Menu

Hustling FEMA: Juvenile’s Response To Surviving Katrina

Steven Wishnia Sep 26, 2006

For the last 25 years, right-wingers have been hectoring America’s poor to stop depending on government handouts and be self-reliant. So they might like the opening lines of New Orleans hip-hop artist Juvenile’s response to Hurricane Katrina: “It’s crunch time now, fellas, no time to be cryin’ for mama.” On the other hand, the particular style of entrepreneurship endorsed in the track, “Get Ya Hustle On,” isn’t exactly legal: “We take the Pyrex and then we rock with it, roll with it.” In fact, it’s a ghetto Halliburtonism, a low-budget leveraging of government funds for personal profit:

Everybody needs a check from FEMA
So he can go score him some cocaina
Get money! I ain’t gotta ball in the Beemer
I’m just trying to live, I lost it all in Katrina

The track – added to the Reality Check album after the flood – has got plenty of bounce, jeeping along off an ascending four-chord groove, and Juvenile raps with a fine mix of rhythmic punch and flow. Leftists will appreciate the denunciations of politicians as hypocrites and the angry observations of the post-flood chaos: “We’re starving, we’re living like Haiti without no government/ Niggaz killing niggas and them bitches is loving it/ Fuck Fox News, I don’t listen to y’all ass/ Couldn’t get a nigga off the roof with a star pass.” On the other hand, it’s ultimately depressing. It’s one thing to see things as they are with clarity and rage, but is the only way out one that’s carcinogenic to the community? No possibility of revolution or solidarity? Is this the result of the nation being hammered for 25 years with the pervasive and obsessive cult of the market?

“The truth came out and the answer is: They ain’t gonna give a fuck about us,” Juvenile told AllHipHop.com last winter. But asked if the album signified a new era of political-mindedness for him, he answered, “I’m not like that. All you’re gonna catch me doing is telling my people, ‘Get what the fuck you gonna get and get it right now,’ man.”

I suppose this is the same debate that’s been roiling the more conscious factions of the hiphop world ever since N.W.A. blasted outta Compton a generation ago with a dealerfinanced demo and a vial of verbal AK-47s. Still, “Get Ya Hustle On” is catchy as fuck. I put it on a mix CD segueing into Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues.”