(L to r) Tasz1, Ibrahim, 7ish, Orion Box, #9 of Assasyn Dynasty. Photo by Kate Dalton.
Assasyn Dynasty embraces the Five Percent solution

Perhaps one of the most overlooked sub-genres of hip-hop is represented by the work of early '90s New York rap acts dedicated to the Five Percent Nation. Inspired by Nation of Islam founder W.D. Fard, and best articulated by Clarence 13X, the Five Percent ideology centers on the belief that black men and women are the fathers and mothers of civilization, and can find true power and truth within themselves. Artists who claimed membership in the Five Percent Nation included Rakim, King Sun, and Big Daddy Kane, but the music of groups like Brand Nubian and Poor Righteous Teachers best articulated the Five Percenter philosophy. Brand Nubian's "Meaning of the 5%" from their second album, In God We Trust, captured another of the theology's main ideas, referring to 85 percent of the world's population as uncivilized masses; 10 percent as the rich slave owners, bloodsuckers of the poor; and the remaining five percent as the poor righteous teachers, whose mission it is to spread consciousness. Somewhere in Texas, heads took notice.

With its 2001 release, Assasynation 101, San Antonio-based hip-hop crew Assasyn Dynasty established the lyrical and sonic framework that would come to embody the spirit of its work. Rolling pianos, lurching bass lines, and looped strings evoked a RZA-esque soundtrack that cradled the group's conscious metaphors. At the heart of it all was an accessible allegiance to Five Percent Nation teachings, which excluded the stodgy rhetoric often prevalent in early '90s, Koran-influenced LPs. The A.D. camp's latest effort is Outside the Box, an ambitious solo debut by group member M. Allen, a.k.a. Number 9, a.k.a. Mr. Wondarime. Fueled by 16 solid tracks, the album follows in the vocal

tradition of Assasynation 101 and ranges from material written in 1998 to songs produced earlier this year. Although the album occasionally has the feel of a compilation, its themes are linked by inspired beats and a hardened, yet optimistic spiritual worldview. "Our songs are the way they are from studying the information and having knowledge of self. It puts you on another level as far as looking at the way the world works. It shows through your writing," says Allen. He expands on the meaning of the numeric moniker that he adopted in 1999: "The number nine in Supreme Mathematics means born. To be born is to manifest and bring things into existence. You have to focus your energy and make things happen. For me, it also represents a take action type of person, and that's the type of person I am."

Co-produced by A.D. affiliates Droop and Jazz, Outside the Box is packed with gritty arrangements that remind listeners that hip-hop's greatest architect, DJ Premier, is originally from Texas. Standout tracks include "No Matter What," where Number 9 is joined by Assasyn Dynasty members Orion Pax and Tasz 1 on a wicked Mary J. Blige loop, and "If You Broken Down," a keep-your-head-up anthem that recalls the Coup's classic track, "Repo Man."

"I always say that's my nicest song. I've been broken down, and I see my people broken down," says Allen. "Sometimes you just have to let them know times are going to come around. Just rock your crown." Other highlights include "Do the Knowledge," featuring A.D. member Ibrahim, the poignant "Keep It Straight," and "SATX" with its memorable DJ Quik scratches, courtesy of Dish1.

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Assasyn Dynasty's origins and Number 9's evolution can be traced to the Lyrical Assasyns, a 25-member collection of Northwest San Antonio producers and MCs who, in 1993, performed in a host of high school anti-drug shows, talent shows, and teen clubs. The group splintered in 1995 to become D.O.A., Descendents of Assasyns. When D.O.A. disbanded in late 1996, Allen turned to the Nuwaubian Nation, Islam, and the teachings of Clarence 13X. "It's like something you've been looking for, and when you finally find it you know that that's it. When I found the lessons and the holy tablets, I found what I was looking for." Ironically, 97 in Supreme Mathematics translates to "born God."

A.D. formed in 1997, when Allen and group members Orion Pax, Tasz 1, Abzolut, and Ibrahim began writing and recording together, sharing various apartments until 2000. Since then, the group has performed in hundreds of shows throughout Texas, and has branched out into promoting events via Culture Sound Records, and occasionally making T-shirts through the Blunt Factory clothing line. The group has plans to release its second album by the end of 2003, and is also awaiting a solo debut from Tasz 1, tentatively titled Put Your Ears On. Upcoming shows include an August 10 date with the Microknots at the Vibe in Austin and a future show with the Alkaholiks.

Throughout it all, Number 9 remains focused on the legacy of Five Percent Nation loyalists within hip-hop. "That's my goal, just to spread the truth," says Allen. "That's the real mission everyone should have, to help the world change. You can do that with your words."

For copies of Outside the Box, go to Hogwild, or contact [email protected]. •

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