Poor Righteous Teachers: Five Percenters’ Ideology Meets Hip-Hop
Riddled throughout hip-hop – particularly in the ‘80s and ‘90s – are slang words and phrases such as “peace,” “dropping science” and referencing others as “G” (which originally meant “God,” not gangster).
These sayings are heavily influenced by the Five Percent Nation, or The Nation of Gods and Earths, and are also called “Five Percenters,” a movement that started in Harlem in the mid ‘60s. It’s often seen as an offshoot to the Nation of Islam and advocates Afrocentrism. According to Five Percenters, 85 percent of the world is ignorant, and 10 percent of the world knows the truth, but seeks to keep people ignorant. The remaining five percent of the world illuminates the truth to the masses and pursues knowledge, and they’re part of this small percentage.
The Five Percent teachings clearly influenced hip-hop acts such as Wu Tang Clan, Big Daddy Kane and Nas. One group that’s less well-known, yet is just as exceptional as wordsmiths, are the Poor Righteous Teachers.
Poor Righteous Teachers (or PRT for short) was a hip-hop group from Trenton, New Jersey, formed in 1989 which was significantly influenced by Five Percent ideology. Even the members’ names are based on the Five Percent. PRT consists of Wise Intelligent and Culture Freedom, and past members included Father Shaheed and Mike Peart. They’ve released four studio albums, including “Holy Intellect” (1990), “Pure Poverty” (1991), “Black Business” (1993) and “The New World Order” (1996).
PRT’s arguably most successful album was “Black Business.” Its other albums had either low commercial success with high critical acclaim, or the opposite. But “Black Business” had a good mix of both. On this album, “Mi Fresh” is a notable track. Musically, it had an acoustic guitar-oriented beat and lyrically talked about improving the status of black communities. Another track, “Lick Shots,” musically includes a somber saxophone with its beat and lyrically laments the violence in many black neighborhoods.
Poor Righteous Teachers’ final album, “New World Order,” performed comparatively worse than its previous hit album, but it’s been heralded as one of its best albums over time. This album had the most outright references to Five Percent teachings. From this album, “Word Iz Life” is a notable track. Musically, it features a catchy guitar-oriented beat. Lyrically, it’s dripping with Five Percent rhetoric and the constant pursuit of giving knowledge to others. Another notable track on this album is “Allies.” This featured a powerful combination of Poor Righteous Teachers and famous hip-hop group The Fugees. It has a trippy beat, and lyrically is a freestyle featuring the artists’ observations about the world.
Poor Righteous Teachers provided superb lyricism and advocated plenty of meaningful messages in their words. They also showed even more Five Percent teachings than the average golden age hip-hop act, which differentiated them from others. Though not particularly a commercial powerhouse, Poor Righteous Teachers offered unique perspectives in the hip-hop community.