I’ve been meaning to write this article for some time but held off on it due to my not wanting to step on toes etc. I have a married friend who has not spent any time in prison, has a beautiful family and has no street gang or organized crime affiliation. Yet without hesitation I can say he is the most “gangster” individual I know. How is this? Well the term originated with organized crime, it was something that outsiders would call the wiseguys and the clubs of fellas that were doing their gang thing on the streets back in the day. As time passed and Hollywood became involved, the dangerous wiseguy of the slums became idealized into a street knight who chooses illicit ventures to profit while sticking to a harsh code of discipline. When musicians started claiming to be gangsters, they would reference street legends and movie stars, the latter being the majority of what a gangster is to them. Not only did this dilute the meaning of gangster but it actually changed it. Lots of these guys are not even in gangs – so my point is this, the term gangster is a fantasy.
Where gangsters were gentleman criminals, a thug was a negative term used for murderers, rapists and thieves. To be a thug meant you carried the stigma of being shady, ruthless and dangerously criminal. A gang of thugs are not gangsters, they are a gang. Unlike gangster, thug is not romanticized in the English language no matter how much these rappers try to tell you different. Some women have adapted the word as almost a term of endearment for the “bad boys” that they pursue. I guess being referred to as a thug feels a bit better than being called a “bad boy” but let’s be real here, it’s the exact same thing. Thugs are not gangsters, thugs are bad boys – ie: they are guys playing “dress-up” to look the part of a thug. Real thugs will shoot you, rob you, rape you and they do get locked up. Turn on the show Gangland, or Gang Nation and you will see true thugs. Most of these women claiming to “like thugs” could not handle a real thug. They like bad boys, so let’s stop with the facade.
What is the true definition of Gangster?
Gangster mentality is doing what you have to in order to earn and be comfortable. Gangsters are as macho as they come, they can pull a lady with ease but you won’t find them dressing like one (should I repeat this?) Gangsters take care of their loved ones, they scoff at wheel spinning, being in the rat race and are ambitious to a fault. Gangsters don’t get into screaming matches in confrontations, it is seen as effeminate. A Gangster says his piece and you either follow it or face the repercussions. Gangsters don’t dress up to look like thugs, they are generally clean shaven, void of tattoos and dress nicely. A Gangster can blend into any social atmosphere, as opposed to a thug who makes women clutch their purses.
So do you understand the difference now? Gangsters are rare, when I see a random dread-locked rapper claim to be gangster it makes me laugh. To me he looks more like the “thugs” I watch on the daily news shooting innocent children and old women. But the truth is I don’t know that rapper personally, maybe he is a gangster and chooses to wear the outfit of a thug… one never knows. I will now list off real Gangsters and Thugs (oft times mistaken as Gangsters due to dress and affiliation) from some of the more popular movies as an illustration of the difference between the two. See if you can pick up on the pattern…
Movie Gangsters (mentality/actions)
- Vito & Michael Corleone – The Godfather
- Frank Lucas – American Gangster
- Danny Ocean – Ocean’s Eleven
- Frank White – The King of New York
- Carlito – Carlito’s Way
- Chili Palmer – Get Shorty
Movie Thugs (mentality/actions)
- Tony Montana – Scarface
- Arthur ‘Cody’ Jarrett – White Heat
- The Joker – The Dark Knight
- Tony Soprano – HBO’s The Sopranos
- Nino Brown – New Jack City
- Tommy DeVito – Goodfellas
So you see ladies with the “bad boy” boyfriends and husbands, there’s a huge difference so don’t get it twisted. Playing “dress up” does not one a Thug make. I hope this helps to clear up the confusion that studio gangster rappers and skinny jean wearing “bad boys” have caused in using this terminology in their raps.See some words or phrases that you don't understand? Check out The Dragon's Lexicon.