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The Origins of Thug Culture

Infamous 90s rappers, The Notorious B.I.G "Biggie" (left) and Tupac "2pac" Shakur (right).

The origins of thug culture can be traced back to the 19th century in colonial India, where a secret criminal organization called the Thuggee operated. The Thuggee were notorious for their ritualistic practices of befriending and then murdering travelers for their valuables. They were known to strangle their victims with a handkerchief or a piece of cloth, and it was believed that they were carrying out these murders as part of a religious rite dedicated to the Hindu goddess Kali.

Richard Tulloch-- "Don't Mess with Kali."

Over time, the term "thug" came to be used more broadly to refer to violent criminals, especially those who were part of gangs or other criminal organizations. The idea of a "thug lifestyle" or "thug culture" emerged in the late 20th century in the United States, particularly in urban areas where poverty, discrimination, and violence were rampant. In this context, "thug" became a term used to describe a subculture that valued toughness, aggression, and a willingness to engage in criminal activities.

Today, the term "thug culture" is often used to describe a range of behaviors and attitudes associated with gang activity, including the use of violence to settle disputes, drug use and trafficking, and a general disregard for the law and social norms.

It's difficult to pinpoint any one individual or group who "promoted" thug or gang culture in the United States, as the roots of this subculture are complex and multifaceted. However, there are a number of social and economic factors that have contributed to the growth and spread of gangs and gang-related activities in the US.

One factor is poverty, particularly in urban areas where there are limited opportunities for education and employment. When people feel trapped in poverty, they may turn to gang membership as a way to gain a sense of identity and belonging, as well as access to material resources such as money, drugs, and weapons.

Another factor is discrimination and inequality, particularly along racial and ethnic lines. Many gang members come from minority communities that have historically faced discrimination and marginalization, and may turn to gangs as a way to protect themselves and their communities from outside threats.

At our parties in 1970s New York, it was about something that was bigger than ourselves,” D.J. Kool Herc said of the influential era that helped give rise to hip-hop.

Finally, there is a broader cultural context in which violence and aggression are often glorified in media and popular culture, particularly in hip hop music and movies. In the 1970s, after the assassinations of major Black leaders & activists Malcolm X, Fred Hampton, and Martin Luther King Jr., you see the genre of Hip Hop emerging to the scene. Deemed the “Father of Hip Hop” DJ Cool Herc “creates the template for the groundbreaking genre at clubs and block parties in the South Bronx. Adapting the style of the Jamaican sound system DJs that Herc (nee Clive Campbell) heard during his youth, he masterfully builds breakbeats, cutting snippets of James Brown and Booker T. & the M.G.s' discs on a pair of turntables — a technique that he termed "the Merry-Go-Round." Herc also rocked the mic, hyping the crowd and his dancing b-boys and b-girls. His innovations inspired Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaataa, and everyone else who worked with two turntables and a microphone.

Thug Culture became very popular among the black community during the era of Tupac Shakur & The Notorious B.I.G. Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace, better known as Biggie Smalls or The Notorious B.I.G., were two of the most prominent rappers of the 1990s, and their music and personas had a significant impact on rap and gang culture during that time.

Both Tupac and Biggie were known for their raw and honest depictions of life on the streets, including the violence, poverty, and gang activity that were prevalent in their communities. They both drew from their own experiences growing up in tough neighborhoods to create music that spoke to the struggles and aspirations of their fans.

Tupac, in particular, became known for his affiliation with the West Coast gang the Bloods, and his music often included references to gang life and violence. He was also involved in a number of highly publicized conflicts and feuds with other rappers and record labels, which only added to his reputation as a "thug" or gangster.

Similarly, Biggie's music often included references to gang activity and violence, and he was associated with the East Coast gang the Crips. He was also involved in a high-profile feud with Tupac, which many believe contributed to the violence that ultimately led to their deaths.

While it's important to note that Tupac and Biggie were not solely responsible for the rise of rap and gang culture in the 1990s, their music and personas certainly played a significant role in shaping the genre and the broader cultural landscape. They both embodied a certain toughness and street credibility that resonated with young people who were looking for an authentic voice to speak to their experiences.

Thug culture has had a complex and multifaceted impact on the black community, with both positive and negative effects. On the one hand, thug culture has provided a sense of identity, belonging, and empowerment for many young people growing up in underprivileged or marginalized communities. It has given voice to the struggles and challenges that many black people face on a daily basis, and has provided a means of expressing frustration and anger at social inequality and injustice.

At the same time, thug culture has also perpetuated negative stereotypes about black people, particularly with regard to violence, criminality, and a lack of respect for authority. It has contributed to a larger cultural narrative in which black people are seen as inherently violent or dangerous, which can lead to prejudice and discrimination in a variety of contexts.

A Coon Caricature stealing to live.

Thug culture has also had an impact on the way that black people are perceived by law enforcement and the criminal justice system. Because of its association with criminal activity and violence, thug culture has contributed to the perception that black people are more likely to be involved in criminal activity, which can lead to racial profiling and discriminatory policing practices.

Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

The most important effect that thug culture has had on the black community is the destruction of the black family, black fatherhood, and the sanctity of marriage. While glamorizing thug behavior such as illegal activities, drug abuse & trafficking, baby mama/baby daddy culture, and going to prison, and violence against the black community, the black community has felt the brunt of single-parent households, high incarceration rate, high mental health and suicide rates, no economic stability, unprotected homes and neighborhoods, and toxic interpersonal relationships.

While thug culture has provided a means of expression and empowerment for many young people, it has also perpetuated negative stereotypes and contributed to the larger problem of racial inequality, subordination, and injustice in the United States (and abroad).

Zhateyah YisraEl

Activist. Educator. Fashionista.

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