Separating rap’s false Idols from the true prophets…
We know Jay Z goes by ‘Jay Hova’, an appropriation of the Hebrew term for God and Nas is ‘God’s Son’. More recently, Kanye West is apparently ‘Yeezus’ and Eminem a ‘Rap God’. Where do these boasts of deity come from? Why are America’s most successful emcees looking increasingly like a line up from Mount Olympus? Is there a conspiracy? What’s the deal? Lets take a glimpse at the egotistical world of Rap deities (aka gawds) and separate the false idols from the true prophets…
The term ‘God complex’ was first coined by the the psychoanalyst Ernest Jones in 1923 referring to ‘a belief that one is (a) God’. If we look at the ever educational, Urban Dictionary, their current definition is described as “a psychosis based in uncontrolled narcissism, inflated arrogance and a perceived need to subjugate and/ or ridicule other individuals deemed to be inferior of unworthy.” A condition which applies to almost all rappers, you could argue.
People have been claiming to be God and/or Jesus for a very long time. To this day there’s still much speculation as to whether Jesus Christ actually existed, as many historians dispute there were many cult leaders with names a bit like Jesus who were performing miracles about 2000 years ago, such as Yeishu ha Notzri (note the resemblance of the name to “Jesus of Nazareth”), who traveled and practiced magic during the reign of Alexander Janneus, who ruled Palestine from 104 to 78 BCE. It’s accepted that the letter J didn’t even exist until about 500 years ago, so even if Jesus was a real person, his name wouldn’t have been Jesus, it would have been more like Yahshua (Hebrew) or Yoshua (Joshua) or something, ya get me?
Some people even think there was more than one Jesus, or he had a twin. This theory is widely taught in secret societies such as the OTO (Order of Oriental Templars) and other clandestine, occult groups that study old gnostic texts, which originally formed part of the Bible but were later omitted, such as Book of Enoch. Also clear to any student of mythology and religion, the Jesus story is clearly an allegory for the winter solstice. Jesus is literally the “Sun” of God, or Sun God, his resurrection heralding a new cycle of the equinox in late December.
And of course the notion of multiple Gods or Godheads predates Christianity: the Vikings, Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and many more cultures all have a wide array of Gods to choose from, a bit like choosing your favourite X-Man or superhero. Babylonian mythology, even suggests that there was once a time where Gods (or aliens?) and humans intermingled; we are believed to be the offspring of this divine union. A lot of myths and even Christianity also explore similar themes, where Gods/divine beings and humans procreate.
So perhaps it’s only when viewing rapper’s claims of divinity through a Christian lens that their boasts seem strange. Members of royalty, have been claiming their divine right to rule for centuries. Louis XIV called himself the Sun King, Egyptian Pharaohs were worshipped as God Kings and Julius Caesar thought he was a living deity. Once we take a wider historical view of men claiming to be gods, rappers boasts of God-hood don’t seem so misplaced. With their opulent lifestyles, large bank accounts, worldwide business empires and such a wide reach of influence, rappers are the new royal class, the new age Pharaohs, the ones at the top of the pyramid.
From Brand Nubian and Big Daddy Kane to the Wu-Tang Clan, the Five Percent Nation of Earths & Gods has had a tremendous impact on the philosophies of many emcees. The Five Percent ‘lessons’, which are themselves a reinterpretation of the Nation of Islam’s teachings, were intended to appeal to disgruntled urban youth in America’s East Coast and teach them facts about history and science that would empower them and add to their sense of worth. Young American black men were taught that they were Gods, masters of their own universes and destinies, descended from African Kings and Queens. For example Grand Puba, a fervent Five Percenter said on the Brand Nubian song ‘Wake Up’: “this Asiatic black man, is a dog spelled backwards.” The term “Asiatic” refers to a period in history where Egypt’s rule extended as far East as Asia. His afrocentric views were typical of many emcees at the time, and many emcees aware of the 5% philosophy still share similar views, Nas and most of Wu-Tang included. Five percenters popularised terms like “God” and “Sun” amongst New Yorkers to refer to each other, these terms have since become part of the wider, global hip hop lexicon, but not everyone is aware of the etymology.
“I call my brother sun, cos he shine like one” Raekwon, Wu Gambinos
Now lets cast an analytical eye over some of the rap game’s biggest god complexes in an attempt to examine and understand their lofty boasts:
Also known as the God MC, Rakim is the quintessential Five Percent rapper, he popularised rhyming with an intelligent, complex rhyme pattern and is acknowledged by many emcees to be one of the greatest MCs of all time and the father of intelligent rap, his verses near enough biblical scripture:“Check revelations and Genesis, St Luke and John/ It even tells us we are Gods in the Holy Qu’ran/ Wisdom Strength and Beauty, one of the meanings of God/ G.O.D you and me Gomar Oz Dubar/ Knowledge Wisdom Understanding Sun Moon and Star Man Woman and Child and so is Allah.”
