Harlem Hustle

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Hustle's personal Harlem was sorely in need of a renaissance. For him, it was the place where a scared kid named Eric Samson had been ditched by druggy parents and dismissed by frustrated teachers.

Abandoned to the streets to raise himself, Eric Samson knows life won't be easy, beginning with the choices he must make. The fast cash of the streets still tempts him, but the threat of getting locked up - again - is daunting. Maybe Eric's way out is as Harlem Hustle, the rapper he ...

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Harlem Hustle

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Hustle's personal Harlem was sorely in need of a renaissance. For him, it was the place where a scared kid named Eric Samson had been ditched by druggy parents and dismissed by frustrated teachers.

Abandoned to the streets to raise himself, Eric Samson knows life won't be easy, beginning with the choices he must make. The fast cash of the streets still tempts him, but the threat of getting locked up - again - is daunting. Maybe Eric's way out is as Harlem Hustle, the rapper he dreams of being. At his side is Manley "Ride" Freeman, surrogate brother and best friend. And Jeannette Simpson, the college-bound "round-the-way" girl he hopes will be more than a friend. But does Eric have the strength to leave the familiar street life behind and the courage to reach for his dream?

In her companion to Brother Hood, Janet McDonald once again captures the rhythms of Harlem in this fast, funny story of a restless teenager who uses the power of words to rise above it all.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In this wonderful novel about the hip-hop lifestyle . . .McDonald once again strikes gold. Young adults will love this book." —Starred, School Library Journal

"A vibrant spectrum of oral expression that brings both Hustle and New York City vividly to life." —The Horn Book

"A gripping tale of the hood." —Kirkus Reviews

"Filled with energy and rhythm. Hustle's reality, relayed in urban dialect, will appeal to teen readers, including the reluctant." —Booklist

"McDonald's prose incorporates dynamic, realistic, direct dialogue. Readers will enjoy witnessing the supposedly street-smart Hustle discover how little he really knows about the world and himself." —VOYA

