Hustling & Hip-Hop

The Game

The games people play. Games are ancient and each culture has their own rich traditions. Games have become a cornerstone of modern society, much so that the word or should I say the game, has taken on it’s own intonations. You can play a game. You can watch a game. You can join a game. You can have game. You can run a game or you can be game. You can play games with somebody. Play on their emotions. Play with them or be player.

People always say it’s not if you win or lose, but how you play the game. But what happens if the stakes are life and death? What happens if a wrong move lands you in jail for life? This ain’t no mother fucking monopoly. I’m talking about something vicious, final, and deadly. I’m talking about the drug game. Let me introduce you to it.

Homies all standin around/just hangin
some dope dealin/some gang-bangin
-Ice Cube, NWA

Pimps, stick-up kids, number men, drug dealers, thugs, players, gangsta’s, hustlers of any and all sorts aren’t born into these roles, they evolve into these people. Cats are just putting in work, you heard, and trying to get paid. Hustling on the street, down the block, at the spot wherever. Ain’t no static- dudes trying to come up. But what is hustling? How would you define it? To get the real I talked to my man from uptown, Ron Jordan, a thuglife veteran currently doing a bid in the feds.

*Yo “G”, Describe hustling? Check it- hustling is when you sell anything to make money. Mostly, just drugs because you make a lot of money quicker. *Tell me about the block? The block is where you grew up. This is where you get your name. When you start getting respect, people will say, “That’s so and so from such and such block.” And that is how you get your block on the map.

*What is up with the spot? The spot is where the customers come to purchase your drugs. *Tell me about the stash house? The stash house is where everything is kept. Guns, money, drugs. Only a few people know about the stash house, if anybody.

Hustling is largely territorial and these “brotha’s” don’t play when it comes to their “cornah.” To be a top flight hustler, dudes need to stay on their shit and hold it down. Because real recognizes real and if you fake-ass gangsta, somebody’s gonna blow you up and expose you. To hustle this “paper game” you gotta be a true soldier.

And when you on the block hustling, it’s rough. Ain’t no motherfucking cakewalk. In most inner cities, where these games are played, the police presence is high. Young kids and players are randomly searched in high me areas (their neighborhoods) for unlawful congregation (hanging out.)

Fuckin with me cuz I’m a teenager with a little bit o gold and a pager searchin my car/lookin for the product thinkin every nigga is sellin narcotics
-Ice Cube, NWA

But still the hustlers hustle and the players play. The game goes It won’t stop for death or nobody. Not the police, not the crackhead especially not the government. Hustling is an opportunistic inner city phenomenon. A unique and capitalistic way of life. Brutal in it’s honesty and treacherous in it’s endeavors. But for real, you know it’s all about the cheddar.

I got thug money/straight up blood money that brown paper bag underneath the mattress is drug money
-Jay Z, The Hustler

The hood is infested with hustlers of all sorts- pimps, murder for hire killers, and stick-up kids. It is a maze of drugs, treachery, tragedy, alcohol, dice games, and mayhem. The rules of the game are simple. There are no rules. Everything is dictated by the street code. Dog eat dog. Get paid. Every man for himself. It’s a vicious way to live, but if you’re in game that’s how it is.

Shit is real/and hungry is how I feel I rob and steal/because money has that whip appeal
-Biggie Smalls, The Notorious BIG

That is the attitude in the hood. When you grow up in the project, the streets are mean. Cats do what they gotta do to survive. Ain’t no handouts. Welfare ain’t gonna support much. Not when you got three kids and two baby-mamma’s, plus your grandma who raised you to look out for. A brother gotta do something. Let’s keep it real and get my man Ron Jordan’s take.

