Artist: Lord JamarTitle: The 5% AlbumRating: 3 1/2 StarsReviewed by: Jessica Dufresne
It’s a bold move on Lord Jamar’s part to make an album devoted to something as complex as the Five Percent movement, but not far-fetched. If you’re old enough to have witnessed Hip-Hop when it was in its teens, then you know that in the ’80s, it seemed like every rapper was spitting Five Percent knowledge. Rakim, Kane, Just-Ice, Poor Righteous Teachers, just to name a few. While it might have been just a cool fad to outsiders, the Nation is still going strong and always had a connection to Hip-Hop, although its not as ubiquitous among today’s era of MCs.
Nevertheless, Lord Jamar, of the legendary Brand Nubian, is presenting The 5% Album (Babygrande)-designed to enlighten the “85s” (the 85% of the population who are mentally deaf, dumb and blind)-and if you’re thinking of an album full of convoluted mathematics and abstract metaphors, you’re almost right. Yes, there’s number crunching and talks about the sun, and planets, but its an easy listen thanks to tight beats provided by a diverse line-up of producers and Jamar’s uncomplicated rhymes (now whether you understand the knowledge is something else).
“Original Man” sets the tone for the album concept with its moody, throbbing bass produced by Preservation and features Raekwon and Kasim Allah. A nice one is “The Sun”, produced by Jamar himself. Its bass guitar-driven soulfulness backs him, as he metaphorically becomes the sun, asserting its/his importance. Naturally, there’s a song devoted to the science of math and “Supreme Mathematics” is a lesson in what the numbers mean and their place in the Five Percent ideology.
The true gem on the album belongs to the sons of GZA, Ol’ Dirty and Jamar: Young Justice, Young Dirty and Young Lord J, respectively. They shine by themselves on “Young Godz”, displaying that the apples don’t fall far from the tree. And that eerie, bass-laden beat with the organ set off by a wailing singer sounds straight from RZA-but it’s by Young Justice.
Jamar takes a break from the Five Percent talk on “Advance the Game”, a memo to today’s rappers on that popular topic of stagnation. What’s notable about it is his direct address to the wannabees: “Can you be a little more original when writing your raps/you should all give residuals to Kool G Rap.” Holla!
The 5% Album’s appeal is hit-or-miss. It boils down to if you understand the influence the movement had on early rap and are interested in it, your familiarity with Lord Jamar, and if you’re already down with the Nation. This solo is a long time coming and its relevance in today’s musical landscape can be questioned, but that doesn’t take away from it being a strong effort.