top of page

Five Percent Nation (NGE)

Insurgency Overview

The Five Percent Nation, also known as the Nation of Gods and Earths (NGE), the Five Percenters, or simply as the Nation, is an American Black nationalist group. The Five Percenters formed when their founder, Clarence 13X, split from the Nation of Islam (NOI) in 1964 to create a new group. Clarence’s teachings struck a chord with disenfranchised Black youth in New York City where he began to develop a following. The group synthesizes Black nationalism, numerology, and a heterodox form of Islam in its teachings. Since Clarence was murdered in 1969, the Five Percenters have continued without a singular leader. Much of the Nation’s prominence has come due to its affiliation with hip-hop, as it influenced the ideology of many early rappers and continues to be a relevant force in hip-hop culture today (1).

History & Foundations

Clarence 13X, born Clarence Edward Smith, grew up in Virginia during the Jim Crow era. As a teenager, he moved to Harlem, New York City with his mother (1). He was one of six million African Americans who moved from the Southern states to large Northern cities, like New York, between 1910 and 1970, a period known as the Great Migration. Fleeing intense racism and poverty in the South, they were able to establish predominantly Black communities, like in Harlem, in the North. However, upon coming North they encountered racial tensions, ghettoization, and disenfranchisement (2). Clarence’s story is typical of many members of the Nation of Islam, including Malcolm X (3).

Clarence served in the Korean War between 1952 and 1954. When he arrived back in the United States, his wife had begun to follow the NOI under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad. He joined Mosque No. 7, where Malcolm X was then a minister (future NOI leader Louis Farrakhan also attended this mosque at the time), and changed his name to Clarence 13X just like other NOI members. Clarence studied the NOI’s doctrine and rose up the ranks. He joined the NOI’s security apparatus, the Fruit of Islam (FOI), where he taught martial arts skills he learned during his time in the military (1). He was also known as a skilled orator and for these reasons, he caught the attention of Malcolm X (4).

During the early 1960s as Clarence was gaining a name for himself within the NOI, there was much internal strife within the organization. Malcolm X began to speak out against the hypocrisy of Elijah Muhammad and problems with the NOI’s doctrine. He eventually left the organization in 1964 and was killed by three NOI members a year later (3). Clarence had his own issues with the NOI. He openly criticized the organization’s leadership, doubted founder Wallace Fard Muhammad’s divinity due to his white ancestry, and ignored their rules to use drugs, drink, and gamble. He was disciplined by the NOI several times before leaving in 1963. It is debated whether he was kicked out or left on his own accord. Clarence was followed by his friends, John 37X and James 109X, who together started a new group that became the Nation of Gods and Earths. He left his wife, who stayed in the NOI (1).

Clarence and his followers began to create a new doctrine based on NOI teachings, doing away with their obscure beliefs and strict rules around personal conduct. The group changed their names yet again, and Clarence began going by Allah the Father, John by Abu Shahid, and James by Justice. They soon gained a following amongst disenfranchised Black youth in Harlem, who were surrounded by poverty, crime, and gangs. In the early days, Clarence gathered his followers on street corners to spread his message. Clarence was shot twice on December 9th, 1964 in Harlem. He survived the shooting, claiming that he had died and came back to life. The assailant was never found and Clarence demanded his followers to not take revenge (1). The shooting increased the Five Percenters’ profile in the media and amongst law enforcement (5).

After Malcolm X was killed in 1965, Clarence and several followers visited Mosque No. 7, where they were made to leave by police. The group got into an altercation with police and were eventually arrested. Clarence was charged for assault and drug possession, as he had marijuauna on him at the time of the arrest. While awaiting trial, he was sent for a psychological assessment. He was ruled unfit for trial and sent to a mental asylum where doctors determined Clarence had symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia and delusions of grandeur. He continued to proselytize and instruct his followers from the hospital. He was released in 1967 (1).

As the group began to gain traction, the FBI began to surveil them, opening up a file on the group in 1965 under the pretense that the Five Percenters were a gang (6). Due to the newfound attention the Five Percenters had been receiving from law enforcement and the high racial tensions in the city at the time, then-New York Mayor John Lindsay sent a representative to meet with Clarence. Clarence made a positive impression and convinced the mayor’s office that he was a nonviolent community leader, leading to a relationship with the city. Clarence met with Mayor Lindsay and other city officials who helped him run youth programs and open up a school in 1967. After the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, Five Percenters marched with Lindsay through Harlem to calm racial tensions (1).

