By Brian McManus
The Philadelphia Weekly
Posted Dec. 1, 2010
Paunchy Fox News host Glenn Beck believes we’re in the midst of a slow-but-sure government overthrow, that a shadowy group of dastardly elites are pulling the strings of the puppet show we’re watching—every bit of the news we read, hear and watch is manufactured by a group seeking to manipulate your thoughts and emotions.
“If you get past all of the puppets and the strings, if you stop looking at the puppets themselves, you have to see who’s behind the puppets. Who is choosing the puppets and the players? Who’s the puppet master?” Beck asked on his eponymous program—in the first of two special episodes titled “The Puppet Master”—on Nov. 9. (Spoiler alert: The “puppet master” is liberal Jewish Hungarian billionaire George Soros, who seeks to control the media and world through millions of dollars worth of donations to leftist organizations.)
“Aggressive constitutionalist” Alex Jones agrees. The popular conspiracy theorist says we’re destined to live Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, “a THX 1138 nightmare with shaved heads and [Child Protective Services] raising all the kids in dormitories.”
And soon. “This was actually our plan,” Jones quotes Huxley as saying upon reflection of his seminal work in ’62. “My brother runs UN UNESCO, we’re really going to do this to you early in the next century. It’s all real.”
Jones is an Austin, Texas-based radio talk show host and director/producer of such movies as TerrorStorm: A History of Government-Sponsored Terrorism, Loose Change and Invisible Empire: The New World Order Defined. His two websites, inforwars.com and prisonplanet.tv, track what the New World Order is up to now and what’s on tap next, be it skipping happily toward nuclear war with North Korea to boost the American dollar or poisoning the water supply.
Beck and Jones have thousands of followers who believe as they do. They include Tea Party types, the right-of-center Rand Pauls of the world, militiamen who feel this nation’s sovereignty is under attack from some very serious and credible forces. They’re primarily Republican (though more conservative), white, male, married and over 45, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll.
Unearthed in that same poll: Tea partiers are better educated and wealthier than the average American. More than half say the policies of the Obama administration favor the poor, and 25 percent think that the administration favors blacks over whites—compared with 11 percent of the general public. They are more likely than the general public, and Republicans, to say that too much has been made of the problems facing black people.
And then there’s Nikki, a 20-something woman drinking with friends at El Toro, a bar on Belmont Avenue, just off Lancaster Avenue in West Philly. She also believes that shadowy forces—the real power behind the power—are at play to overthrow the American government. The Illuminati: a conspiratorial organization of cultural elites with unspeakable wealth who control world affairs through governments and corporations.
Nikki says that President Obama was “selected, not elected” president by the Illuminati, and that he’s now carrying out its homosexual agenda by “appointing more gays to his Cabinet than all the other presidents combined.”
But unlike Beck, Jones and their followers, Nikki happens to be young, black and a huge fan of hip-hop. Oh, and she believes rapper Jay-Z is a part of the Illuminati too.
“Everybody know that,” she says, her three friends nodding wildly in agreement.
The “everybody” she’s referring to is people like herself: mostly young, black and deeply embedded in hip-hop culture.
These are wildly different groups: Tea Party patriots believe their country is being taken away from them and being given to people like Nikki. Nikki and her friends contend that the American system is rigged in favor of those fitting the Tea Party profile.
Lately, it appears that hip-hop has more in common with Tea Party patriots than it would ever care to admit.
Instead of acknowledging the wild success of someone like Jay-Z, a growing number of hip-hop fans attribute his rise into the mainstream elite to him getting in bed with the same forces right-wing schizos like Glenn Beck fear.
Search “illuminati jay z” on Twitter and the accusations and theories about Jay-Z and his associations will wash over you like a tsunami, thousands of Tweets from hip-hop fans—“I think illuminati killed Micheal Jackson, Tupac, Kanye’s mom and Biggie ... Jay Z pratically [sic] said so in The Song Most Kings”—and new ones coming in by the second.
