My generation has come of age with hip hop, and we’ve borrowed the language of illegal hustlers to describe our legal hustles.
In our weekly Hustlin' series, we go beyond the pitying articles about recession-era youth and illuminate ways our generation is coping. The last few years may have been a rude awakening, but we're surviving. Here's how.
I’ve listened to The Notorious B.I.G.’s “Ten Crack Commandments” hundreds of times, and I always envision him delivering the lines to a group of fresh-faced young hustlers in a smoke-filled room where everyone speaks in hushed tones. “I’ve been in this game for years, it made me an animal, its rules to the shit, I wrote me a manual,” he opens, with the huskiness of experience, then proceeds to break down the game for all those in earshot. You have to listen closely, because he isn’t one to repeat himself, and if you don’t catch the science he’s dropping there’s no doubt you’ll find yourself in serious shit.
As enthralling as Biggie made it sound, I never sold drugs. I wasn’t listening for tips. It was just entertainment.
But the more I lived and learned, I started feeling like I needed to take notes. “Ten Crack Commandments” began serving not just as a seminal text for those trying to move up from ounces to kilos, but also for people with corner-office dreams, artistic inclinations, or an entrepreneurial spirit. We don’t like to admit it, but the line between “polite” society and the “undesirables” is Angelina Jolie-thin. Outlaw culture is constantly speaking to and influencing our mainstream norms.
Biggie isn’t the only righteous hustler-turned-teacher, the “Ten Crack Commandments” not the only text worth exploring to help you navigate your hustle. I learned everything I needed to know about how capitalism works reading Pimp by Iceberg Slim. The fictional Corleone family of The Godfather films taught the value of loyalty. Even Malcolm X’s days as Detroit Red provide a lesson on being able to speak to people in a language they understand.
I’m part of that generation known as Millennials, and even if we don’t know whether social security will be around when we retire, or if we’ll be able to retire, or if we’ll even have jobs to consider retiring, we know this: We are hustlers. We’re gangsta. We pimp. We grind.
Most of us don’t do any of these things in the literal sense, but my generation has come of age listening to the sounds of hip hop, and we’ve borrowed the language of illegal hustlers to describe our legal hustles. It feels only natural we should also adopt aspects of their code of conduct and apply them to our quest for survival and world domination.
Back to Biggie and the “Ten Crack Commandments”: It’s no accident that the first two commandments have to do with learning to keep quiet. “Rule nombre uno, never let no one know, how much dough you hold” and “Number two: never let ‘em know your next move, don’t you know Bad Boys move in silence and violence.” Any hustler worth his weight knows that he should draw as little attention to himself as possible. It’s tempting to take all those ill-gotten gains and cop a brand new Benz with diamond-studded rims and imported leather seats to make your entire neighborhood seethe with jealousy. But all that does is put a shiny (and expensive) target on your back for local stick-up kids, rival dealers, and narcotic police clocking your every move.
And imagine negotiating a deal that would expand your territory or triple your income, bragging about it to everyone you know before it goes through, and finding yourself filing fingerprints and a mugshot because word got around and reached the wrong snitch. Silence is a valuable asset.
At first glance, Millennials, or “Generation Overshare,” doesn’t seem to be taking Biggie’s advice. We have blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Foursquare, Pinterest, gchat, texts, SMS, email, phone calls, and during the spring equinox we may even come outside and talk to people face-to-face. We are hyperconnected, and there is a temptation to share everything: engagements, weddings, divorce, pregnancy, sonograms, afterbirth, lunch menus, club pictures, drink recipes, and messages to all the “haters” find their way into news feeds everywhere. If it can be retweeted, liked, favorited, or pinged, it will be, and soon enough that tidbit you thought you were sharing with a few close friends is a viral sensation being enjoyed by millions.
There is real power and possibility there, but perhaps we should take a cue from Biggie: It’s prudent for us to be judicious in what we share. Yes, your friends will be happy for you and your new job prospect, but if it isn’t a sure thing, what good is livetweeting the interview process going to do? You run the risk of releasing information that isn’t meant to public and revealing yourself as untrustworthy. Even if you’re making moves independently, not everyone needs to know how much grinding you’ve done, who you’ve worked with, where you are, and what you’re holding. Stick-up kids are everywhere.
It also doesn’t help to discuss every potential advancement, only to have half of them fall through and wind up fielding a million questions as to why from 1500 of your closest “friends.” Not only is it tedious work, but it alters folks perception of you and makes them less inclined to take you seriously. Who wants to work with a hustler that looks like they rarely ever gets things done? Reservation can create the illusion of success.
We have to be strategic. Know who to trust with your information, who can help and who will hurt. Use your platform to your advantage, but keeps your lips and fingers quiet when it would benefit you more to do so. Follow these rules, you’ll have mad bread to break up.
As Omar from The Wire once warned, “The game is out there. It’s either play or get played.” In order to play you have to know the rules, but you just might find them in an unexpected place.
Drawing by Sam Miller.