Story time! So, what makes a Hustler? Travel with me as I relate stories of moments that changed my life.
I guess I should start this new series of blog entries off with an introduction.
I used to live in a world just below yours. Some call it the Underworld. When people hear that term they immediately think hardened criminals, shady drug deals and sleazy dens of gambling and partying with danger lurking behind every door.
Some of you all watch too many movies and listen to too much gangsta rap.
The Underworld is a world that operates with a different set of rules and laws than what many of you are accustomed to. It’s a place where a person has to rely on their reputation to speak for them, long before they say a word. A place where you are judged not by a court of law, but by those you associate with. It’s a place where a person has to use whatever resources they have available and where the penalties of crossing too many lines are severe.
Some of you say, that doesn't sound that much different than the "real" World – I used to think the same way.
Back when I was introduced to the Game I was already pushing my head against a wall trying to Hustle. My dream, like it has always been, was to be my own boss – to be an entrepreneur. My road was filled with valleys and peaks – gains and losses, wins and defeats. But I persisted. Some called me stubborn, others hard-headed but to myself I just thought I was doing what I was made to do.
One of my many “mentors” was an older black man who went by the name ‘Zar’. Zar was in his early 60’s and was a stone cold Player in his younger days. He went from coast to coast all throughout the United States doing what Hustlers do, hustle.
Imagine a thin older man with a short salt and pepper afro. He didn't talk much; I would say he talked just enough. He didn't dress like a Player. Most Players might not dress in the latest fashions, but they do make sure they always ‘look’ the part of whatever it is they’re playing.
Not Zar though. He wore faded jeans, “high-water”, they stopped right above his ankles. All his pants were the same, he bought them like that on purpose. Around his right ankle, outside his low-cut socks, he wore a threaded orange anklet, faded just like most of his clothes. I always meant to ask him what it symbolized, but I never did.
His overall look was a little ridiculous, I won’t lie. People laughed at his appearance and when they asked him his name, they laughed again. A black man calling himself Zar? What the hell kind of name was that?
‘Zar’ was his personal spelling of the word ‘Czar’ or ‘Tsar’ which is both Slavic and Russian. It is derived from the Latin word ‘Ceasar’. Czar basically means ‘King’ or ‘Emperor’. Squares (average people) were calling him a king and didn't even realize it. Game recognize Game.
Like a lot of star Players in the 70’s and 80’s, Zar developed a bad drug habit and that was the beginning of his down fall. And even with that habit he still owned real estate which he rented out while he humbly lived in a small one-bedroom apartment with his girlfriend.
I was without transportation at the time and Zar ran a gypsy cab. Meaning, you pay him, he takes you where you want to go, no questioned asked. A Hustler has to Hustle you know.
We had a lot of interesting conversations in that small red gypsy “cab” of his. One conversation I remember in particular was about success.
“You know,” Zar said looking at me while doing his usual turtle-paced freeway driving, “people have it wrong ya know?”
“What do you mean?” I asked turning to look at him.
“Everyone wants to make it, but they don't realize what happens at the top.”
“Care to stop beating around the bush and saying what you’re trying to say?” I said.
Zar shook his head. He was about to lay some Game on me. He knew I would understand it so he continued. “Everyone’s running around in their own little box. They can’t see shit with their heads covered! People trying to do this and that. Trying to be successful. But Shai (my Hustler name at the time), you know what they’re missing?”
I shook my head and listened intently.
“There is always a group behind the scenes. The ones really running shit. You ever heard of the Dixie Mafia?” Zar asked.
“Dixie Mafia? Nah man, never heard of that. Sounds country as hell.” I said.
“The Dixie Mafia were some ‘good ole boys’. They ran bootleg liquor and guns in the South. Big time. You know what happened to them?”
“Zar, I never heard of them. Come on, man.”
“They crossed the line,” Zar went on without skipping a beat, “You see Shai, when the white man says he has an industry, that means he owns it. He controls it. Just like we [black people] used to run Numbers back in the day. We were locked up over that. He shut us down and then he goes and creates the lottery. Same Game, but now he runs it and controls it. If he doesn't have his hand in it, he’s only going to let you get so far. You gotta pay to play if you want to get past the gate.”
I didn't see where this conversation was going. I figured he was probably drinking again and was just rambling off at the mouth. But that’s when he said something profound.
“Everything has a group of influencers. They’re the gate keepers. They sit back in their offices, smoking their cigars. They decide what comes, what goes and who comes and who goes. When you play their game, you have to have those gate keepers on your side. It’s always their rules, you have to kiss a little ass. So, when you play your Game, you have to make sure that you’re always at the top of your [supply chain]. Real Hustling is about being the manufacturer, not the [retailer]. If you can’t do that, then you need to be able connect the maker with the [retailer]. You have to play the middle… Hustle your way IN to Hustle your way OUT. No Hustle lasts, just like no kingdom in history lasted forever. No person lives forever. Everything is [born], rises and falls. Success is temporary and so are losses. Once you’re at the height of your Game, you need to be ready to move on to the next or it’s going to take you down with it. That’s the price of success Shai.”
As soon as those words left his lips I could feel them resonating with me. The truth has a way of touching you when you’re ready to hear it.
“You got it Shai,” Zar said, “You’re going to be a millionaire one day. You have what a lot of these niggas don’t. You have Hustler in you. I see it in the way you carry yourself. You’re going to make it; just don’t forget [nothing stands still].”
Of all the people I remember since being a young boy, not one person – family, teacher, preacher, girlfriend, employer or anyone else, ever told me that I was going to be successful. This older, funny dressing man was the only person to ever say he believed I could achieve greatness. I haven’t heard it since, but I don’t need to. I tell it to myself daily.
Learn yourself, so you can know yourself and then you can really trust yourself. Thank you for reading.
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