Talk of the man’s supposed Masonic ties dominate the comments section of virtually every hip-hop blog post or website—Nah Right, 2 Dope Boyz, Byroncrawford, SOHH, XXL—story about Jay-Z over the past year.
Jay-Z worships the devil. Jay-Z took a blood oath with a secret society. Jay-Z is in the occult. Jay-Z sold his soul to evil forces to acquire power and influence heretofore unseen by a black entertainer. Jay-Z is in the Illuminati.
The evidence is everywhere, hidden in plain sight. It’s in his videos. It’s in his lyrics. It’s in the pyramid-shaped sign he makes with his hand, which you foolishly believe represents his Rocafella/Roc Nation labels. It’s right there in the book he just put out, Decoded. (One of Oprah’s—also rumored to be in the Illuminati—favorite things!) Can’t you see the face and horns of Pagan deity Baphomet swirling in Warhol’s Rorschach on the cover?
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.”
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.
From website Vigilant Citizen: “Further in the song Jay-Z says ‘I’m in Maison, ugh, Martin Margiela’ which is an upper-end fashion store. English-speaking people usually pronounce the French word ‘maison’ to sound like ‘mayzaun.’ Jay-Z, however, says it to sound like ‘mason,’ as in ‘Freemason.’ There is an obvious double-meaning here meant to catch the ear of the listener. He basically says ‘I’m in Mason’ to make people say ‘Huh, did he really say that?’ as ‘I’m a Freemason.’
Is Jay-Z goading his detractors, stoking the fires? Is he even aware he’s doing it, running the oldest play in the book to dazzling perfection?
The countless breakdowns online reek of a certain paranoia, one that might seem familiar to anyone who remembers the Hells Bells: The Dangers of Rock ‘n’ Roll documentary of the 1980s, which basically herded every rock group ever into Devil’s camp, comically even making the case that John Denver was working in legion with Lucifer to corrupt your children’s souls.
“Jay-Z and some other people who these accusations have been thrown at, I think they’ve done a brilliant job of using the media, from a pop-culture standpoint, to the best of its ability,” says Tayyib Smith, co-founder of Two One Five magazine.
“Whether it’s using those references in the videos or lyrics—it’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant. Because the people who don’t believe it are going to laugh, and the people who do are going to be that much more into it.”
To be sure, “Next One” wouldn’t have 15 million views if it weren’t for the talk about it, or if, say, Jay-Z were standing on a yacht sipping champagne instead of hanging out with po-faced omens of death. Jay just planted the seeds. Conservative boogey man aping grew them into a giant tree of intrigue.
“People who embrace Illuminati fear mongering are often ignorant of its far right roots,” says Talib Kweli over email. “They often mistake religion for God. So when they hear someone either bad mouth religion or talk about it in its proper perspective, they feel like God is being dissed. This allows them to accept the ridiculous concept that Kanye acknowledging Satan’s influence in his life makes him a Satan worshipper. But if you call yourself a spiritual or religious person and you don’t acknowledge that the devil is around you, you are a hypocrite. Kanye is just doing what brave artists do, which is paint the picture. Same thing Jay did on ‘D’evils’ and ‘Lucifer.’”
“This is Jay-Z, so we’re more apt to believe it,” Hill says. “No one is going to look at, say, a Soulja Boy video and look for symbolism in that because no one thinks Soulja Boy is part of Illuminati. No one is going to look at a Beanie Sigel video, because he doesn’t have any money. It’s not plausible that Beanie Sigel could be in the Illuminati. With Jay, he’s crossed over to such a degree that the discussion is even possible. In some sense it’s honorific to be called Illuminati, it means you’re successful and powerful enough. Ten years ago, the only person in hip-hop anyone could’ve dreamed about saying this about is Russell Simmons. Now, it’s Jay, and he’s riding it. ”
The growing power and influence of Jay-Z as he swells beyond being a hip-hop elite and crosses over into the mainstream elite is why this particular set of rumors has stuck. That and the fact that Jay-Z feeds them, and feeds off them. They are now permanently woven into his narrative, and it bolsters his image. With the world believing he is a Freemason or part of the Illuminati, he becomes the undisputed most powerful rapper breathing.