"An inspiring and uplifting, not to mention funny, read." —The Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Children's Literature - Amie Rose Rotruck
Eric Samson, otherwise known as Harlem Hustle, was just arrested for shoplifting. Although he is released, he realizes that his luck with this enterprise might be running out, so he needs another way out of poverty. Armed with his rhymes, he dreams of becoming a famous rapper. His friend and (he hopes) girlfriend, Jeanette, dreams of college. The juxtaposition of their two worlds allows for McDonald to make a rather heavy-handed statement about the rap industry and the state of African-American youth. All too often, adults (such as Jeannette's grandmother) give long-winded speeches that will not capture the attention of any young adult who needs to understand the message. The street language looses any impact it might have or connection it may make with a reader when combined with rather ordinary prose. McDonald quite obviously has a message she wants to send to her readers, but her methods with either bore or insult the very teens she wants to reach.
VOYA - Patti Sylvester Spencer
Although rap might not be this reviewer's favorite art form, she cannot deny that the title character, seventeen-year-old dropout Eric Samson, aka "Hustle," grows endearing as the novel develops. Earnest, energetic, ethically challenged, and ever-so nanve, Hustle meets with his probation officer (shoplifting problems), rides the subway, flirts, and entertains delusions of becoming a platinum-plated rap star in an industry populated by thuggish corruption. Initially Hustle's raps are misogynistic, derivative. Thanks to several significant adult figures, he finds himself more open to poetry, black history, and positive lyrics. McDonald's prose incorporates contemporary culture, celebration of city (including poignant reference to the Twin Towers), and an ear for dynamic, realistic, dialect dialogue-initially nearly as challenging to read as Joseph's speeches in Wuthering Heights-that is refreshingly unlittered with the usual expletives. Even names like Brain Dancers, Hoots, Fort Hardknox, Slangstarr, MC Ride, and Pranksta supply energy and movement. The book title operates on several levels. McDonald's messages regarding dialect adapting to purpose/audience, respect for women, and the significance of history are clear, perhaps heavy-handed at times; however, readers will enjoy witnessing the supposedly street-smart Hustle discover how little he really knows about the world and himself.
Deana Cowan
Harlem is full of energy, life, and diversity. Hustle embodies the spirit of Harlem as a young African American teen with the dream of making it big as a rapper. A smart homeboy, Hustle knows his way around Harlem, where to shoplift and who to get to know to make it in the biz. Hustle is discovered at a party and for a short time believes this is the break he needs to enter the world of hip hop. But he soon discovers the world of rappers in gold chains with music labels is as crooked as the streets of Harlem. McDonald's story is full of the vibrant life that is Harlem, complete with contemporary language of the hip hop culture that appeals to teens of all races and backgrounds. Hustle's story is not predictable in that he examines his old ideas of what makes good lyrics and studies poetry in order to improve his own word play. This contemporary novel provides the interest needed for teen-age boys to get hooked immediately.
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-In this wonderful novel about the hip-hop lifestyle, both its savory and unsavory aspects, McDonald once again strikes gold. She takes readers on a journey with Eric "Hustle" Samson, 17, in his search for money and fame. Abandoned by his "druggy parents," not in school, on probation, taken in by a friend's family, and hustling for money by shoplifting, the teen dreams of becoming a successful rapper known as Harlem Hustle. True, he has talent, but what he doesn't have is a real sense of who he is. What he does have, though, is a couple of friends and some other people who care about him. The author nails the hip-hop lingo and the street slang, and her characters strike just the right attitude. Along the way, she throws in a cultural-history lesson or two and lets the story take off. Young adults will love this book.-Carol Jones Collins, Columbia High School, Maplewood, NJ Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Eric Samson goes by Double H, or Harlem Hustle, and lives with the family of his best friend, Manley "Ride" Freeman. "A wretched child who was never given anything but away-first to relatives, then to neighbors," Double H's thang is rap. Trying to shoplift, he gets unwanted attention from store detectives and then is mistaken for a real rap star. Full of jive talk, rap lyrics and enough blue language to be realistic, McDonald captures the flavor of desperation mixed with bravado that translates into a gripping tale of the hood. Early on, Hustle gets into a flashy party and meets real rap stars, producers and fans. There's a naivete contrasting with his street smarts that captures Hustle's vulnerability as he tries to make a demo and move up. Jeannette, a friend who attends a hotshot prep school and works in publishing, provides a needed contrast of values-as does the incredibly wealthy home of preppy Spencer Adams, a young man learning the family recording industry from the inside. Elements of smartness spar with smart-alecky repartee in this fast-paced ride about a universal longing for excellence at something, and being recognized for it. (Fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374371845
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 10/3/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 192
  • Age range: 12 - 18 Years
  • Lexile: 840L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.59 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

JANET MCDONALD 91953-2007) was the author of three books set in the Brooklyn projects: Chill Wind, for which she received the Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent; Spellbound, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults; and Twists and Turns, an ALA Quick Pick for Young Adults. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and lived in Paris, France.

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Read an Excerpt

Harlem Hustle


IN A BUSTLING MANHATTAN BOUTIQUE, THE GAME OF COPS and robbers was playing itself out with the heart-pounding tension of a bungee jump. Hustle glanced over his shoulder as he walked between racks of warm-up suits. He felt off somehow, unable to tell customers from cops. Everybody seemed to have that Five-O look, the darting eyes, the police academy swagger, the bad vibe.

For both the bungee jumper and the shoplifter, once the leap is taken, there's no turning back. The jumper can't defy gravity, and the thief, once spotted, can't elude security. But Hustle was determined to try. He slipped on a black velour sweat suit top, the price tag sticking out at his wrist, and ran his hands over the fabric. If there were any electronic tags hidden in the cloth, he was going tofind and remove them. His theft-trained fingers felt something hard in the seam of the collar.


Hustle spun around. A young guy in a dark blazer was watching, on his lapel the letters TSU for Times Square Urbanwear, a boutique that not only clothed hip-hop stars but carried their personal brands of overpriced gear and accessories. The store also sold its own fashions under the label GangstaThreads.

"Hey what?" Hustle's body tensed as he spoke the words. This wouldn't be the first time he'd fought off store security. And this skinny dude, he was sure he could handle.

"All those sweats are on sale, but some of the tags still show the old prices. Just so you know."

The sales assistant moved on. Hustle wiped sweat from his eyebrows and hung up the outfit. He thought he saw another guy, tall and bald, scoping him but decided it was just paranoia.

Hustle wandered from one aisle to another, squeezing past shoppers. He circled tables piled high with designer underwear. The store resounded with rap music and cell phone conversations. Like a foul-line shooter tuning out the opposing team's noisy supporters, Hustle heard nothing when he was working. Almost nothing could shake his concentration. Except girls.

