Dyson begins the first chapter with this recurring theme of hustle or hustling. It’s only fitting for a book focused on Jay-Z. Jay-Z, a self-made billionaire, narrates his journey from the bottom to the top throughout his lyrics and he tells a story of fulfilling the American dream. His blackness gives just that much more color to his story as hustling has been a central motif throughout black culture.
Today hustle is a buzzword for a generation obsessed with hard work and grinding. For black people, however, hustle is embedded into our culture not by choice but out of necessity. In America, Black people’s lives have been shaped by restrictions on social mobility, economic prosperity, employment opportunities, and housing prospects. “Black hustling was in part the effort to take hold of the American dream that was touted to the white masses.” (Pg. 18)
Dyson doesn’t fail to point out the duality of hustling. On one hand hustlers are given positive attributes such as builders, doers, and hard workers. At the same time, the word has a negative connotation as it is often associated with illegal enterprises such as drug dealing. Dyson describes this duality as the difference between bright and blight hustling.
Jay-Z’s lyrics narrate a time when he was forced to take a route of blight hustling and joining the underground economy. In his case, bright hustling wasn’t an option. Times were urgent and resources were scarce. Dyson points out that for a long-time blight hustling was the only option for black people. Any sort of Black progression was seen as disruptive to white society. Progressive Black people were seen as uppity and disrespectful.