*Yo “G”, describe the hood? The hood is where anything goes. Either you and your family are going to be respected or disrespected. The only thing brothers respect in the hood is guns. Or you can be a nobody and just get by and live on welfare and struggle to make ends meet, or you can grow up and watch your family live in poverty. But that’s kind of hard when you got people around you driving fancy cars and carrying thousands in their pockets. *What is a stick-up kid? A stick-up kid is a brother who goes around robbing people for their belongings or money. A brother who do this, this is their way of “getting money.” They will rob hustlers, thugs, working people, a pimps and even other stick-up kids.

*Tell me about the pimps? Pimps are people who have women selling their bodies for them. There’s a saying in the hood, “The difference between a pimp and a player is, a pimp will go and sell his body (man or woman) if he have to and a player won’t.”

*What’s up with the dice? Niggas love to gamble. C-Low is a dice game that is played with 3 dice. This game is played in the hood by most hustlers, One person controls the bank, he can put $10,000 in the bank and lose it one roll. This makes the game intense and the action crazy.

In the hood you can come up, get yours, and be broke a minute late. If you flossing dudes will swoop in and take yours. It is all in the nature of the game. It is the price you pay to play. And don’t get it fucked up. People do die gruesome deaths everyday in this game. No life is sacred. No one is spared. And if you’re a player, you gotta have the right mindset.

Why explain the game/niggaz ain’t listening stuck in position/if niggaz can’t stand the heat then stay the fuck out the kitchen
-Tupac, The Poet

The shit on the street is real. In the game there is a common struggle to rise up out of the gutter. Cats is trying to make it out of the hoods. Out of the inner city. The American Dream, you heard. Buy a product, sell a product and count the money all the way to the bank. But you gotta be careful because money, murder, and mayhem are everyday events that these players in this game are hungry enough to die for.

And if you die youse a buster
cos real niggas don’t die
I can’t be faded
I’m a nigga from the motherfucking street
-Dr. Dre, The Chronic

And cats is trying to blow up. They trying to live large. Most hustlers have only one goal and that is to get theirs. Through ruthless sometimes mindless methods, players in this game go for it all with “I don’t give a fuck!” in their hearts. Thuglife, where the suckers get played and the merciless rule. It’s like Ice-T said, “I got to get more money then you got.”

Living like a king in the slums of the city. Imping and pimping a wishing for fame and fortune. The life of the hustler. Cruising down the avenues and streets of the hood in a Lexus, Benz, Beamer, or Bentley. Dime piece flavor of the week riding shotgun. Diamonds this, platinum that. Townhouses, coops, and condos.

To a kid lookin up to me
Life ain’t nothin but bitches and money
-Ice Cube, NWA

Instant gratification. “You do you” and “I’ll do me.” Because when you in the streets hustling, it’s all about you. Fuck all that other bullshit. Fuck the next man on the block. He better get his and stay the fuck out of your way, because only the strong survive, you heard? It’s like my mans and them said, “Dudes in the drug game are looking out for #1 and they tryin’ to get theirs.” Getting money is what the perpetrators call it. So don’t get it fucked up. Ain’t no one in the game for charity.

Now you got these young cats/acting like hung cats
slingin they guns and talking about they ones stack
when I see ’em in the streets/I don’t see none that
Damn playboy/fuck is the hummer at?
-Jay Z, The Hustler

If you don’t get yours you gonna get dissed. That is the rule of the game. Plus the peer pressure is on one million. It’s like my man said, “I was a young nigga and that influences you when niggas is ridin’ up in the B.M.’s and Benzes, you want that. So if a nigga says, ‘come wit me, we can get this.’ You’re very tempted to go with him.” Because the truth is when you got nothing. When you struggling to eat. Money seems like everything. And the game is a means to an end.

Of course there are other aspects involved. Your family comes into it, your hood, your block. It’s all relative. You gotta beware when you blowing up and living large though because not only are you making plans with your money, but somebody else is making plans with you money too. And if they succeed in getting it you might end up dead. For a little clarification let’s kick it with my man from uptown, Ron Jordan.

