by James Parker for Slate.com
“Creation is original freshness related to God,” said Ol’ Dirty Bastard. No, wait—it was St. Thomas Aquinas. Could have been ODB, though: No one doubted his original freshness, and the entropic rapper was quite as prone to a theological outburst as he was to one that was deranged or dirty-bastardly. Inducted as a 10-year-old into the Scholastically complex systems of the Five Percent Nation—the breakaway sect founded in 1963 by former Nation of Islam minister Clarence 13X Smith—Dirty in his short life would stray wildly from the path, but the teachings stayed with him. Always at his fingertips were the Supreme Alphabet, the 120 Degrees, the Nine Basic Tenets. “The black man is God!” he proclaimed at the end of a 1994 performance on The Arsenio Hall Show. And to an interviewer in 1997: “I’m God. That’s my identity, one of the low gods. One of the earth gods—one with a lot of wisdom.” Was he high? Almost certainly. But neither afflatus nor clinical grandiosity were at work here: For the Five Percenters, otherwise known as the Nation of Gods and Earths, these were the proverbs of a simple piety.
It’s a stretch to call Jaime Lowe’s new Digging for Dirt: The Life and Death of ODB a spiritual biography—Lowe is as concerned with Dirty’s place in hip-hop as she is with the progress of his soul. But as the narrative deepens into disaster, it’s hard not to see this story in the light of a doomed pilgrimage, a religious journey that went wrong.
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