Engage & Learn


as in Everyday, I’m Hustlin’….

Merriam-Webster defines to hustle as

  • to jostle, shove
  • to sell something to or obtain something from by energetic and especially underhanded activity
  • to lure less skillful players into competing against oneself at (a gambling game)
  • to make strenuous efforts to obtain especially money or business
  • to obtain money by fraud or deception
  • to play a game or sport in an alert aggressive manner
  • to engage in prostitution

In Fish Men, Cash, Pee Wee and John all exemplify the third definition of hustling. They lure, i.e. “fish” for, people to come and play chess with them for money. The play is set in New York’s Washington Square Park, however, Chicago has its own chess haunt at North Avenue Beach and its own chess hustlers. Meet Ron Washington.

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The term hustle is applicable to more topics than just chess. It has permeated through our culture: in music, movies, t.v. shows and dance. Take a look at some of the most prominent uses of hustle.


The topic of ” hustlin’ ” is popular in hip-hop music. In 2006, rapper Rick Ross released his first single, Hustlin’, off his debut album, Port of Miami. Five years later, the electro group, LMFAO, interpolated parts of the melody in their hit, Party Rock Anthem.

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That same year, rapper Wiz Khalifa released a mixtape, Cabin Fever, featuring his song Hustlin’. Both of these songs address hustling in relation to drug dealing as a way to obtain wealth. Rick Ross alludes to Miami trafficker, “Freeway” Ricky Ross, from whom he derives his name, and other known Colombian and Panamanian drug traffickers. Rather than making specific allusions to drug lords, Wiz Khalifa’s song discusses the aftermath of hustling, i.e. having money to buy weed, flat screen TVs, nice cars and paying one’s girlfriend’s rent.

In 2007, electronic duo, Simian Mobile Disco, released a song titled “Hustler”, in which the lyrics describe a hustler as a person that just takes what they want rather than working for it, even if that work is illegal.

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Hustlin’ is also the title of a 1964 jazz album by saxophonist Stanley Turrentine. The third song on the album is titled The Hustler and is composed by Turrentine himself.

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Outside of apparent stylistic differences, how does each artist treat the topic of husfling differently?


Hustle can also refer to a type or types of dance popular during the 1970s. The term “hustle” is actually a catch-all for a variety of disco dances. Most people associate it with a line dance, here seen in the popular 1977 John Travolta movie, Saturday Night Fever.

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However, the hustle can also be a partner dance with similarities to swing or salsa.

The hustle was popularized in 1975 by the famous song of the same name by Van McCoy and The Soul City Symphony. In this video, you can see variants of both the line and partner dances.

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In television and film, hustlers are often defined as con artists.

The series 5 Hustle title card, taken from series 5, episode 1. Copyright BBC/Kudos.

Hustle is a 2004-2012 TV show by BBC about a group of grifters who’s specialties are “long cons”. A short con involves the con artist cleaning out their victim, or “mark”, of all their money on their person. Instead, the “long con” requires more planning and has the mark acquire more money than what is on his person for the con artist.

Pool hustling, like chess hustling, has had an indelible mark in popular culture. In this arena, hustlers tend to play their victims false, losing multiple games to create a sense of confidence in their mark to make higher bets. When that confidence is established, hustlers will then attack, cleaning their victims of their cash.

In The Hustler (1961), Paul Newman plays pool hustler “Fast Eddie” Felson. He travels across the U.S. to play pool against legendary player “Minnesota Fats”, played by Jackie Gleason. After initially hustling and losing to Fats, Eddie Felson works up the skill and money for a rematch. Twenty five years later, Paul Newman reprised his role as Eddie Felson in the movie, The Color of Money, with Tom Cruise. Both The Hustler and The Color of Money are adaptations of books by Walter Tevis.

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Hustling also refers to the effort it takes to obtain wealth. The 2005 movie, Hustle and Flow, looks at this idea in conjunction with prostitution, another definition of hustling. Terrence Howard was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal of DJay, a Memphis pimp and drug dealer who tries to jumpstart a career as a local rap artist.

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Each genre has treated the topic of hustling as differently and varied as the definitions themselves. How do you think these differentiations occurred? Is there a reason?