Robert Fitzgerald Diggs, better known as RZA, is the leader of one of hip-hop’s groundbreaking groups, The Wu-Tang Clan, which hails from Staten Island, New York.
RZA is not only one of the emcees but has produced most of the albums for the group and its members, which included his two cousins GZA and the late Ol’ Dirty Bastard (ODB), Method Man, Raekwon, Ghostface Killah, Inspectah Deck, U-God, and Masta Killa.
The Wu-Tang Clan changed the climate of the hip-hop scene when it debuted in 1993 with his first album, “Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).”
RZA ventured out on his own with solo albums under the alter-ego Bobby Digital. He’s also made a name in Hollywood as a producer and he has several other investments and ventures, making him one of the country’s hip-hop moguls.
But beneath it all is RZA’s foundational belief in the Five Percent Nation, a Black movement influenced by Islam that was founded in 1964 in Harlem by Clarence 13X, a former student of Malcolm X who split from the Nation of Islam. The name Five Percent, also called the Nation of Gods and Earths, refers to the idea that 10 percent of the world knows the truth about life and they keep 85 percent of people in ignorance. It’s up to the remaining Five Percenters to enlighten others.
The GZA and ODB were also members of the Five Percent Nation. RZA is often seen wearing the Five Percent Nation’s flag necklace and he publicly and musically promotes the Five Percent culture, which includes the Supreme Mathematics and the Supreme Alphabet.
Part of the Five Percent philosophy is a system of understanding numbers called the Supreme Mathematics. Supreme Mathematics is used along with the Supreme Alphabet as tools to unlock the keys to reality and the universe.
The Supreme Alphabet is a system of interpreting text and finding deeper meaning in the original 120 Questions written by Elijah Muhammad and Wallace Fard Muhammad by assigning actual meanings to the letters of the Roman alphabet. It was developed by Clarence 13X after he split from the Nation of Islam, after which he developed his Supreme Understanding, according to Urban Dictionary.
According to Clarence 13X, Black men were God and could tap into their inner godliness by acquiring knowledge through systems like Supreme Mathematics and Supreme Alphabet.
Here are seven things to know about Wu-Tang’s RZA and his love for Five Percenter teachings.
RZA spoke about the Five Percenters and gaining knowledge of self in a 2018 interview with What’s Up TV. “The beautiful thing is that as you get this knowledge it also comes with the science,” he said. “We know how…long it takes light to reach the Earth and when you have a calculation of things, you are able to actually have a further view or even imagination,” RZA said. “We have a scientific mind, fortunately, right? And so when we see something we’re able to take this look at the science of it — not just on face value — and that’s been a blessing for us, a blessing for Wu-Tang. With the information, you know knowledge of self.”
RZA was unapologetic when asked by AllHipHop about his controversial decision to include details about the core teaching of the Five Percent Nation in a book by the Wu-Tang called “The Wu-Tang Manual.” Some called into question his beliefs because he had become “rich.”
“But brothers tried to use the ‘rich’ thing on me like there’s something wrong with me because I got money and he don’t. My money doesn’t make me. My knowledge comes first from being in the struggle and living that savage life,” RZA said. “I was able to take knowledge and apply it to my life and free my poverty. Without knowledge of self, I’d be like everyone else. Knowledge without application is like a gun without bullets. You have to apply it. I’m not scared to apply it. I’m not scared to say who I am, either.”
In the “Mics and Men” documentary, several Wu-Tang members spoke about the racial climate in their hometown of Staten Island. They remembered being called racial slurs as children, enduring physical assault and death threats. RZA referred to the NYC borough of Staten Island as a “mini Mississippi” in terms of race relations. But because the Five Percent Nation promotes self-worth, it helped him deal with racism, RZA said.
According to RZA, the Five Percent teachings shaped Wu-Tang Clan members’ perception of themselves and made them want to take responsibility to be better people. The teaching can be heard in the music. Wu-Tang Clan’s lyrics are heavily laced with references to the “Asiatic Black man being the father of civilization and supreme knowledge as well as catchphrases from the Five Percent Nation like ‘word is bond,’ ‘the bomb,’ ‘peace,’ and ‘G,’ which originally stood for God instead of gangsta,” Bustle reported.
According to RZA, The Wu-Tang name is inspired by Bible. He told What’s Up TV that it is a take on the Biblical passage that references the tongue being mightier than the sword. In “Revelations 19:15” it reads, “From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”
“So we took the word Wu-Tang which is the best sword style (in martial arts) and we applied it to ourselves,” RZA said, suggesting that the rhymes the group rapped with the tongues were as mighty as the best swords.
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In “Wu-Tang: 7th Chamber,” RZA states the ideas associated with each of his name’s three letters: “Ruler Zig-Zag-Zig Allah.” RZA elaborates the meaning of each term, according to the book “The Wu-Tang Manual.”
R = Rule or Ruler. “God is the only ruler there is by knowledging his building powers and making them born to all the planets of the universe, so that they can go accordingly with Islam. This is bearing witness to Allah, for he is the ruler of all,” according to the book.
Z = Zig-Zag-Zig. The definition of Zig Zag Zig is knowledge, wisdom, and understanding; man, woman, and child.
A = Allah, the “rightful name of Man, which consists of Arm, Leg, Leg, Arm, Head—A.L.L.A.H. Allah is the supreme-being original man from Asia. The sole controller and ruler of the universe, the original man who has knowledge of himself, and to know self is to know all things in existence,” the book states.
The Wu-Tang is just one of many hip-hop groups rooted in the beliefs of the 5 Percent Nation.
“About 80 percent of hip-hop comes from the Five Percent … In a lot of ways, hip-hop is the Five Percent,” RZA once said.
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