On June 12th, 1969, Clarence was on his way home from the Five Percenters’ school when he was shot and killed by three individuals. Mayor Lindsay visited the school the next day. As with Clarence’s previous shooting, it is unknown who was responsible. The NOI and FBI have been accused of killing Clarence. Some have also suggested Clarence was killed over gambling debts, extortion, or a failed robbery. After Clarence’s death, there was no clear successor to the NGE’s leadership and the group’s membership fell. This led to tensions and infighting within the group, as without Clarence’s guidance and structure the NGE’s gang affiliations rose. The group became divided between those who saw the NGE’s message as a positive and uplifting force and those who engaged in criminal activity. For instance, in New Jersey violence broke out between Five Percenters over these tensions (1).

In the 1970s, the NGE reemerged with new leadership and its membership bounced back (1). However, there was no single leader of the group, reflecting the NGE’s belief that God is within every Black person as opposed to being a particular figure (7). At this time, hip-hop was developing in New York and many Five Percenters ran in the same crowds as rappers due to their socioeconomic and cultural positions. Hip-hop pioneer DJ Kool Herc began hosting parties out of his Bronx apartment in the early 70s, birthing the genre in the process. At the same time, he befriended a group of Five Percenters and invited them to his parties, where they quelled tensions between rival gangs present. As hip-hop became more popular throughout the 1980s and 90s, the Five Percenters’ beliefs and jargon spread with it. One of the groups that utilized Five Percenter teachings in hip-hop was Wu-Tang Clan, whose members were active Five Percenters at the time of the release of their early classic albums such as Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (5).

The crack epidemic in the 1980s and 90s saw another blow to the NGE. The NGE struggled with widespread crack use within its ranks and membership once again declined. This led to some elders taking a harder stance against drugs. During the height of the epidemic, a gang of Five Percenters known as the Supreme Team led by Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff controlled the crack trade in Jamaica, Queens. The group was making hundreds of thousands of dollars a day and was responsible for many murders. Members would use the NGE’s alphabetical and mathematical systems, known as the Supreme Alphabet and Supreme Mathematics, to communicate in code with one another. The gang was allegedly behind an infamous incident in 2000 when rapper 50 Cent was shot nine times, and survived, after he mentioned the gang in the lyrics of his song “Ghetto Qu’ran (Forgive Me)”. McGriff was connected with the record label Murder Inc. and allegedly laundered money through the label, who attempted to blacklist 50 Cent from the music industry (1). In 2007, McGriff was charged and sentenced to life imprisonment for drug trafficking and murder (8).

The NGE remains active today. In the 2000s, a series of states overturned bans on Five Percenters practicing in prisons (7). The school founded by Clarence 13X remains open and there are now many pages on social media sharing Five Percenter teachings. In 2019, the corner by the school was officially co-named Allah and Justice Square by the City of New York (9).

Objectives & Ideology

Much of the Five Percenters’ belief system is similar to that of the Nation of Islam, however there are some key differences. The Five Percenters believe that Black people are Gods and the original people of the earth. As opposed to the Nation of Islam who believe that its founder, Wallace Fard Muhammad, was the reincarnation of Allah, the Five Percenters believe that God is within Black people (10). The “five percent” refers to the NGE’s belief that 85% of the world’s population lives in ignorance to the truth, 10% are the elite who control the world, and the 5%, the NGE, are aware of the truth and must spread it to others (11). Alternatively, Clarence 13X has stated that the Five Percenters are the 5% of the NOI that knows the truth (1).

Borrowing from NOI doctrine, Five Percenters teach that Black people and all other races originate from the planet’s first inhabitants, the Tribe of Shabazz, while white people, who are seen as devils, were created by an evil scientist known as Yakub 6,000 years ago (10). Whites are said to be “devils” in Five Percenter teachings, however many members do not take this literally. The biggest difference between the Five Percenters and the NOI’s ideologies are their respective stance on practices like drug use, gambling, and dress. Whereas the NOI prohibits such activities and has a strict dress code, Five Percenters are not under such restrictions. Clarence, who was known to regularly smoke marijuauna, allowed drinking and drug use but discouraged his members from using harder drugs, like heroin, or developing addictions (1). These positions were influenced by Clarence’s own habits as well as the NOI’s alienation of poor Black youth with its conservative stances (5). Five Percenters do not eat pork or seafood and some practice vegetarianism and veganism. Later in his life, Clarence took on more conservative positions, such as support for American military presence in Vietnam, partially in an attempt to legitimize the NGE in the eyes of institutions and authorities. Despite the NGE’s homophobic stances which have led to gay members being exiled, many Five Percenter rappers, such as Wu-Tang Clan, have participated in AIDS benefits sponsored by LGBTQ rights organizations (1).