His background helps. Born Shawn Carter on Dec. 4, 1969, the last of four children of mother Gloria Carter, he famously caused her no pain at birth. That’s how she knew he’d be special. He lived in one of the 27 six-story buildings of the Marcy Projects in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. When his father left, Carter’s world fell apart. He began selling crack.
Today, he’s an art collector. He tours with U2. He brunches with Warren Buffet. He talks Basquiat. He owns more than a dozen businesses, one of them an NBA team. He’s worth an estimated $450 million. Forbes magazine predicts it won’t be long before he’s a billionaire. He has more No. 1 hits than Elvis. He’s the definition of the American Dream people have stopped believing in. He must be in the Illuminati.
What does Jay-Z think about the rumors?
“I don’t know where it came from. I don’t know where it started,” he answers sleepily during an interview back in January with Hot 97 DJ Angie Martinez.
“People are really buying into this that you are some sort of Illuminati, devil- worshipping, Freemason, something—what are you up to that I wasn’t aware of?” presses Martinez. “There are all these images in videos that people say are deliberate. My question to you is, are you messing with people and doing this on purpose?”
“Why would I do that?” Jay-Z asks, voice barely containing at a laugh. “That’s retarded. I really think it’s really silly. For the record, I of course believe in God, but I believe in one God … I don’t believe in religion. I don’t believe in Christians or Muslims. I think all that separates people … I don’t believe in Hell. Am I a part of some sect or cult? That sounds stupid to me.”
Of course, the interview—that answer—has been parsed to death. Doesn’t believe in Hell? Doesn’t believe in Christians? Why’s he wearing a cross? As is the nature of this story, the rolling stone just gathered more moss.
Perhaps Jay explained it best in his new book, Decoded, when he talked about how good rappers elevate hip-hop to an art form. “Art elevates and refines and transforms experience. And sometimes it just fucks with you for the fun of it.”
“[Hip-hop] is meant to be provocative—which doesn’t mean it’s necessarily obnoxious, but it is (mostly) confrontational, and more than that, it’s dense with multiple meanings,” he writes. “Great rap should have all kinds of unresolved layers that you don’t necessarily figure out the first time you listen to it. Instead it plants dissonance in your head.”
“The idea that Jay-Z or Kanye are members [of the Illuminati] is beyond ridiculous,” says Kweli. “I remember watching Jay-Z grind as an artist, and I was there for Kanye’s grind. Their grind is too much for the laymen, so the mysteries and the stories start to overtake reality.”
As similar as their theories about the Illuminati may be, this is the crucial distinction between what hip-hop fans and Tea Party right-wingers believe: the right-wing doesn’t fear Jay-Z or Kanye or Oprah. They don’t have the power or money to pull strings. They don’t have the access. Glenn Beck won’t be having a two-part series about Rihanna any time soon.
“If we’re talking about real back-door deals, real conglomerations of power, none of these rappers have enough money to be apart of it,” Hill says. “It’s not even plausible from a race perspective, from an economic perspective, that’s just not who rappers are. I know these guys. They’re not in the Illuminati.”
“Rapper’s can’t keep a group together, run a label, make a good film, or keep a secret,” says Smith, who, at 39, has worked with hip-hop artists half his life. “Kanye can’t keep his private parts offline for mass consumption, so I have a hard time imagining them having the same organization structure as the Bilderberg Group.”
And Jay-Z? His Angie Martinez interview wouldn’t be the last time he’d address the rumors. He’d go on to drop a guest verse about them on Rick Ross’ album Teflon Don:
“Couldn’t do nothin’ with me, they put the devil on me/I’d have preferred if niggas squeezed the metal on me/Rumors of Lucifer, I don’t know who to trust/Whole world want my demise, turn the music up/Hear me clearly, if y’all niggas fear me/Just say y’all fear me, fuck all these fairy tales.”
Then, the money shot: “Bitch, I said that I’m amazin’ … not that I’m a Mason.”
The name of that Rick Ross track? “Free Mason.”
Someone call Alex Jones.