Three caught his eye. They seemed to be doing moreloitering than shopping. TSU had become a hangout for penniless project girls hoping to meet stars. And this unholy trinity was undoubtedly straight outta the hood, with their pink and black braided extensions and provocative attitude. Dishin' and dissin', they shouted over the pulsing beats of Ciara's latest hit.

"Oh, check this one out. And that hair, it's irkin' my nerves! How somebody that dark gon' be a blonde? She ain't even trynna make it look real."

"Truuue! She need to be buying husself some new clothes 'cause no she di'ent come out the house wearing them more-Parks-Sausages pants." It was interesting that the girl speaking was quite a bit chunkier than the blonde.

"Oh yes she did, guuurl, and that panty line ... it's cuttin' deep in that butt! What's all that she heistin' anyway? TSU do not take food stamps."

The girls laughed rowdily, giving high fives all around. Hustle had just picked up a white suede hoodie when the blonde in question bumped into him. In her arms she carried a mound of clothes.

"Oops, 'scuse me!" She giggled in a way that made Hustle wonder if the collision was really an accident.

"No problem, shorty." Her eyes held his for a brief moment. The reaction a few feet away was less charitable.

"Oh no she di'ent walk dead into him on purpose with that doll hair weave!"

"Guuurl, no you di'ent say 'doll hair weave'! You need to stop before you make me fall out on the flo' laughin' !"

"Yes, I most definitely did, and if she don't peel them beady eyeballs off me, I'ma go from sayin' to doin'!"

The girls were rolling, tears in their eyes. The blonde glared at her insulters. Then she rolled her eyes as slow and hard as she could and walked away.

Hustle laughed. Girls could be crazy nasty, hatin' on each other at first sight. For no reason. At least a dude always had a reason. Of course, if they had been dudes, somebody would've already been bleeding. Still, he'd rather be beat down with a fist than tore down with a dis. Toe-to-toe, he could hold his own in a brawl with anybody, but words could put more of a hurtin' on a dude than anything.

Hustle had long ago recognized the power of words. They had drawn him as a boy to rap music. When he was in the fourth grade, he found a rhyming dictionary in the school library and wrote his first rap. The kid fantasy later blossomed into a young man's dream. Whether he would stay on the path to make that dream a reality was uncertain. An early detour had already taken a nightmarish turn.


Boosting was all he knew, and he'd been one of the best because he loved it so—the challenge, the adrenaline, and, of course, the money.

He'd started young, after quitting junior high, and had the gift of invisibility. Uniformed guards, plainclothes agents, store personnel, no one ever seemed to see the oddly bulky little boy. As his skills developed, he could leave a store wearing three shirts and a pair of pants under his own clothes without a bulge in sight. His specialization was S & S, a technique of switching and substituting old clothes for new ones. He took orders uptown and filled them downtown. Neighbors called him "Harlem's professional shopper." His famous boast was that he could move merchandise with one eye open. But be they celebrities seeking thrills or hustlers making a living, shoplifters eventually are caught, and the day came when Hustle wished he'd kept both eyes open.

Maybe if he hadn't played hooky the day NYPD guest speakers visited his school he would've learned about advances in store security. And maybe he wouldn't have walked past the sensors of the Leather Outfitter wearing a beautiful royal blue leather bomber he hadn't paid for. And maybe he wouldn't have been exposed by that soft sensor tag embedded in the jacket's lining. But none of these maybes happened, and Hustle was busted, booked, and jailed.

He'd been arrested before and always let go with a warning, thanks to fake names and a baby face. This time he slipped and gave the same false name he'd given once before. That matchup led to a second match, which led tothe truth, and soon Eric Samson and all his aliases were known to the police. Arguing with great skill and truthlessness, his lawyer, Olivia Sigal, negotiated a sentence of probation for misdemeanor larceny. Not, however, before Hustle had spent his seventeenth birthday behind bars, awaiting trial. Shaken by what he'd seen angry men on lockdown do to one another, he made one of those never-again promises people make to themselves in the dark moments of their lives only to blithely abandon with the first rays of sunlight.


