I'm not sure whether the Five Percenters themselves would have respect for me, despite the immense respect I have for them. After all, as a white man and a homo, I represent the devil (doubly). Nonetheless, reading their history only strengthened the esteem I hold for them.
Michael Muhammad Knight's The Five Percenters: Islam, Hip Hop, and the Gods of New York is precisely what I wanted in an educational delineation of the Islamic movement. Knight traces the origins of the Five Percent Nation from 1964 Harlem to the present day, and examines the movement's influence on the world outside Harlem. After a discussion of the members' teachings and the movement's principles, Knight explores various facets of the Five Percenters, including the Attica prison uprising, the group's general controversy, and their influence on modern hiphop.
Unfortunately, the book reads too much like a textbook. There are a lot of facts and a great deal of information, but not so much storytelling. This was acceptable for me—a reader already interested and somewhat informed on the subject—but I do worry that Knight's prose will be too staid for those not already invested.
That said, when Knight begins his explanation of New York hiphop, whether elucidating the true origins of phrases like "word!" and "the bomb" (both of which have Five Percenter roots), or quoting Busta Rhymes lyrics, his writing begins to adopt a certain "flow." At one point, Knight explicates an excerpt of Rakim's lyrics, providing a glimpse into how he incorporates the movement's Supreme Mathematics (one of the tools to "unlocking the keys to reality and the universe").
Knight's tone is appropriate to his subject. In enlightening his readers on the specifics of the teachings, his writing is very academic and, quite possibly, stuffy. When treating the brilliant lines of, say the Cold Crush Brothers, however, Knight writes with a gift. His book is certainly worthy of the plodding it might take to get to the eventual "flow," but it might not convert the indifferent.