Public Enemy’s Professor Griff is weighing in on the subject, too. Griff now holds lectures on the Illuminati in hip-hop, and has put out a 90-minute DVD lecture explaining The Truth of the evil forces Jay and Kanye are playing with, showing slides of Kanye on the cover of Time magazine as proof. “The cover of Time is reserved for presidents,” he says indignantly. “How’d a rapper get it?” (Also, according to Griff, the Illuminated and those in charge are injecting tones and beats into hip-hop music specifically designed to stimulate the pituitary gland and make the listener horny.)
MC Hammer (who now goes by the name King Hammer), has taken to calling Jay-Z “hell boy” on Twitter, and even wrote a track about him and his evil ways, “Better Run Run.” In the video for the song, Hammer baptizes Jay-Z in a river.
“Hip-hop has always had a deep engagement with conspiracy theories,” says Marc Lamont Hill, professor and “hip-hop intellectual” at Columbia University; a Fox News and CNN talking head; and Our World with Black Enterprise host on TV One. “In fact, black culture in general has always had pervasive conspiracy theories—in the 1980s people thought the ‘K’ on the Snapple bottle represented Ku Klux Klan or that Church’s Chicken was sterilizing black people. There have always been questions and conspiracies about the structure and nature of power by African-Americans, and naturally those questions have made their way into hip-hop. Powerless people tend to try and make sense of their circumstance in different ways.”
He adds: “When you think about the ’90s political hip-hop that was a part of a whole cultural nationalist tradition within hip-hop and within black culture, themes about the Illuminati came up. People were going to black book stores like Hakims in West Philly or Robbins downtown and buying books like Behold a Pale Horse. They were buying books on Free Masonry and Leviathan and reading Malichi York’s books, they were reading the Isis papers and all these books that discussed arrangements of power. They were talking about the Illuminati and the Rothchilds and Bilderbergs.”
Hill rationalizes that when people feel powerless, they look for ways to make sense of it. “One way is to blame themselves—‘We don’t work hard enough, we don’t care about ourselves’—that’s certainly been a popular narrative about black people, right? … Another responsive is to say, “They [the powerful] don’t play fair. The game is rigged.”
People feeling powerless is why the Tea Party was founded. They were tired of standing by impotently as taxes were raised into oblivion, a health-care system they didn’t want or need was shoved down their throats and more stimulus money was spent in the face of an already Everest-sized debt.
It’s why Glenn Beck can get on TV with puppets and prattle on about the evils of a philanthropist who has toppled more communist governments than Ronald Reagan.
“You don’t want to completely dismiss people who have conspiracy theories, because part of why these conspiracies develop is they’re plausible,” Hill says. “They’re believable because they happen. People have a healthy suspicion of any kind of power arrangement. Any time people have a large chunk of power, it’s reasonable and natural to believe they didn’t get it fairly.”
Hip-hop may have long been cynical about those who dine in the halls of power, but it’s the first time the focus is on one of their own.
“Jesus can’t save you, life starts when church ends.”
For Jay-Z, what had been faint murmurs about his religious affiliation was turned up to 11 about as instantly as it took him to rap that line.
Delivered on Jay-Z’s “Empire State of Mind,” it lit the Internet ablaze, and suddenly more scrutiny was being paid to Jay’s songs. “Lucifer” on the Black Album and “D’Evils” off his debut Reasonable Doubt (the chorus of which is rapped by Mobb Deep’s Prodigy, revived from a verse he did on a remix of LL Cool J’s “I Shot Ya”: “Illuminati want my mind, soul and my body, secret society tryna keep they eye on me”). This is really when Jay-Z’s stones, as it were, began to not go unturned. In the minds of Christian rap fans looking very intensely, they were finding evidence.
The controversy was white hot in the circles where it mattered: rap fans of faith. They took to making angry YouTube video responses—“Jay-Z Disses JESUS CHRIST”—about the lyric. They took to blogs. They took to Twitter. They wanted an explanation.
They wouldn’t get one, not right away, but the pressure did manifest in other ways. Jay-Z began to change the lyric when performing “Empire State” live on TV.
“Jesus Christ could not save you … ”
The act of semi-contrition worked for a bit. The fever began to break. But then the videos started, first with Kanye and Rihanna, for their ubiquitous hit with Jay, “Run This Town.”
In it Rihanna is handed a lit torch. She makes the Rocafella sign over her left “all seeing” eye. She and Kanye perform their verses in front of an angry mob, which conspiracy theorists believe are an angry citizenry looking to revolt against the status quo, represented by Jay, Ye and Rihanna, their rulers who want to keep them down.
Jay adds lubricant to the rumor mill’s churning gears when he begins to wear a hoodie in public with the words “Do What Thou Wilt,” the official dictum of Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), a hermetic order modeled after Freemasonry and German Illuminism headed by its most notorious member, noted Occultist Aleister Crowley.
And then the lyrics get dissected once again. The last line of Jay’s first verse is “Back to running circles’ round niggas, now we squared up,” and refers, according to sites and blog posts that broke them down, to the Masonic concept of squaring a circle. “I get more in-depth if you boys really real enough,” Jay teases afterward.
But the lyric that people can’t let go of, is the one where they feel Jay-Z basically admits his allegiance.
First Person Arts Podcast: Proud Mom