Most of us got our Five Percenter education when Guru spit, "The Five Percent Nation takes other steps to get through to brothers on the corners with the reps."
Most of us got our Five Percenter education when Guru spit, “The Five Percent Nation takes other steps to get through to brothers on the corners with the reps / And in the prisons they give the brothers new visions of how we can gain wealth.” Easily invoked in hip hop, but more difficult to explain in real life, some basic Five Percent tenets include the belief that the white man is a biological descendant of the black man, and that math is key to understanding our relationship to the universe. Back when the kufi-clad X-Clan and Poor Righteous Teachers were holding it down, the message was mad serious. But today, with The Wu’s obscure references to Gods, Earths and numerology, or Nas’ babblings about the sun, moon, and stars, rappers seem to have reduced this ideology to a loosely interpretive, food-based, make-it-up-as-you-go vibe. After hearing about things like evil scientists from outer space that invented the white man to destroy black culture, you start to realize the “mad” has gone from an adjective to describe “serious” to a synonym for “crazy.”
Throughout his seven-year struggle with the music industry (five albums on three different labels, no less), Nas’ boy AZ has stayed true to his Five Percent spiritual commitment. We called him up to try and figure out which version of “mad” he really is.
VICE: What does Five Percent mean to you?
AZ: It means that five percent of the population has knowledge, wisdom, understanding of they self and that they’re not a savage in the pursuit of happiness. Master Farad Mohammad was the main founder. It’s an extension of the Muslims, you know? They were reaching out to the communities to uplift them. Like they had recreational centers in the community to keep kids out of trouble. It was just giving us knowledge of ourselves, giving us enlightenment and opening our eyes up to a lot of things. So I was a part of that.
Is that where you got your name from?
Yeah, everybody had to take on an attribute or a name that symbolized they self. You had some people that was named Freedom, some people named Supreme and The Light and Knowledge and Sincere. My name was Asiatic, which is more or less like, “Asia” is the body and “attic” is the mind and it stood for being the original man. It stuck with me and became AZ as years went on.
In terms of your spirituality, what have you learned going through the trials and tribulations of your career?
I was born and brought up as a warrior, so a lot of the things that affect certain people don’t affect me. Like a friend told me, “One man’s medicine can be another man’s poison. One man’s poison can be another man’s medicine.” So I suppose on the outside, you can look at my career and be like “Whoa, how you maintain?” To me, it’s just the everyday.
Rap gives me serenity, man. To sit down and put poetry together, it’s a beautiful thing. Real poetry, and not just a bunch of mumbo jumbo. It’s like a book — it’s a verbal book, you know? A verbal text. I tell people that it’s like college without the tuition. You pay fifteen dollars and you get a whole college course.
AZ’s Aziatic is out now on Motown.