Where Marx Meets Migos

The rap trio’s usage of bougie preserves the philosopher’s original intention.

Illustration of a person wearing a crossword jacket and sitting at a desk, working on a crossword puzzle on a laptop. An "I Heart Crosswords" poster is taped up on the wall.
Araki Koman

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“You know something, we ain’t never really had no old money,” the Migos member Offset begins the trio’s 2016 megahit, “Bad and Boujee.” “We got a whole lot of new money, though.” Although there are differing opinions about whether boujee and bougie mean the same thing, two things are certain: Both words flooded into the popular lexicon at about the time of the Migos hit, and, no matter which spelling you choose, the word has something to do with class. The original derivation is from bourgeoisie, a French word just as difficult to spell as it is to pronounce, that is most commonly used to refer to the affluent social class (middle or upper middle) whose material interests are tied up in the means of production and private property. So how did the term evolve all the way from Marxist theory to mainstream trap music?

The origins of the term are intricately linked with the formation of capitalism itself. From the same root as borough or the city-making suffix -burg, bourgeois literally means “town-dweller” in Old French. The term was used to refer to the new class of artisans and tradesmen that formed the basis of the first European capitalist bourgs (walled market towns) of the 11th century. The city-dwelling bourgeoisie leveraged their position as mercantile intermediaries between the old feudal classes of landowners and serfs to create surplus capital for themselves, driving the rise of urban capitalism that ultimately led to industrialization. Marx traced this economic development to the formation of the bourgeois class, who exploit the working class by means of their private ownership of either the means of production, land, or both. He also used the term more broadly to describe the consumerist lifestyle of this new leisure class.

Flash forward to more than 100 years after Marx’s death, and you can watch Atlanta rappers chant the term to an accompaniment of office supplies on The Tonight Show. Variants of the truncated term were used in Black American music as early as the late 1970s, when Gladys Knight mockingly chided her “bourgie” ex-lover (keeping the r from the French spelling on the word’s journey to Americanization) for getting lost in his newfound materialism to the detriment of his personal relationships. So when Migos brought bougie or boujee into mainstream usage in hip-hop and beyond, the meaning was hardly different from Marx’s original intention: exhibiting the conspicuous and materialistic consumption patterns of newly acquired class power. Perhaps when Offset confesses that he and his family “never really had no old money … we got a whole lot of new money, though,” he’s expressing something similar to the inner monologue of an early capitalist bourgeois artisan—a sentiment reflected simply in the Wednesday clue: “Affectedly luxe.”