By: Justin Cook
Maybe it’s just me, but goddamn, Shabazz Palaces is some of the best hip-hop to ever grace my ears. From the dark-tribal production, to the spacey atmosphere, all the way to the spiritual poetry of Palaceer Lazaro (aka Butterfly of Digable Planets), Shabazz Palaces understands the hip-hop Tao. However, I never understood one simple thing: what the fuck is a Shabazz Palace? This question led me down a rabbit-hole of research I never could have imagined. It’s mystifying, it’s unbelievable; it’s the story of hip-hop, Islam, and the mythical God Tribe of Shabazz.
The concept of the God Tribe of Shabazz is found mainly in the writings of Wallace Fard Muhammad and Elijah Muhammad. These two men were fundamental in founding and maintaining the Nation of Islam. In the 1930’s, Wallace Fard Muhammad arrived in Detroit, Michigan with a mysterious background; no one really knew who he was, or where he came from, but he made strong relations with the local black community, meeting Elijah Muhammad, one of his first followers.
He then taught the youth his own brand of Islam, drawing inspiration from Buddhism, Christianity, Freemasonry, Gnosticism and Taoism. After gaining a small following, Fard began to expand his power, claiming he had come from Mecca to preach the word of Allah; the ideal behind his teachings empowered African-Americans through spiritual, mental, social and economic means. Over time, his teachings spread to empower all of humanity. And today, these beliefs are echoed by MCs throughout hip-hop history like Big Daddy Kane, Tupac, Mos Def and Jay Electronica, among others.
In the early years, Wallace Fard Muhammad created most of the fundamental beliefs and mythology of the Nation of Islam, including the God Tribe of Shabazz. But after a follower of Fard committed murder in the name of Allah, Detroit police asked him to leave the city and never return. He left, but secretly came back a few months later. Again, he was discovered, arrested, and asked to leave. This time Fard disappeared for good, and no one really knows what happened to him. Some say he left for Mecca, some believe the police killed him—but the Nation of Islam claims he is still alive today, one that boarded the Mother Plane.
Wallace Fard Muhammad
Before he fled the city of Detroit, Fard made Elijah Muhammad the new leader of the Nation of Islam. He began preaching that Fard was a manifestation of Allah, that he was God directly intervening with the world and his words were sacred. He founded more Temples across the Midwest, and one in Washington D.C; under his leadership, the Nation of Islam expanded greatly, playing an essential role in the civil rights movement of the 1960’s. He spoke about how the Black Man was the Original Man, who had to take back his spirit and destiny from white oppressors. He wrote a number of books on black empowerment and added a significant part to the Nation of Islam’s culture.
During this period of time, Elijah mentored a young man named Malcolm Little, who had heard about the Nation of Islam while serving jail time. A few years later the man changed his name to Malcolm X. He soon became one of the most prominent figures of the group during the 1950’s, becoming assistant minister of the Nation’s Temple Number One in Detroit, establishing Boston’s Temple Number 11, and finally leading Temple Number 7 in Harlem. Throughout the years, his legend grew into the man we remember today. But in 1962, Malcolm X gave a speech, invoking the mythology of the God Tribe of Shabazz:
“So this scientist named Shabazz took his family and wandered down into the jungles of Africa. Prior to that time no one lived in the jungles. Our people were soft; they were black but they were soft and delicate, fine. They had straight hair. Right here on this Earth you find some of them look like that today. They are black as night, but their hair is like silk, and originally all our people had that kind of hair. But this scientist took his family down into the jungles of Africa, and living in the open, living a jungle life, eating all kinds of food had an effect on the appearance of our people. Actually living in the rough climate, our hair became stiff, like it is now.”
According to the Nation of Islam, the Tribe of Shabazz is the original people of Earth, also referred to as the Original Man, or the Asian Black Nation. All of humanity is a direct descendent from the Tribe of Shabazz, but appear to be ethically different through countless years of grafting. They first lived on the Earth 66 trillion years ago—yes, that is correct, 66 trillion years ago. During this time in our galaxy’s history, the Earth and Moon were still one, and our planet was populated by 13 tribes. An ancient scientist, named Shabazz, wanted to unite the 13 tribes of Earth under one language, but failed. So then he attempted to destroy the Earth by blowing it up. As a result, a chunk of the Earth became the Moon, and all the tribes died, except the Tribe of Shabazz.
The Original Man of Earth was grateful to have survived, and understood their blessed position to still be living and breathing. Shabazz, the ancient scientist, the creator, recognized the strength of his people and decided to guide them through life. He wanted to make his people tough, so 50,000 years ago, he moved them to the jungles of East Asia (which actually refers to Africa, the cradle of civilization). Here, the Tribe of Shabazz learned how to endure the harsh side of life and conquered every wild beast they encountered. Through thousands of years, the Tribe of Shabazz migrated slowly through Africa, finally discovering the best part of the planet to sustain life: the Fertile Crescent, the rich Nile Valley and the present seat of the Holy City, Mecca.
When digging into the symbolism of this myth, the ancient scientist, Shabazz, is synonymous with Yaweh, God, Allah, even Mother Earth herself. The Tribe of Shabazz is simply the first humans, who came into being through the course of evolution; it is the universal force that manifests itself through the nature of our planet and our very own selves. In the Holy Bible, the Tribe of Shabazz is called the Children of Israel—for the words Shabazz, Israel, and Hebrew all have the same meaning, but originate from different languages. In the Jewish language, Israel means Chosen Tribe, and in the Hebrew language, it means God’s elect. The Tribe of Shabazz is the story of humanity, without the lies, dogma and doctrine of organized religion.
The Nation of Islam believes Christianity was created to enslave the mind and promote white supremacy, claiming it to be a manifestation of Satan; the teachings of Jesus Christ are not the teachings of Christianity, and the Church suppresses the truth to control the world. To be like Christ is to be free, just, equal: these are the teachings of Islam and of the Original Man. Christianity has created a white, blue-eyed Christ—but the Nation of Islam knows he was a Black Man of the God Tribe of Shabazz. Over the past 6,000 years, humanity has been warped into believing the lies and deception of the Church, leaving most hollowed and soulless. The Nation of Islam want to reclaim the sacred heart and permeate peace and love throughout the universe—for we are children of the divine!
Shabazz Palaces (left: Ishmael Butler aka Palaceer Lazaro. Right: Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire)
Now back to Shabazz Palaces: what does it mean? It means we are all born divine, perfect: a marriage of spirit and flesh. It is understanding every moment and every breath of life is divine and a blessing: to live infinitely in every passing moment. Your body is your temple, your palace and heaven is here on Earth–no waiting for an afterlife, no life of suffering. It is embracing the depths of your soul and realizing you are a child of the Sun and Stars, a being of the Universe. It is about standing up for what is pure, against the grain of our violent society and reclaiming our spirituality. To me, it represents being completely and beautifully human. The hip-hop Tao indeed!
Muhammad Speaks. Muhammad Temple of Islam, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2013. <http://muhammadspeaks.com/home/>.
Nation of Islam Settlement No. 1. N.p., n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2013. <http://www.seventhfam.com>.
The Nation of Islam: Universal Supreme Shabazz Allah. Melchisedek Shabazz-Allah, n.d. Web. 20 Apr. 2013. <http://www.universalsupremeshabazzallah.com/index.htm>.