*Yo “G”, what is getting money? Getting money is when you are continually getting money from your hustle. Whether it’s selling coke, crack, dust, pills, dope, or weed. You have to be making money from any of these products everyday to be considered getting money. *How does your family come into it? When you are in the game, your family is the one who suffers the most. Kids become fatherless and wind up in the game because they don’t have no father figure, and it’s hard for the women to maintain the lifestyle they had when you are around. Also, there’s times when your family can be killed because you are involved in the game. *What’s up with the jewelry, bling-bling, and cars? That’s just flossing and fronting, son. The jewelry shows everybody you are getting money. But this is mostly for the women. And the cars are another way to show you are getting money. Definitely for the women.

In the game cats are trying to come up, you heard. It’s all about the cars, the sex, and the jewelry. It’s like a crazy mad ego trip. Ain’t no fronting in the game. You either “got yours” or you a fake-ass buster. But whenever money is involved, you know problems will arise, because like they say, “Money is the root of all evil.”

Money can be a lifesaver, but it can also be the worst shit in the world. Because money can make some cats feel like they unstoppable, like they can fuck with anybody. Getting money is what the game is all about.

I’m a tell you like a nigga told me
cash rules everything around me
shit lyrically/niggaz can’t see me
fuck it/buy the coke/cook the coke/fuck it
-Biggie Smalls, The Notorious BIG

The intricacies and pitfalls of the game are complex. You could end up in prison staring at life or even worse, you could turn up dead, riddled with bullets, in a body bag at the city morgue. This life ain’t for everybody. You don’t play the game, you live the game. It is an attitude, a cultural revolution and awareness. And the reality isn’t pretty.

Since I was a youth/I smoked weed out
Now I’m the mothafucka that you read about
takin’ a life or two
that’s the hell I do/you don’t like how I’m livin
well fuck you!
-Ice Cube, NWA

Thuglife is not glamorous. But just like the old west it is romanticized and embellished. So in truth does art imitate life or does life imitate art? The game is chaos unleashed. There is nothing organized about thuglife. More often then not it is disorganized. Perpetrated by those who through chance or choice have taken to the streets in search of fame or fortune.

Dear lord/I live the life of a thug/hope you understand/forgive me for my mistakes/I gotta play my hand
-Tupac, The Poet

The game is glorified and the lifestyle enshrined by rappers on MTV, BET, and in the movies. Young black men emulating thugs and gangsta’s grace the cover of magazines like Rolling Stone. But for real are they representing a ghetto fabulous mentality that is unattainable in real life? Every hustler on every block in every city involved in this game is now trying to imitate and emulate the life portrayed in the videos and movies.

Players have become fixated with attempting to tailor their lives to the parallels of the videos on TV. Every cat seems to believe that his Life should be that of an endless video flooded with rivers of Cristal; racks of dime pieces. Like my mans and them said, “A lot of these niggas be taking these Scarface movies for real.”

The lust for the good life. That is what every player wants. The philly blunts, Rolex’s, Benz’s, bottles of Moet, and forty ounces. The movies and videos glamorize these things. They are the fables of the street. The images sold dictate that if you are true to the game, hold it down, and are a soldier, all this- the video, the movie, the American dream- will be yours.

We just sitting here trying win
tryin’ not to sin/high off weed and lots of gin/so much smoke need oxygen/steady counting them Benjamins
-Biggie Smalls, The Notorious BIG

The images are bigger then life and they captivate the mind. To live the good life you gotta get money. Ain’t no faking it. You gotta hustle and if someone gets in your way you gotta take ‘em out. It ain’t easy. In fact it’s a struggle. Let’s see what my man Ron Jordan has to say,

*Yo “G”, tell me about the lifestyle? The life is something else. This life can be addictive. When you first start out in this life, it’s just to make a certain amount of money and get out. But being that it’s a life where you create your own rules, be your own boss, don’t pay no taxes. All of this stuff including the money, cars, and jewelry, makes it hard to leave this life alone. And knowing that you can die or go to jail makes it more of a rush because you think you can beat the system and survive he streets.