Within months of his release he'd followed his desire for easy money back to the doorstep of that same darkness, and entered Times Square Urbanwear, where shoppers zipped up zippers, unbuttoned buttons, and fingered fabric. They bounced and bobbed to the music, some singing along. Hustle held a burgundy fleece jogging suit against his body, running his hands over it for cut and quality. A girl had her eyes on him. He felt them but pretended not to. She looked too young to be undercover, he thought, but you never know. Suddenly she was right there.

"I like how you feeling on that top," she said in a flirty voice.

"Oh yeah?" he answered. Rubbing his chin, he looked her up and down. "When you in the, um, clothing businesslike me, you gotta be able to feeel. Everything." He was close enough to smell her perfume.

"Ooooo," she breathed.

"Like this," he said, touching her hair, "nice ..." Her giggles spurred him on. "You know that Mario song about love?"

"Sheree!" A bull of a woman stomped towards them. "If you don't get your fresh tail"—she gave her daughter's arm a ferocious yank—"away from that—" Hustle stepped back from the woman's blazing glare. "Cain't you see she ain't nuthin' but a chile of thirteen? Ain't got a drop of decency, not a one of y'all!" She whacked the girl's head and dragged her away. "Just you wait till I get you home!"

Copyright © 2006 by Janet McDonald All rights reserved

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted November 22, 2013

    The main character of this book is a teenager named Eric Samson.

    The main character of this book is a teenager named Eric Samson. But he goes around by the name Harlem Hustle or Double H. It begins with Hustle trying to get into the Harlem hustle lifestyle. Hustle goes around selling merchandise and going into clothing stores shoplifting once when eyes were lifted off of him. Hustle meanwhile was about to get into a fight with three girls who were coming at Hustle like a pack of pit bulls, and a detective had to break it up. Meanwhile, Hustle runs into this girl he has been liking for a long time named Jeannette Simpson and he asks for her number, she didn’t get it to him because she didn’t hear him at the last minute. Hustle got pick pocketed by these two twin girls in the subway and was livid after finding out his chain was taken. Hustle and his friend Ride went into a club where a popular rapper named “Pranksta” was at, and he gave Hustle an opportunity to meet up with the record label owner. Later on, in the same day, Hustle meets Jeannette again, but this time at Harlemites, and they begin to talk to each other. 
    Jeannette doesn’t want to show hustle any sign that she likes him because she thinks that if she doesn’t show any sign, then he would become a good guy. Hustle meets up with the record label owner Tony Motta and they begin to talk about making a deal with the record label. Hustle talks about how everything that happened to him doesn’t meet up with the other and he doesn’t get why it doesn’t. Hustle goes and meets Jeannette’s grandmother, and his first impression wasn’t living up to Jeannette’s grand mom expectations. What made it bad was the rap “Backseat Shorty” he rapped to her grand mom that made her so mad that she was thinking he was just trying to use Jeannette. Later, the next day Hustle and Jeannette have a conversation about Hustle’s label signing situation, and Hustle is not happy about what Tony Motta did to him, mentally and physically.  
    Hustle looks for some help some friends who have people in the music game and he goes to Spencer also known as “Suspense”. He asks Spence if he could get a favor from his dad because Tony Motta ripped him off. Spence’s dad gave Hustle a 3,000 dollar check and when Hustle left, he told Spence that there are so many more black teens who are good as Hustle was at rapping. Hustle meets up with his probation officer who asks Hustle every time they meet up, has he been staying out of trouble, and Hustle responds the same thing every time by saying yes. Jeannette’s grandmother gives hustle a book on all of the old rappers who were good and didn’t use negative phrases all the time.  Hustle gives his mom his check so that she can cash it in at her bank into her bank account. Hustle took Jeannette and her grandmother to a poetry event and he gave a positive poetry to the audience, and everybody liked it. Hustle goes to the “Slammin Slummers” event at Street Sage Academy, and performs his rap and receives a loud applause from the audience again.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 14, 2011

    Highly Highly Smiley Recommended - you must check it out!

    wow this is a great book it shows some things thats really happen in the real world

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2007

    Harlem Hustle

    Eric Samson aka Harlem Hustle is a young black high school dropout who has been in and out of jail for due to petty theft.Eric has dreams of becoming a big time rapper and has some hard choices to make about his life. Along the way Eric meets a girl who isn't really that excited about him being a dropout but likes him alot and gives him a chance. throughout the book Harlem is faced with life changing decisions that can open up the eyes of a lot of teenagers.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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