the root of it on case-by-case basis,” Iriscience offered. “A lot of it has to do with big businesses not caring about you as an individual than some grand conspiracy or whatever the case may be.” The cleverness of the opening line: “Now I don’t bother if Jay’s Illuminati or not but / I know TSA got me throwing the Roc up,” ties into Rakaa’s theory. “Illuminati” works well in music and now even as a popular culture reference and Rakaa Iriscience’s capitalization on that brilliantly creates an image that we all can visualize.
Rachel Leah hails from Boston, MA and currently resides in Denver. Beginning as an intern, Rachel has contributed for HipHopDx since 2013. Follow her on Twitter @boston_nkleined.