*The movies, is it real? The movies are real to a certain extent. It is also dressed up with a lot of Hollywood bullshit. *What is up with the hustlers’ ball? The hustlers’ ball is when all the hustlers meet and show off their fine clothes, jewelry, and their pretty women.

*Which hip-hop artists keep it real? Biggie Smalls of course-NY, you heard, represent-capital of the game, Tupac and Scarface represent, also *What is the game to you? The game to me is survival. Keeping it real with the people you deal with. Loyalty. Protecting your family. Being ready to bust your gun when necessary. Understanding you can die at any moment or go to jail for the rest of your life. Driving the best cars, having people fear you, being well-known and respected. The game is a way of life that can give you a rush, but at the same time kill you. The game to me, is to survive by all means necessary.

Survival at all costs in a ruthless world. Where suckers get exposed and busters get played. Dudes ain’t on no clown-type shit so if you faking you’re gonna get played in a minute. Players gotta be thorough from the jump in the game.

Just ask the rappers that emulate gangsta’s and the thuglife ideal in their videos. That studio gangsta shit don’t fly when you really just a ghetto news reporter. Just because you strapped don’t mean you a gangsta. But don’t get it twisted. Some of them rap cats is down. Just see Tupac and Biggie, you heard. But are they real representations of the game? Or are the drugs, guns, violence, prostitution, gangs, and sultriness of raw sex and flesh the real? What about all the true Dons and Divas who lost it all and now sit in a prison cell with life? Are they the essence of the game?

Cause I’m the type of nigga that’s built to last
If you fuck with me/I’ll put my foot in your ass
I don’t give a fuck/cause I keep bailin’ Yo, what the fuck are they yellin?
Gangsta! Gangsta! That’s what they yellin’
It’s not about a salary, it’s all about reality
– Ice Cube, NWA

In the game respect is something demanded but never given or ever understood. The slightest hint of disrespect can touch off mad violence like my mans and them said, “We value human life but if you insist we’ll obilge.” Mac 10’s, AK’s, glocks. Sometimes the inner cities resembles a war zone.

I got my finger on the trigger/so niggaz wonder why
But livin in the city its do or die/Who is the nigga with the masterplan? A nigga witta motherfuckin gun
-Dr. Dre, The Chronic

Beefs and crazy drama between crews and sets get deadly. And not just for the players involved. When the bullets start flying anyone can be hit. Player in the game or not. If you in the hood you could end up in a body bag.

I got a shotgun/and here’s the plot
takin niggaz out with a flurry of buckshots
Boom Boom Boom yeah I was gunnin’
And then you look/all you see is niggaz runnin’
-Ice Cube, NWA

Kidnapping, extortion, execution style murder are not unheard of in the game. The viciousness is left up to each players imagination. And the cats are going to continue doing what they do because it is the only way that they know. The street teaches them to mistake kindness for weakness and in the game the weak get eaten up like some Kentucky fried. And when two thorough cats collide a beef is inevitable. Its either you or him. So you better be ready to bust your gun. Like my man said, “You can’t press the unpressible. I’m unpressable, so just kill me.”

you ain’t no friend of mine/you ain’t no kin of mine
what makes you think that I won’t run up on you with the nine
-50 Cent, Wanksta

The game is brutal. Ain’t no fair fights. If a brother pressing up on yours its time to go hard and get strapped. Shootouts, drive-bys, murder- it’s like Snoop Dog said, “187 on an undercover cop.” Don’t get it fucked up. This life ain’t for the faint hearted. Don’t front and when the bullets start flying scream, “What part of the game is that?” Because the violence is the real. If you want to play with the big boys you better have a big gun. And if you don’t- take you sucker-ass home, because true players don’t die and real Dons go out like soldiers. Let’s get my man Ron Jordan’s take.

