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Lord Jamar - The 5% Album

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Artist: Lord Jamar

Album: The 5% Album

Label: Babygrande

Review date: Jul. 26, 2006

The Five Percent Nation is to hip hop as Scientology is to Hollywood: a bizarre theology arising from inauspicious grounds and promoted by some of the industry’s louder, more powerful figures. Both the Five Percent Nation and Scientology were coined – or, to put it less politely, conned – by two men in the second half of the Twentieth Century, the former by Clarence X, an excommunicated Nation of Islam member and martial arts expert, and the latter by L. Ron Hubbard, a science fiction writer whose personal turpitude was only matched by that of his prose. Scientology’s logos is a wildly hallucinated tale of space aliens and oppression – the Book of Exodus set in hyperspace – while the Five Percent Nation’s scripture is a modification of the Nation of Islam’s Manichaeism, a paranoid narrative about Asiatic kings and White devils, wise philosopher kings and the great unwashed. The two religions deal in myth and absurdity, and, when placed in the hands of the arrogant and photogenic, produce comedic results nothing short of the sublime. Without celebrity touts, Clarence X and L. Ron Hubbard would be merely another pair of clowns in the circus of late modernity. Thanks to the pontificating of the Wu-Tang Clan and the pouting of Tom Cruise, however, these men have become pop artistes, if not geniuses.

Count Lord Jamar as another in the long list of rappers, beginning with Rakim and extending to Busta Rhymes, spreading the Five Percent gospel to the 85% of us, as the theology goes, who are blinded by the deceitful 10% constituting the powers that be. Lord Jamar began his career over 15 years ago as one quarter of Brand Nubian, an early 90’s enfant terrible whose penchant for making smart political rap was never outdone by its capacity to conspicuously abuse its largest paying audience. (Oh, white America! Your sense of guilt is as wide as your pockets are deep!) The 5% Album, Lord Jamar’s first solo outing, finds the performer striking a pastor’s pose, espousing the good word. And how: The 5% Album is a full hour of sermonizing, about everything from the ills of poverty to a strange celebration of what seems, in the estimation of this meek member of the 85%, like Shari’a law. Lord Jammar raps on “I.S.L.A.M.,” “The European / Was fleeing to his cave / He was running over hot sand / Steal from me and I chop hands / Off, that’s Islamic law / The sight alone will make you want to vomit on the floor.” I couldn’t agree more.

In the end, The 5% Album is a silly production, badly missing the mark and failing to register as anything more than a series of quasi-mystical ramblings, much less a coherent religious treatise. Yet, if there is one purpose which this album serves, albeit unknowingly, it is demonstrating the mental leaps which people in the most destitute of circumstances will take in order to stay afloat. The exigencies of poor urban America have led thousands of African-Americans, including some of the most influential mouthpieces in the community, to embrace the surreal mythos of the Five Percent Nation. Despite the harebrained details of its belief system, the Five Percenters provide a salvo and a source of redemption, especially in their dignifying – or, really, deifying – of African-Americans. Insofar as Lord Jamar and his brethren are supporting an underclass in a country where the president is afraid to utter the word “poverty,” it is hard to slight them. It is a bit troubling, however, imagining the same sort of religious ethos broadcasted, packaged, and distributed in more impoverished parts of the world, where imagery about chopping the hands off European infidels is not allegoric so much as it is prophetic. Undoubtedly, the White House has tapped Lord Jamar’s Treo by now.

By Ben Yaster

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