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Jose Hustle’s Been Had Polo

August 12, 2011

YouTube sensation, Jose Hustle.

Written by guest bloggers LaShaya Howie and Akintoye Moses.

We BEEN considering how to break down the linguistic features of African American English.  BEEN contemplating the oral tradition of boastin’ and braggin’ within the African American experience. The bottom line, is that we BEEN in need of an examination of the complexities of how we, as African Americans, have BEEN using language in profound ways.

Jose Hustle, YouTube phenomenon since 2008, gained notoriety though his charismatic bragging in several of his clips which have gone viral.  Repeatedly, he boasts about his excessive material possessions –his abundance of Ralph Lauren Polo gear, his multiplicity of flavors of Vitamin Water, his ridiculous stacks of paperwork on his desk. Yes —stacks. of. paper.

But something in addition to Jose’s obsession with consumption is drawing hundreds of thousands of YouTube viewers.  Let’s be serious.  Who cares that he has hundreds of Polo t-shirts, some “still in the pack”?  Does it really matter that the mini fridge in Hustle’s dorm room is stocked with every flavor of Vitamin Water? Paperwork???… Who really cares? Actually, we care. We care because we recognize and appreciate that Jose Hustle is performing common aspects of the African American oral tradition.

Jose Hustle has become famous using the catchphrase “I BEEN had ________ (polo/vitamin water/ etc.)”. This phrase makes use of a syntactic construction not found in standard English (“BEEN had”). It’s thought that the first “BEEN had” video was done by a rapper named Ju from the group D4L, in his single Been Had Money. This video then sparked the creation of a number of response videos, including Hustle’s, which went on to gain internet notoriety. But that doesn’t mean everybody gets what he’s saying. In fact, one YouTube commenter had this to say about Been Had Polo:

@youngsheed1: you seem to be confused about the meaning of the phrase “I’ve been had”. It doesn’t mean “i have” (some object) with emphasis, it means “I was the victim of a scam (or similar).”, and takes no object. In addition, the stress generally goes on the “had” (I’ve been HAD!), not the “been”, unless you wanted to emphasize that you’ve /already/ been had.

Unfortunately what this commenter doesn’t realize is that Jose’s use of the phrase “BEEN had” means something different in African American English (AAE) than it does in Standard American English (SAE). In fact,  Hustle is making use of what noted linguist, John Rickford, calls  “stressed BIN” (BIN=BEEN), which is a marker of African American English. It is called “stressed BIN” because of the emphasis the speaker places on the word been in the sentence. Contrary to what the above commenter thinks, the SAE equivalent of “I BEEN had polo” wouldn’t be about getting taken advantage of, but would actually be something like, “I have had many Polo items and for a very long time.”   In one word, Jose’s use of stressed BEEN captures this same meaning; consistency sustained over a long period of time.  Jose says, over and over, that he “BEEN had Polo.” Polo ain’t new to him and he has several t-shirts, jackets, and flip flops to prove that his collection ain’t going nowhere.

Besides his use of BEEN, Jose’s use of language is consistent with African American English oral tradition in another way.  According to another noted linguist, Geneva Smitherman, AAE consists of several distinct features of verbal performance.  In other words, our use of language is often an artistic expression. One of these features is boasting, or more specifically, what Smitherman calls braggadocio. She describes braggadocio as boasting about one’s “physical badness, fighting ability, lovemanship, and coolness.”  In this regard, Jose Hustle epitomizes the pursuit of coolness. We, and the other nearly 240,000 viewers watch, respond, imitate, and in many ways, relate to Hustle. Is it because his piles of Polo make him cool? Maybe. Or is it because we are wowed by his use of language? Perhaps. Or maybe we are attracted to his use of language as art.

Jose Hustle may not change his name to Jose Linguist anytime soon, but he is skilled in what he does—and he may not even realize it because it comes so naturally. He draws you in. He makes you notice him. Maybe he even makes you envy him.  His use of language is undeniable. Through Jose’s flaunting of his material possessions, he commands notice and visibility; triumphantly using an essential part of the African American experience, language.

LaShaya Howie is an enthusiastic recent graduate of NYU with a Master’s in Africana Studies and Museum Studies. She currently works at Weeksville Heritage Center, an African American historic site, in Brooklyn.

Akintoye Moses is an educator, photographer, and poet from San Francisco.  He currently lives in New York City, where he is pursuing an M.A. from New York University at the Gallatin School of Individualized Study. 

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 20, 2012 7:25 am

    I didn’t really get Jose Hustle until I saw a response video. I’m 64, black, female and way too square to catch on too fast to this. After seeing a response video, I have been enlightened. What fun these guys have. Can’t wait to share “I been had polo”.

  2. Brittany Botts permalink
    December 13, 2013 7:46 pm

    My ex boyfriend and I used to make fun of this video all of the time, and now to see it used as scholarship is very interesting. We made fun of it as a talk foreign to our own. Although we both were African American English speakers, the Southern drawl and use of the been had was not the same as our Philadelphia native tongue. I am certain that the ways in which we use African American English in Philadelphia could easily be made fun of by someone from another part of the country. For instance, we would say “been had” and we would also boast and brag, but the way we would articulate and formate our sentences would be different. The video was also made fun of a lot because Polo was no longer seen as something to boast and brag about. In Philadelphia at the time, we were more focused on “been had” Prada sneakers or Burberry t-shirts. It also became a trend o make it look like it was nothing to be “ballin”, which was a form of boasting and bragging within itself because everyone really knew how hard it was for their cousins and friends to purchase these expensive items. We would say, “somethin slight”, which means it is no big deal, or “Man, I do this”, meaning this fashion and lifestyle is nothing new to me. The boasting and bragging also play a role in the flashy and show-off culture that can be seen in African American communities. Where I grew up, you always had to have the latest and the greatest, and it meant more when you could pretend that it all came easy to you.

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