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The expression “hustle culture” refers to workplace environments that place an intense focus on productivity, ambition, and success, with little regard for rest, self care, or any sense of work-life balance. (www.talkspace.com)

As a trend it dates back a few decades ago:

In fact, this culture has existed since the 1970s, at which time the development of the industry was accelerating and employees were required to work at a fast pace without any time limits. In 1990, technology companies also began to dominate the world so that a new standard emerged for young people to overwork. (www.bfi.co)

Curiously Google Ngram has no reference about this expression so, apparently, it is a quite recent coinage.

I can guess it is an American expression, but when and possibly by whom was “hustle culture” coined?

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5 Answers 5

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Hip Hop Hustler to Side Hustle to Hustle Culture

In US usage, "hustle" started taking on a meaning of "work hard" in Hip Hop in the 1990s. (maybe earlier, but that's when I became a aware of it.)

See 2Pacs Discography for a quick example: he guest appears on a track called 4 tha Hustlas in 1997, and makes an appearance on an album whose name includes Hustlin' in 1998.

In this usage, hustle means "hard working" but in a context that is entrepreneurial and possibly illegal. The implication is that it's hard work to get rich selling drugs, but real "hustlas" can do it.

By the early 2000s, this lead to the birth of the "side hustle." The side hustle is the idea that you can run a small business or other money making venture in your off time, often in the hope that it can grow to replace your day job.

In this meaning it loses the implication of illegal activities.

Eventually, people began identifying this as "Hustle Culture" with the negative connotation OP identified.

NPR Code Switch Weighs In

After I wrote all this, I found an NPR article from 2020 that more or less agrees with my analysis, though they trace the roots in African American culture back much further, and highlight the rise of the gig economy.

The gig economy part rings very true to me - hustling was associated with gig work, so when gig work seemed cool and new, hustling was positive, but as gig work was perceived as more and more coercive, hustling took on a more negative implication.

I expect the negative connotations likely first appeared around 2014.

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  • Perfectly matches my experience with the term, +1 and thank you for writing it.
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 20:56
  • Interesting answer. As for its usage in Hip Hop music I guess it is different from that made earlier in Disco Music by Van MacCoy en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hustle_(song)
    – user 66974
    Commented Mar 28, 2023 at 7:46
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The earliest reference I can find to it in the modern sense comes from this 2011 BBC article:

He said: "Education... takes second place to notions of entrepreneurship as, predominantly our young men, get involved in the informality of what the University of the West Indies academics, Witter and Gayle, have called a 'hustle culture'."

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to track down the paper where Witter and Gayle supposedly use the phrase, so I'm not sure if they coined it or just helped to popularize it.

Edit: I did find this citation in another paper:

Witter, M. (1980) Hustle Economy: Essay in Conceptualisation, The University of the West Indies, Mona.

I'm not sure if that book ever uses the phrase "hustle culture" (as opposed to "hustle economy"), since I can't find a copy online. But it is by the Witter (of "Witter and Gayle") mentioned above; if it uses the phrase "hustle culture," then it would predate the 1981 citation below.

Either way, it does seem like this phrase originated in the Caribbean, ignoring scattered references elsewhere.

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    But that usage has nothing to do with workplace burnout. Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 16:20
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    @TinfoilHat I think most of the articles now say that "hustle culture" is a source of burnout, not that it is burnout. It hasn't always been used negatively; see this 2015 podcast which may have popularized the term.
    – alphabet
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 14:00
  • We’re looking for — as stated by the OP — “workplace environments that place an intense focus on productivity, ambition, and success, with little regard for rest, self care, or any sense of work-life balance.” The term was used in that sense in 2010 by the New York Times (and maybe earlier, but that's the best I could do). That 2015 podcast is about entrepreneurship. Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 15:40
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    @TinfoilHat “Hustle culture” was originally (albeit briefly) used with positive associations; it was only later that it became associated with burnout. But the term didn’t really change per se; it always referred to a kind of dedication to “the hustle” of building up one’s value and productivity. Originally, that dedication was touted as a good thing, but it quickly became condemned as unfair, unhealthy, even dangerous. (Source: lived experience with people using the term.)
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 18:42
  • As I read more about this, it’s clear that “hustle culture” comes more directly than I realized from much older uses of “hustle,” and had both positive and negative associations going back quite a long way, and that “hustle culture” itself also had a longer history than I knew within certain cultural spaces that I am largely unfamiliar with. When I say “originally” and “briefly” in the previous comment, that was to refer specifically the the emergence of “hustle culture” into my perception of the mainstream, and how long that took to turn negative.
    – KRyan
    Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 21:15
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Way back, it seems:

HUSTLE CULTURE IN AMERICA and a sub-heading: Hustle Culture Absurdities

The article is basically a diatribe against women pursuing activities through clubs and courses, which this author and another called the "Self-Course Movement".

