To celebrate my 32nd birthday, I started the Hustle Hard Interview Project. Each month for the next year, I’ll be interviewing one Hustler who embodies a skill or a quality I admire. I hope to uncover some gems that lead me one step closer to being a fully-formed adult.
#7: THE COME UP
When you start out from a place of Nothing and arrive at Something, it’s easy to get caught up in The Come Up. People lose sight of keeping it real and shed their barometer on humility, kindness, and loyalty because it’s easy to replace those qualities with self-importance and entitlement. But Jay Wunder, widely known as the Ghetto Genius, has lost none of his humble, self-deprecating humor or his proclivity to stay loyal to those who loved and cared for him back in the day. He has managed to keep kindness king during his Come Up.
With over 4 million hits on his popular blog, Inside the Mind of a Ghetto Genius, and 160,000+ fans on Facebook, Jay, along with his CREW, dish out real talk advice and cutting-edge humor on a daily basis.
I stumbled onto his site last year and loved it so much, I sent him an email. I didn’t expect a response. Jay not only took the time to email back with a personal response and words of encouragement, but he also asked me to be a part of the CREW. Hanging out with the Ghetto Genius family while writing under the alias “Flo-Rich” has been a test in avoiding arrest and alcohol poisoning. I’m happy to report that the entire CREW has managed to stay true to Jay Wunder’s two rules for our nights together: No one goes off on their own. No one dies.
EJL: I respect people who find a way to get their shit together and make something of themselves, even when they have the odds stacked against them. What gave you the focus to stay out of trouble and pursue your passions?
JW: I’ve had to hustle my whole life. Growing up, I lived in fear because my 4 siblings and I were in an unstable home with an alcoholic father, and the people I knew were heavy into gang activity, drugs, and scamming. I was the first one to go to college, somehow made it through, and ended up in Chicago after I graduated. One night, I was crying, feeling sorry for myself because I had fallen into drugs and seen some shit go down. I still cared about what other motherfuckers thought of me. Then, I starting thinking about my mom who commuted 1.5 hours each way to work for over 20 years and never complained once. NOT ONCE. She supported a family of 7. And I realized that I had no right to fuck up. I owed it to myself and to the people I loved to keep a straight head.
I didn’t need to get into trouble to prove my manhood.
EJL: Is your past what has allowed you to be so compassionate towards the fans who write in seeking advice? A lot of people are so casually cruel in the name of being honest, but you seem to have the perfect balance of keeping it real and not sugarcoating anything while staying away from the unnecessary bullshit.
JW: I’ve been burned a lot back in the day, and I know the hardest thing to accept is honesty. It’s difficult to take advice from people you know, even when it comes from a good place. I think that’s why people write in. And I respect that they trust me enough to share their tough times with me. This isn’t a job for me. I do it because the emails I get back thanking me for 10 minutes of laughter or the clarity I provided keep me going. It’s rewarding.
EJL: Do you ever get hate? How do you not let it affect you?
JW: I almost quit the blog because I got a lot of backlash from people I knew. The day I said, “Fuck what people think,” my whole life changed. No one else is going to make you happy or pay your bills, and you’re going to care about what they think? People say what they say out of jealousy and spite. But I’ve gotten good at pinpointing my Ride Or Dies- the people in my life who have my back no matter what.
EJL: You’ve saved me from myself a few times. If you had to school me on how to be a little more street smart, what would it be?
JW: Know your surroundings. Don’t come off as someone who can be taken advantage of. I always think of the worst case scenario when I’m in a place I don’t know. You can either start shit and get arrested or you can make friends or you can get the fuck out. And unless you owe them money or you gave them herpes, be suspicious of people who try to come back into your life.
(GG and EJL recording. On Instagram.)
P.S. GHETTO GENIUS ON THE RADIO: There is a good chance “Some shit went down” is going to apply to this show. And I mean that in the best way possible. Much love, GG. I got your back. Always.