*Yo “G”, what’s up with the violence? It happens so much in the hood, people in the hood become accustomed to it. Violent death becomes natural. The guns, the shootouts, the posturing, what’s up with all that? This is a part of the game. When you sell drugs, stick-up kids are going to try to rob you, so you got to get a gun., Sometimes people will try to take over your block (turf) and that’s when shootouts happen. The one who is standing keeps the block.

The game can be a series of feints and parries. Some cats sell death though and if you call their bluff- it’s on. And you better be ready to hold it down too because dudes are rolling hard. And for real they don’t give a fuck who gets shot as long as the cat they beefin with is dead.

I done smoke with the best of ’em/Shot at the rest of ’em/wanted by 100 or more/maybe less of ’em
-Biggie Smalls, The Notorious BIG

In the hood most dudes grow up with the perception that the game is their only choice or option. It’s hard to work at McDonalds when your homie is rollin in the Benz-o and rocking the platinum and ice Rolex. The lure of the streets and easy money is a tempting one and when the obstacles- guns, drugs, violence, police, and the ruthlessness of street life- are what you have been facing since day one then the choice is only that much easier. But most dudes don’t figure in the snitch factor. And with all the ugly facets of the game the snitch factor is definitely the ugliest.

Often has been the occasion when someone’s main man, shortie, homie, or dog has slithered from the back of the court to the witness stand.
– Akbar Pray, New Jersey’s Finest

Nothing in the game is sacred anymore. It used to be according to several O.G.’s that principle, honor, respect, strength, integrity, and nobility were characteristics prized in the game but with the feds involved and the mandatory minimum sentences enacted with their 100:1 crack ratio all these ideals have vanished, replaced by disunity, selfishness, and complacency. The game has become a free-for-all. Dominated by hordes of young thugs, unschooled in the old school values of the game with the lead crammed full of the thuglife video imagery force fed by MTV and BET

Fuck the world, pain was a part of the game/If you a baller, money went as quick as it came/My role models gone or they locked in the pen/Straight hustlas, caught up in the whirlwind
-Tupac, The Poet

Chaos rules as cats struggle in the vicious street wars of the inner city replaying and acting out movies like Belly, Paid in Full, and Menace II Society. And don’t get it fucked up. The feds play right into this. Most cats in the hood are now raised with the belief that being arrested and going to prison are normal parts of growing up in America. The gangsta’s paradise, you heard. Dudes are getting involved in the street life at earlier ages then ever before. This is a by-product of the thuglife videos and the images they glorify. Cats want theirs and are willing to do whatever-blah, blah, blah, and the whole nine yards- to get theirs.

Thou shall not steal/But what is he stole from me/thou shall not kill/but what is he’s trying to kill me?
-DMX, The Pit Bull

And in the streets it has gone one step further- thou shall not snitch, but what if he snitches on me? The game is complex and as it has evolved so has the terminology. Now snitching or flipping is called getting down first, getting on the team, or helping yourself. The federal sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimums have turned players into cowards, hustlers into informants, and cold blooded killers into rats. But that is the nature of the game. It is a brutal and an ever changing spectrum.

But snitching on motherfuckers is not new. Even Jesus Christ had his snitch. What’s new is the general acceptance of it. Especially in the game and criminal underworld. Let’s get my man Ron Jordan’s take.

*Yo “G”, what’s up with the snitches? A lot of people are telling now, Because there’s no loyalty, and to many young people entering the game now, not really knowing what this game is, but thinking it is all about wearing jewelry, riding in fancy cars, and getting all the women. But when the time comes up, they start telling, bringing real bothers in. *How do the feds come into it? The feds are just giving out too much time for the crimes committed. It’s plain to see that they’re trying to lose people in the system. And they’re not playing fair. *When do you know to get out? This is a funny question because most of people want to get out after they get an ass-hole full of time, and that’s too late. Sometimes people get out when something dramatic happens to them, like getting shot, or losing a loved one to the game. the object is, don’t get in the game, because once you get in the game, you are a player until the game is over and that’s either death or jail.

