And speaking of Baphomet, what could the goat skull featured prominently in his video for “On to the Next One” represent if not it? How about the obvious references to Skull and Bones and Masonry?
“On to the Next One” has nearly 15 million views on YouTube, and in the countless comments about it, this is the dominant conversation that’s playing out. “Jay-Z is a mason. He said so himself in ‘Run This Town.’” The rumor-mongering has ramped up so aggressively, it’s spilled over into those around Jay: Kanye (check the symbolism in his “Power” video and 30-minute movie “Runaway”); Rihanna (her video for “Rude Boy” is steeped in Masonic imagery); Beyoncé (whose videos and costumes for alter-ego Sasha Fierce is ripe with Illuminati symbolism). Even 9-year-old Willow Smith, daughter of Will and Jada, is not immune. She was signed by Jay-Z to Roc Nation so, naturally, she’s part of the Illuminati too. “Her first video ‘Whip My Hair’ is out and, as expected, there are some not-so-subtle hints to Illuminati symbolism and mind control,” says website BlackVoices, before breaking down the video, which takes place—according to the site—in a “mind control institution” (complete with black-and-white checkerboard floors used in most Masonic lodges!).
“This Illuminati stuff has been popular for a long time,” says Byron Crawford, “your favorite rapper’s least-favorite blogger,” over the phone from his home in St. Louis. “The more hip-hop fans go online, they’re exposed to things like Alex Jones theories about the Illuminati—it’s the two worlds intermingling.”
Crawford posts Alex Jones videos often on his blog, and writes fairly frequently about hip-hop and Jay-Z’s connection to the Illuminati. “And [‘On to the Next One’], it’s just fascinating to look at, it makes for an interesting story,” Crawford says. “At a time when hip-hop isn’t always that interesting, it adds some interesting subtext.”
That subtext: The video is shot in black-and-white, symbolizing, or so the theory goes, the Masonic checkerboard floor pattern found in most lodges. It’s also a nod to both white-and-black magic.
Jay-Z stands in front of a stark black background when a circle of light forms just over his head, like a halo. While they’re lit, Jay-Z makes a devil sign with his right hand, symbolizing both good and evil in the same shot, the dual nature of man, the fight for Jay-Z’s soul. Which will win?
Elsewhere in the video, a dour, pale man in a hoodie with a crow tattoo on his chest looks on solemnly. The crow is a Pagan symbol meant to convey cunning or trickery. Celts believed crows were omens for death or conflict.
Two men appear in skull makeup in the video, and a diamond-encrusted skull is coated in paint dripping from a hammer, a Masonic symbol … you get the idea. On and on the theories roll; every image dissected in YouTube videos and blog posts, every frame assigned a meaning. Ad infinitum.
The Illuminati chatter has reached such a deafening chorus that Nah Right editor Eskay could no longer hold his tongue. “This recent rash of rumors about the alleged Illuminati ties of people like Jay-Z, Rihanna and Oprah and whoever has got to be one of the corniest trends in rap ever,” he wrote in a long post. “This is easily the corniest shit since the ‘Stop Snitching’ debate … I can’t tell you how many times I’ve argued with folks in the comments about this same topic. A Black man (or woman) rises to a certain level of success and the only way to explain that in ya’ll minds is that they must be in bed with some secret society? Shame on you morons who just discovered Internet conspiracy theories last year and are now running around spouting these nonsensical tales.”
Before conspiracy theories hit the Internet, of course, they could be found in books. And one book, in particular, Behold A Pale Horse , was on the bookshelf of many a rapper back in the ’90s, when politically minded hip-hop was riding the crest of a wave that seemed like it might never end and rap music truly lived up to the reputation placed on it by Public Enemy’s Chuck D, “CNN for black people,”—rappers like Tupac, Paris, KRS ONE, and groups like Poor Righteous Teachers, X-Clan, Digable Planets and Dead Prez questioned power at every turn.
Rappers championed the theories in Behold A Pale Horse, a seminal book amongst conspiracy theorists, in an attempt to expose government corruption, secret societies and UFO cover-ups. Some feel it did the job. Among them, the feds: The Clinton White House issued a memo labeling the book’s author the most dangerous radio host in America.
About that author: He was ex-Naval Intelligence Officer Milton William Cooper. In June 2001, Cooper predicted a catastrophic event would soon take place on American soil. What’s more, said event would be an attack on the American people by its own government, who’d already lined up a scapegoat to take the blame, Osama bin Laden.
Cooper was killed in his Arizona home by sheriff’s deputies on Nov. 5, 2001.
Depending on whose story you believe, Cooper was either a truth-seeking patriot of the highest order who stumbled too closely to the truth and paid for it with his life, or a paranoid shell of a man who frequently brandished a weapon in public, took glee in thumbing his nose at law enforcement, frequently evaded paying taxes and threatened the life of a doctor in town.
Others contend Cooper was never an intelligence officer with inside knowledge about the inner-workings of power, but instead a petty officer who simply made up most of what he wrote and lectured about, and used a falsified military record to bolster his credibility.
Either way, Beyond a Pale Horse has the very unique distinction of being read rampantly by both right-wing and left-wing conspiracy theorists, 45-year-old white males and young hip-hop fans.
They could start the world’s most diverse book club.
“When I was younger I believed everything I read if it was in a book like Behold A Pale Horse,” rapper Kweli told hiphopnews24-7.com when asked about Illuminati and its possible association with Jay-Z, Kanye and Beyoncé. “Then I learned that it’s important to know the history of the author and their agenda before you read a book. There are facts to support the existence of the Illuminati, but too much of the fear of it is steeped in religious dogma. A lot of those books are written by right-wing Christian organizations because they don’t like how religion is portrayed in secular society. And they don’t like seeing symbolism that’s used from ancient times, from pagan times, and the word pagan just means no religion, and they get offended by that. You mix that with a large amount of success, you mix that with a Jay-Z and artists like him doing deals with people who people don’t trust, and you put together a theory.”
Those theories have never been more popular in hip-hop, both of the Illuminati and Jay-Z’s possible connection to them—sometimes to great comic effect.
“I can’t imagine they power, they put a black family in the white house so they could take away ours.” Sounds like something Glenn Beck might say at a party to friends, but it’s not. It’s from a song, “Dead By Design,” by rapper Canibus. He goes on to rap, “After this album they gonna call me a leader, but I’m not. Because the killuminati just gonna murder me like they did TuPac.”
PW's Summer Guide 2015