What’s Behind Hip Hop’s Illuminati Music Obsession?






What’s Behind Hip Hop’s Illuminati Music Obsession?

Rap has often been defined by its fixation on money, power, and influence. What’s behind hip hop’s Illuminati music obsession?

The story of how the Illuminati first ended up in a rap song is a lot like your average Illuminati conspiracy: There’s a byzantine plot and a shifting cast of somewhat famous characters with varying allegiances and interests. The genesis of the lyrics quoted above, from the 1995 remix to LL Cool J’s “I Shot Ya,” involves a beef between Tupac and that song’s featured artist, Keith Murray; Murray’s subsequent beef with Mobb Deep’s Prodigy; and a notable cameo from a 15-year-old Foxy Brown. The particulars aren’t especially important. What is important is that line, from Prodigy, that everyone remembers. It was the first time the Illuminati was mentioned prominently on wax, nestled in the middle of a needlessly complex series of beefs.“Illuminati want my mind, soul, and my body.”




It was the beginning of an entirely new school of thought in hip-hop, one as intelligent and informed as it was suspicious and paranoid. Prodigy was referring to the Illuminati conspiracy theory: the idea that there’s a network of shadowy, powerful individuals bent on controlling society by rebuilding it as a “New World Order” under a totalitarian worldwide government. Around the same time, CeeLo Green made reference to it on “Cell Therapy,” claiming, “Traces of the New World Order/Time is getting shorter if we don’t get prepared/People it’s gon’ be a slaughter.” Mentions of the Illuminati in hip-hop quickly spiked from there: Jay Z sampled Prodigy’s line from “I Shot Ya” for “D’Evils” on his 1996 debut Reasonable Doubt, sparking rumors that persist to this day that he is associated with the organization; U-God encouraged listeners to “get your shit together before the fuckin’ Illuminati hit” in 1997 on Wu-Tang Clan’s “Impossible.”Rap’s Illuminati talk wasn’t just a one-time fad, however. The fervor died down a bit, right up until 2008, when Prodigy published an open letter he’d written in jail to URB magazine, alleging that his old rival Jay Z “promotes the lifestyle of the beast.” Hip-hop culture—the innovator of so many popular fashions, styles, and sounds—rarely sees trends with such extended lifelines. And as usual, this trend among rappers has crossed over to pop culture in a big way.

Today, the Illuminati theory is as relevant as ever, often used as a way to justify the continued success of artists—Jay ZBeyoncéEminemLady GagaKanye West—who are accused of being puppets of this mysterious web of faceless figureheads. There’s an endless stream of books, podcasts, and blogs examining the Illuminati’s use of media and entertainment to carry out its agenda, and there are innumerable YouTube videos about the Illuminati with millions of views. The Illuminati is always somehow part of the conversation when a celebrity like Whitney Houston or, more recently, Prince passes away prematurely. Its signifiers—triangles, covered eyes, devil’s horns—are consistently evoked in music videos and press photos.

What’s so perplexing about the Illuminati theory and its continued life is that it’s just that: a theory. Despite the term’s prominence in hip-hop and pop culture, there is no proof that the Illuminati still exists, and not a single artist has admitted to being affiliated with it. Then why, for more than two decades, has the existence of an unconfirmed secret society been consistently connected to the music industry? Why do the rumors refuse to go away?