It is amazing how many brothers that call themselves gangsta’s have no concept about the law. All the four corner hand-to-hand hustlers, every Don moving major weight, every gang member slangin’ and bangin’, very enforcer or murder-for-hire killer, and every wifey of a player that are struggling in the game all think that they can beat the system and in the game against all odds. They don’t recognize the risks and repercussions.

And even if they did and the scales were all balanced the snitch factor would still tip the scale decidedly. The numbers of all the supposed players, hustlers, and thugs who have snitched on their partners, crew members, or set are extraordinary. And maybe that is the beauty of the game. That every player gambles on that one in a million chance that everybody he knows will keep it real, hold it down, and be a soldier. Because that is the image thuglife conveys. That is the ideal that every player in the game is taught.

What is done in the street stays in the street, that’s how it works.
-Cavario H., Don Diva Magazine

This game is no different from any other played in this world. The only difference is the severity of the consequences, be it death, life imprisonment, or decades behind bars. The game is not for everyone, if it was so many players wouldn’t have weakened when the time came for them to pay the prices for the parts they played. True soldiers stand up. Death before dishonor, you heard. There is an old saying, “If you are gonna do the crime then you gotta be willing to do the time.” In other words, you play, you pay,

A lot of dudes, especially the old heads, claim the game is dead. But like my mans and them said, “The game don’t change, just the players.” And if you want to be portrayed as a drug dealer, gangbanger, or dope boy they got a place for you- it’s called the federal penitentiary. You don’t pass go. You don’t collect $200. You go directly to jail. And there ain’t no get out of jail free card. My man Ron Jordan offers a view from the inside.

*Yo “G”, is the game dead? To me, the game never stops, you just have to find a different game to play because the rules of this game has changed.

Literally hundreds of thousands of players are locked up looking from the inside out. They have witnessed the decimation of a thorough breed. They see their game, which they respected, created, and cultured being ravished like some two-bit whore. The youth of today seems to have no conscious. The love and respect of true gangsta’s, who held it down, has been sucked out of the game and replaced by upstarts, studio gangsta’s fake hustlers, and haters.

You say you a gangsta/but you never pop nothin’
see you a wanksta/and you need to stop frontin’
you go to the dealership/but you never cop nothin’
you been hustlin a long time and you ain’t got nothin
-50 cent, Wanksta

With the rapid proliferation and mass marketing of African American culture and the international explosion of hip-hop, images of the game have been sold to the masses. Would be hustlers have learned their game from movies like Scarface, Oz, Soprano’s and The Godfather. These cats ain’t putting in the real and the feds make very little distinctions between Little Willies and Big Willies. Lieutenants or Kingpins. And that conspiracy law is a bitch.

They say you can recognize game from a gangsta but the word gang has been used too much out of context. When used properly gangsta, means a mothafucka at the top of his game who is doing his “thang” with honor and integrity and leaving others in his dust. But a lot of cats nowadays got it twisted. They all on that studio gangsta shit. Fronting and faking. They becoming hot because of that” high profile video lifestyle. They blowing up, fucking with “hot niggaz”, getting indicted, and having short runs. They balling and thinking they gonna win the game. But they are dead wrong.

Everybody has a plan so don’t fool yourself to think your plan is smarter then the next mans. Nothing is guaranteed in this game but death and prison.
-Aaron Jones, Junior Black Mafia

Players have made millions of dollars in this game and lived extravagant lives. They have also paid the ultimate price, death, or one just as bad, life in prison. But that won’t stop cats from playing. As long as there is cheddar to be had, Escalades to rock, platinum to floss, women to flaunt, and bling-bling to bedazzle- players will be drawn to this game. Consequences or not.

*Authors note
Don Diva magazine was used as a source material for this article and is a very good read for those interested in thuglife. Also the lyrics of the various rappers quoted and opinions and/or comments-attitudes of several federal prisons contributed to the mindset and theme of this piece. I thank them for bringing me to understand the beauty and tragedy of what they refer to as “The Game.”

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