Clarence developed numerological and alphabetical systems known as Supreme Mathematics and the Supreme Alphabet. Letters and numbers are assigned particular meanings; 1 means Knowledge and A means Allah. Five Percenters use backronyms to decipher secret meanings in words. For example, Allah is said to stand for arm, leg, leg, arm, head, representing that God is personified in Black people (5).

The NGE believes that both men and women are divine, but in different ways. It is believed that God is within every Black man, while earth is in every woman, hence the Nation of Gods and Earths. Men and women serve different social roles in the NGE’s teachings, resulting in accusations of misogyny. However, men and women are, in theory, equally as devine. The importance of family is emphasized in the NGE’s teachings. One of its tenets states that “the unified Black family is the vital building block of the Nation,” however the NGE permits polygamy (1).

The nature of the NGE has been debated. While some critics call the NGE a Black supremacist group, Clarence 13X claimed it was neither “anti-white nor pro-black” and the NGE has had white members, including a young man Clarence converted during his time in a mental hospital and Michael Muhammad Knight, who went on to write extensively about the group (1).

The NGE is not necessarily religious in the sense that it does not promote the worship of a particular deity or prophet. Clarence 13X is seen as the group’s leader and he is not more or less divine than any other member. One of the NGE’s tenets states that “Islam is a natural way of life, not a religion” and its members do not consider themselves to be Mulsims, unlike the NOI. The group also does not consider itself to be a formal organization, as its structure is loose (11). The NGE’s practices have been compared to Gnosticism and Sufism (12).


It is unclear how many Five Percenters there are today, but during Clarence’s leadership there were at least 1000 members (1). Their membership is concentrated in New York City but has a presence across the United States and even in Canada (7). The NGE has a large influence on hip-hop culture, and hip-hop’s explosion during the 1990s is largely responsible for the NGE’s continued cultural relevance outside of New York (5)

Critics and law enforcement agencies such as the FBI have accused the five percenters of being a gang (6). Although many members, such as the Supreme Team, have been gang members and participated in criminal activity including theft and drug dealing, it is not encouraged or organized within the NGE (1). Clarence was mostly indifferent to criminal activity and did not take a strong stance against gangs like tha NOI has. The NGE is present in prisons, as some members participate in criminal activity and are affiliated with gangs. Due to these affiliations as well as the group’s extremist nature, some states have banned Five Percenter literature (7). Members have also been known to commit crimes in order to intentionally get arrested so that they can proselytize to inmates (1).

Approach to Resistance

Despite some of its members’ actions, the NGE is a primarily nonviolent group and chooses to spread its message through education, media, and music. As opposed to the religious sermons delivered by Nation of Islam ministers, the Five Percenters’ meetings, known as Universal Parliaments, are more like lessons (1). The NGE operates a school known as the Allah School in Mecca that is the de facto headquarters for the group. The group refers to Harlem as Mecca, as it has its own names for neighborhoods in New York City (11). The group also has published several newspapers such as The Word and The Five Percenter. Clarence 13X and his successors have developed a positive relationship with the City of New York, leading them to be seen as a legitimately positive force in the community by some and allowing them to use city resources to organize events and run programs, particularly during the mayorship of John Lindsay (1).

The NGE’s symbol is known as the “Universal Flag” that includes a 7, or God in Supreme Mathematics, and a moon that represents women, or earths. A mural of the symbol is on the side of the Allah School in Mecca (13). The symbol has been used by percenters on clothing and jewelry, such as rapper Jay Z’s Universal Flag chain (14).

