FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
What did President Reagan and the Notorious BIG have in common? They believed in the American dream and that a man can go from rags to riches with enough hard work.
But in hip-hop, that's called hustling. Commentator Todd Boyd explains.
Professor TODD BOYD (Professor of Critical Studies, University of Southern California School of Cinema-Television): One of the hottest songs this summer has been Hustlin', the debut single by Miami rapper Rick Ross. The song's hook, every day I'm hustlin', embodies what has become an anthem in hip-hop circles. Rick Ross may be the latest, but he certainly isn't the first rapper or mogul to reference hustling, grinding, trapping, getting money and several other various on this same theme of eternal capitalist conquest.
From as far back as NWA's Dope Man in the late ‘80s to contemporary dope boys like the ATLs, T.I. and Young Jeezy, hip-hop has consistently foregrounded hustling as a philosophy and a way of life. This hustle of course comes from an economy of crack cocaine. The hustle is all about the economic conditions of supply and demand related to the crack trade and one's skills in navigating such treacherous terrain.
This culture produced a generation of urban street poets who openly discuss the trials, tribulations and triumphs of this life from the perspective of a modern-day drug dealer. Recently, though, the influence of hustling seems to have spread beyond hip-hop. Like the evolution of Michael Corleone from gangster to corporate titan in the Godfather and Godfather II, hustling has shed the taint of its dope-dealing past to emerge anew in the mainstream. There are two recent examples that indicate my point. When Dov Charney, the founder of the highly successful American Apparel clothing chain, was a guest on Charlie Rose back on July he readily identified himself as a hustler and extolled the virtues of such an approach to business.
Charney sounded like he was preaching the gospel of Jay-Z and gave the impression that he recited the Notorious BIG's hustler's prayer every night before going to bed.
The second example is even more telling. As Paris Hilton has gone about promoting what might otherwise be referred to as her new album, she too has embraced the hustler distinction as a way of describing herself. In an attempt to downplay her inherited wealth, Hilton, in a recent Los Angeles Times article, insisted that her hustling skills are what have made her a household name.
Hilton goes on to say how she was directly influenced by hip-hop artists who started with nothing, but who have risen to the top of the food chain because of their skills as hustlers. Considering all the wealth that Paris grew up around, the fact that she would draw inspiration from hip-hop as it pertains to getting money is quite telling.
The concept of hustling is simply an update on the American dream for a new generation. This is all just another twist on the concept of the hard working, pull yourself up by your own bootstraps mentality that has existed in America since its inception. It just so happens that this time the impetus for such a concept is rooted in the hood and the purveyors of such thinking are former drug dealers turned rappers.
As much as hip-hop might represent the worst of American culture, to some people it really represents the quintessential American ideal in ways that seem to have bypassed the narrow-minded among us.
In other words, get your hustle on.
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. NOTORIOUS BIG (Hip-hop Artist): (Singing) Every day I'm hustling. Every day I'm hustling. Every day I'm, every day I'm…
CHIDEYA: Todd Boyd is a professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California's School of Cinema-Television.
(Soundbite of music)
CHIDEYA: This is NPR News.
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