From the song ‘Who Is God’ released in 1997 from the album ‘The 18th Letter’.
Big Daddy Kane
On the 1988 cut ‘Just Rhyming WIth The Biz’, Big Daddy Kane asserts, “You see, the name Kane is superior to many people/ It means King Asiatic, Nobody’s Equal.” Although the rapper got his name from the hit TV show ‘Kung Fu’, Kane makes use of this acronym throughout his rhymes, a nod to the prevailing Afrocentricity at the time and his membership of the Five Percent Nation of Earths & Gods. In true Five Percent fashion Kane constantly referred to himself as a God, “Took a swing at the God, and all you got was a strike,” he also plays the role of the King God Caesar on the cover of his album ‘Long Live The Kane’, draped in purple robes and gold, adorned with beautiful women feeding him grapes.
Wu-Tang: RZA The Resurrector, Ol Dirty Bastard: Big Baby Jesus/Osiris & U God
With Wu, the clues are in the names. RZA is definitely the leader of his crew and the rest of the Wu could be seen as his disciples, although ODB was called Big Baby Jesus, Allah, God Ason and Osiris, much of Wu lore is steeped in five percenterisms. On the track ‘The Projects’, Raekwon can be heard in conversation with Shyheim, who explains he is “Studying one twenty right now…call me back at the God Hour”, which translated means he was studying Five Percenter lessons and he’d like to be contacted at seven o’clock. Understanding the culture of the Five Percent Nation of Earths & Gods helps us to understand what the Wu were talking about. Their personal philosophies aside, having been in the game for over 20 years, with over 30 releases between the group, I think it’s safe to say The Wu have earned their “rap god” statuses and monikers.
Jay Z – Jay-Hova
A play on the Old Testament names of God, Jay-Hova or Jehovah was a nickname Shawn Carter received back in 1993, after astounding those around him in the studio with his amazing ability to improvise his lyrics, a feat that was “nothing short of miraculous” according to Gavin Edwards in his book Tiny Dancer. Despite referring to himself as Hova, Jigga says on the tune ‘Breathe Easy’, “I’m far from being God/ But I work goddamn hard.” Although the rapper employs more of a Five Percent mentality on the track ‘Jigga My Nigga’, explaining: “The God, send you back to the earth from which you came.” And more recently on ‘Oceans’: “Arm, leg, leg, arm, head: this is God body/ Knowledge, wisdom, freedom, understanding, we just want our equality.” Jay is spelling out Allah, the Arabic word for God, a Five Percent lesson that equates man’s body with that of God’s.
Although Jay Z admitted he was affected by ‘D’evils’ on ‘Reasonable Doubt’ in 1996, ten years later, on his ninth studio album, ‘Kingdom Come’, Hova assumes the role of Jesus figure, returning from retirement to save the game, “Not only NYC, I’m hip hop’s saviour/ So after this flow you might owe me a favour.” While the term ‘Kingdom Come’ is a reference to the Lord’s Prayer, it is also the name of a DC graphic novel where Superman and Batman come out of retirement to save the world. Jay Z likens himself to DC’s Clark Kent, “Take off the blazer loosen up the tie/Step inside the booth, Superman is alive.” Probably the most successful rapper of all time, it’s not hard to see why Jay likens himself to Jesus or God or even Superman.
On the track ‘Heaven’, from Jay’s most recent album ‘Magna Carta Holy Grail’, the Jigga Man’s gloating won’t stop: “Fresh in my Easter clothes, feeling like Jesus” and “I confess God in the flesh/ Live among the serpents, turn arenas into churches.” Jay Z also compares his lyrics to scripture “These are not 16’s/ These are verses from the Bible.” Not forgetting, “Tell the preacher he’s a preacher/ I’m a motherfucking prophet, smoke a tree of knowledge/ Drink from a gold chalice…” Jay Z does a great job of fusing religious and mythical imagery with his lyrics and persona. His ability to associate things like Jehova plus important political treaties like Magna Carta and mythical symbols such as the Holy Grail with himself, only helps to add a certain sense of importance to his own legend.
This is an extract from the Spring Issue of Viper Magazine. Read more from the magazine here. Buy physical and digital copies here.
Illustrations by Oh Dear Words by Nick Bam