Many influential New York rappers, including Big Daddy Kane, Wu-Tang Clan, Rakim, Nas, Jay Z, Busta Rhyme, and Brand Nubian have all been members of or influenced by the Five Percent Nation. Other celebrities such as singer Erykah Badu and NBA player Carmelo Anthony are also Five Percenters. Five Percenter teachings, symbolism, and jargon have spread through and are embedded in hip-hop culture. “Word is bond”, “cipher”, and “dropping science” are examples of Five Percenter phrases frequently referenced in hip-hop (5). Five Percenter rappers will also use the Supreme Alphabet and Supreme Mathematics in their lyrics, such as in “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber”. In the song, Ghostface Killah raps “word is bond, I'm comin' to get my Culture Cipher, God”. In the Supreme Mathematics, “culture” translates to 4 and “cipher” to 0, meaning that the line is referencing a 40-ounce bottle of malt liquor (15).

Relations and Alliances

The Five Percenters have had a mixed relationship with the Nation of Islam, as the NGE’s doctrine contradicts the NOI’s, they have competed to recruit new members, and the FOI has attacked Five Percenters. On the contrary, Clarence borrowed much from the NOI and Five Percenters have been known to attend NOI events (1). Five Percenter beliefs influenced those of the Nuwaubian Nation, a Black supremacist new religious movement with an even more esoteric ideology than the NGE or the NOI (16).

As with many other Black organizations during the time of the Civil Rights Movement, the Five Percenters were received with antagonism and surveilled by the FBI and police who saw them as an extremist hate group and a gang (6). Some believe that law enforcement was behind the murder of Clarence 13X, along with other murdered Black leaders like Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr. (7). Five Percenter literature and practices have been banned in prisons in several states, however many of these bans have been overturned in recent years (7) (17). Despite the NGE’s hostile relationship with police, Clarence fostered a positive one with the City of New York that continues today, allowing the Five Percenters to open up the Allah School in Mecca in 1967 and co-name the nearby intersection Allah and Justice Square in 2019 (1) (9).

Works Cited

(1) - Knight, Muhammad M. (2007). The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip Hop, and the Gods of New York. OneWorld Publications.

(2) - “The Great Migration (1910-1970).” National Archives and Records Administration,,the%201910s%20until%20the%201970s

(3) - Malcolm X & Haley, A. (1965). The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Ballantine Books.

(4) - Haddad, Y. (1994). Muslim Communities in North America. SUNY Press.

(5) - Miyakawa, Felicia M. (2005). Five Percenter Rap: God Hop's Music, Message, And Black Muslim Mission. Indiana University Press.

(6) - FBI. (1965). Five Percenters.

(7) - Smydra, David F. "The Five-Percent Rap". The Boston Globe, 21 December, 2003.

(8) - “Notorious Queens Gang Leader Kenneth "Supreme" Mcgriff Sentenced To Life Imprisonment For Racketeering, Double Murder-For-Hire Homicides, Narcotics Trafficking, And Laundering Drug Proceeds.” Global Environment Facility, 9 March 2007, Press release.

(9) - K.O.S. 5 Allah. “Five Percenters, Allah & Justice Square Unveiling: One Year Later.” Five Percent Media, 19 June 2020,

(10) - Curtis, E. E. (2016). Science and Technology in Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam: Astrophysical Disaster, Genetic Engineering, UFOs, White Apocalypse, and Black Resurrection. Nova Religio: The Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions, 20(1), 5–31.

(11) - Supreme Understanding (2009). Knowledge of Self: A Collection of Wisdom on the Science of Everything in Life. Supreme Design.

(12) - Swedenburg, T. “Islam in the Mix: Lessons of the Five Percent.” University of Arkansas, 1997.

(13) - Allah, W. “Inextricably Linked: The Nation of Islam and the Five Percenters”. The Final Call, 23 July 2014.

(14) - Khari. “That Time Jay Z Addressed his “Controversial” Medallion on ‘THE Breakfast Club’.” The Source, 8 April, 2014.

(15) - Baker, C. “Enter the Five Percent: How Wu-Tang Clan’s Debut Album Maps the Complex Doctrine of the Five Percent Nation.” Washington University in St. Louis, 2020.

(16) - Palmer, Susan J. (2010). The Nuwaubian Nation: Black Spirituality and State Control. Ashgate Publishing.

(17) - Silverman, E. “Prison Officials in Virginia Consider this Group a Gang. A Judge Disagreed.: Virginia Inmates Who are Adherents to the Nation of Gods and Earths may Practice their Beliefs.” The Washington Post, 3 September 2017.

Additional Resources


bottom of page