Please note: the word hustle does not appear in the actual writing and is not defined. It is quite amusing as it is so dated.

Please do click through and read it.

Date of Publication: January 28, 1910, Page 67 in Google Books

T.P.s Weekly - A British Publication

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    But that usage has nothing to do with workplace burnout Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 16:36
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    @TinfoilHat hustle culture is just about hustling. Hustling can take many forms and is not just related to workplace burnout. It just means a culture of moving very fast to get things done or even doing semi-legal things. fraud, swindling, fast-moving, also to hustle a deal or person.
    – Lambie
    Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 16:50
  • I know what hustle’s various meanings are. OP wants to know when hustle began being used in reference to the overworking go-go culture in the workplace. Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 17:51
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    Literally referring to the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary, hustle culture means pushing someone to move faster aggressively. In simple terms, hustle culture means a culture that makes people move more quickly or aggressively, in this case a matter of work culture. Defined as a culture that encourages employees or workers or laborers to work more than normal hours. They even think about work when they have free time, such as weekends. This culture requires them to complete a job on target and precisely to a faster rhythm than usual. (www.sampoernauniversity.ac.id)
    – user 66974
    Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 18:09
  • @user66974 — We know that sense of the word; it was already provided by the OP. The question is: When did it first appear in that sense? Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 18:22
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I can't find the coinage, but here's an early instance of it from one of the many volumes of El Caribe Contemporaneo, a periodical review published by the University of Texas in the late 20th century. This particular passage is from the 1981 publication:

Es necesario tomar en cuenta esta presión sobre las condiciones de vida, para explicar la hustle-culture (cultura de hiperactividad laboral), que comprende a la gran mayoría de la población surinamesa.

In order to explain hustle culture (culture of hyperactive labor), it's necessary to take into account the living conditions of the general Surinamese population.

It's kinda cheating because this is in Spanish, but the fact that the authors chose to use an English phrase (though it's hyphenated) means that it was at least a somewhat established term. Presumably, 'culture of hyperactive labor' could be extended to describe a culture where workers are expected to work long hours, perhaps to an excessive degree.

And this snippet from Bobbi Lee, Indian rebel' (1990) talks of a hustle culture that "keeps capitalism alive."

But judging by the results from Google Books, the majority of the term's usage has been in the past decade or so, especially in the modern sense.

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    Have you looked at the full text? Google Books quite often gets dates wrong, especially of periodicals. It would be very interesting if it was from 1981, and you could establish that from access to the journal. On the other hand, from the snippet view it's impossible to tell the true age.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 18:13
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    How do you come to translate cultura de hiperactividad laboral to work-related pressures? I get culture of labor hyperactivity. Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 18:38
  • @TinfoilHat - yours is a literal translation, mine is a liberal one. I'll edit it and retranslate it more faithfully. Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 18:49
  • @StuartF - I added some context relating to the publication. Unfortunately, there's no readable online version of the text, but looking through this makes me feel fairly certain that Google Books did indeed get the correct date. Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 19:01
  • Here’s the full doc you reference (see page 54 by search number, 52 by page number). Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems they’re not talking about the Surinamese knocking themselves out at the office, but of their need to seek extra work due to economic conditions. Also, it has been translated from English to Spanish, hence the English hustle-culture. Commented Mar 26, 2023 at 20:04
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Looking specifically for references to workplace go-go (not side hustles, not entrepreneurship, not scams, not the dance), as defined by the OP . . .

. . . workplace environments that place an intense focus on productivity, ambition, and success, with little regard for rest, self care, or any sense of work-life balance.

This took quite a bit of searching, one year at a time, and I won’t proclaim that this is the very first occurrence of “hustle culture” (the term, not the concept), but I’m going to go with 2010, based on the below excerpt from a Forbes article.

Ten Questions For Billionaire Darwin Deason
Forbes
Nov 4, 2010

Deason who founded Affiliated Computer Services in 1988 as a bank data processor, credits much of his success to having instituted a “hustle” culture in which people come in earlier, stay later and do more for the customer than the next guy. Deason, who sold ACS to Xerox in February, had this advice for fellow self-starters.
. . .
8) What book should every entrepreneur read?
My hustle quotation book, which features hustle quotations from a lot of great leaders, and the Bible.

Source: Forbes — Ten Questions For Billionaire Darwin Deason

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    Do you have any evidence that ChatGPT didn't simply hallucinate the "early to mid-2010s" part? It's very prone to doing such things. Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 11:56
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    (FWIW, I just tried your prompt a couple of times with GPT-4. While it did fairly consistently suggest that hustle culture "gained significant attention and discussion in the early 2010s" or something similar, it also for example hallucinated a nonexistent "2014 New York Times article titled 'The Gospel of the Hustle'" as a "notable example of the term being used".) Commented Mar 27, 2023 at 12:09

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