A Season of Songs, day 13: Holy Intellect

A Season of Songs is a type of Fun-A-Day project that I plan to do throughout this spring.  I’ll hit shuffle on the ol’ iPod and see what comes up.  I’ll then write a bit about that song, the band, the record, whatever.  Enjoy!

Almost two weeks in before we got to some late-80’s/early 90’s hip-hop and it’s one of my favorites Poor Righteous Teachers.  The song is “Holy Intellect” off their debut album of the same name.

Listen to the hypeness
No other style is like this
Say you could stop the righteous?!
Well manifest punk!
Ya haven’t did it yet
Ya posse oughta step
Your mental’s stimulated from this holy intellect

I first came upon Poor Righteous Teachers (PRT) by watching this hip-hop show, “Pump It Up”, that was broadcast late on the weekends on Channel 17 or 29 or one of those other lesser Philly TV stations.  This is where I discovered some of my other favorites of that era like A Tribe Called Quest and X Clan.  I remember they played the video for the single “Rock Dis Funky Joint”.  The dancing in the video is great.  The flow is great – it changes pace and cadence in ways that were new to my ears (this song only giving a hint of the quick and nimble delivery these guys were capable of on other songs).  The lyrics were intelligent, yet cryptic, mostly because they were layered with references to the language of the Nation of Gods and Earths (Five Percenters), something at that time I was completely unfamiliar with.

This would’ve been 11th grade.  I remember in Art class mentioning Poor Righteous Teachers and Chris Strunk saying that those guys were “Five Percenters”.  I didn’t know what that meant and I’m not sure he fully did either, but eventually I got some understanding that that meant they were part of an offshoot of the Nation of Islam (which at that time I had the fuzziest understanding of from “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” and some other Malcolm X readings).  Of course, many many years later I would take the time to learn about the Nation of Gods and Earths to realize that while they use the same texts as the Nation of Islam and technically grew out of the same movement they are incredibly different.  That’s more than I’m going to get into in this blog post, but if you are interested in knowing more about the history, I highly recommend reading “The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip Hop and the Gods of New York“; very interesting reading.  Anyway, learning the “Supreme Alphabet” and the “Supreme Mathematics” will go a long way in helping you pull extra meaning from PRT lyrics (i.e. “Seven star – the holy intellect being taught” is a reference to the symbol of the Five Percenters) and lots of other hip-hop artists like Wu-Tang Clan and plenty others.

“Holy Intellect” is a great album, ranking pretty high among my favorite hip-hop records.  There are a couple songs that haven’t aged well – there’s some corniness in “Can I Start This?” and the slow jam “Shakiyla” is cute but not really that good of a song.  Otherwise the singles “Rock Dis Funky Joint” and “Holly Intellect” are fairly indicative of the rest of the album.  Their follow-up album “Pure Poverty” is a solid album as well.  It lacks any really stand-out tracks but the overall rhyming and flow maintain a similar intensity with a noted uptick in the speed of the lyrical flow. They would put out two more albums that I never checked out.  DJ Father Shaheed would die in a motorcycle accident in May 2014.

Definitely recommend checking out “Holy Intellect” – both the song and the album.

We gotta go (Peace!) but will be back though.

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