Redefining The Word Hustler
Not long ago, the word hustler tended to have a negative connotation attached to it. The first definition I recall assigning to the word myself was a person who conned, swindled, or schemed others out of valuables or assets. Those are the images the word subconsciously brought to mind when I was young, anyway.
The 1961 classic film ‘The Hustler’ starring Paul Newman may have played a part in how we as a society perceived and defined who and what a hustler was. Newman plays a small-time pool shark who uses his talent to target unsuspecting strangers out of money by convincing them to gamble on games, while simultaneously downplaying his level of skill and experience — before trying his luck in the big leagues.
By the 1980s, rap music and the rise of hip hop as a cultural movement defined the word hustler, as more or less a drug dealer. One who made money by illicit means and used it to buy flashy cars, clothes, and homes.
Hip hop and the rap superstars it produced inherently made the word hustler cool among America’s youth — even if it was through glamorizing selling drugs and all of the atrocities and tragedies that tend to come with it.
As much as these two ideas of the word differ, they are based on a similar foundation. This being both revolve around people who come from nothing and find a way to make something out of it, by any means necessary. Individuals who not only did whatever it took to survive but also found a way to obtain a certain amount of glory or notoriety in the process.
This is more in line with how many people including myself define a hustler today. Thanks to rappers who have evolved into billion-dollar brands as individuals and those who have had as much success as entrepreneurs and business moguls as they did musicians, much of the negative connotation once attached to the word has been lifted. Because the word itself has matured over time.
People like Shawn Carter, better known as Jay-Z, who seize one opportunity after the next on their way to becoming billionaires. Their talent is equally matched by their eye for lucrative business ventures, marketing, and branding. They don’t limit themselves to a single sector or industry and therefore have a vast collection of income streams — many of which become autonomous or passive streams over time.
Entrepreneur Gary Vaynerchuk has also played a significant role in helping to redefine what it means to hustle or be a hustler. While Jay-Z infamously started Roc-A-Fella records using money made from selling drugs illegally, Gary got his experience in business by increasing his Dad’s wine company’s revenue by millions annually.
From there, he began sharing how he did so and all he learned about business and branding along the way with the world through vlogs and YouTube videos. He frequently used words like hustle and grind — and still does — to describe his obsessive devotion to his business, his clients, and his work ethic.
For those who may be unfamiliar with Gary, this devotion and work ethic has amassed him a net worth of over $160 Million, in part through early angel investments in companies like Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Venmo, and Uber. He’s also a highly sought-after public speaker and branding/business consultant, as well as the founder and CEO of VaynerMedia and VaynerX.
The first is described as a “modern-day media and communications holding company” and the latter as a “full-servicing advertising agency servicing fortune 100 clients” on his website. Gary has also recently invested in the ever more lucrative legal cannabis industry, as has Jay-Z through the high-end luxury cannabis brand Monogram he helped found.
Oh, and just last week Jay-Z sold half of his Armand de Brignac champagne company to LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moet’ Hennessy) for a rumored estimate of about $315 Million. As well as invested in a financial startup called Perch, which focuses on helping customers in underserved and urban areas establish credit and improve their existing credit scores through subscription services they already use, such as Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime and etc.
The evolution of the words hustler and hustle, along with how far technology has advanced, has birthed new breeds of both business-people and artists. Modern-day mixes of both the boardroom executive and the creator or entertainer — all built into one. What makes these types so successful and leveraged is they no longer need a stamp of approval from the former gate-keepers and so-called kingmakers. They have few people if any to answer to — at least creatively or in their business decisions.
This provides them with the freedom to do things on their own terms and time, as well as keep the lion's share of the profits their work earns — as to where in the past the majority went to labels, publishers, and distributors rather than the person or people truly deserving of it.
They rightfully earn the title hustler, as they often wear multiple or all hats within their company or organization — or in sharing their work or art with the world. They wake up early on a daily basis and grind. These folks are always on the lookout for new opportunities and therefore find them in places that never occur to most people.
We don’t have the luxury of time to waste worrying about what others think or say about us. We are far too focused on what our targeted audience or identified demographic is saying and thinking — and where they are spending their time and attention. We know there’s no value in responding to hateful comments from people who aren’t as successful, driven, or talented as us.
It’s energy that could have been spent coming up with the next good idea, or next hustle. Be it a product, company to invest in, or the next billion-dollar industry we can disrupt or completely overhaul. We’re not afraid of rejection or the word no, and we never take it personally when we hear it. It’s just business. It’s an opportunity to improve, pivot and re-adjust our approach.
Hustlers never let being told no discourage them, because we know it just leaves us free for a better opportunity down the road. If we cannot find an established or previously paved path to our desired destination, we will carve one out or forge one in fire. We will not quit or stop. To hustle is all we know.
It is in our blood and DNA. We inherited it through who we are, we didn’t learn it or pick up any of the necessary characteristics in a classroom. We were forced to find them on street corners for survival, out of a lack of alternative options. It isn’t a job or vocation, it is a way of life and calling.
You don’t get to define us any longer and we refuse to fulfill your idea of who you think we are or what you feel we should become or do next. We slept through our alarms and woke up as The New American Dream anyway.
There is absolutely no telling where the future may lead us or bring us — and we have only us to thank for it — with the exception of maybe all the people who told us no, doubted us, or said we couldn’t.