The Bullet-Riddled Origins of Ride or Die’s and It’s Various Meanings
On May 23, 1934, in the backwoods of Northern Louisiana, Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow’s string of robberies and murders came to an ¬explosive end. Six police officers ambushed them, shooting over 110 bullets into their stolen 1934 Ford Deluxe. When the dust had settled, Bonnie and Clyde had more holes in them than a couple blocks of swiss cheese. And the seed was planted for a phrase that wouldn’t fully blossom for over eighty years.
Bonnie and Clyde were ride or die.
The Legend of Bonnie & Clyde’s Ride or Die Philosophy
Neither Bonnie nor Clyde ever used the phrase ‘ride or die’ as far as we know, they definitely embodied by the philosophy.
Shortly before the shootout that would end their crime spree (and their lives), Bonnie wrote a poem called ‘The End of the Line.’ In it, she foretold what lay ahead…
“Some day they’ll go down together;
And they’ll bury them side by side,
To a few it’ll be grief –
To the law a relief –
But it’s death for Bonnie and Clyde.”
Bonnie was committed to Clyde’s criminal way of life, and she knew that commitment meant that her fate was sealed: She had but one option “ride or die”. In the end, she and Clyde would ultimately do both.
From Bonnie & Clyde to Jay-Z: How Ride or Die’s Meaning Evolved
Over the seventy years following Bonnie and Clyde’s deaths, their legend grew… with a film starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway… and a country music song by Merle Haggard… and an early 90s made-for-TV movie… and a 1993 rap song by Yo Yo and Ice Cube.
By the turn of the millennium, Bonnie and Clyde’s story had seeped into every cultural crevice imaginable. But Hip-Hop went a step further and made this doomed American love story its own.
In 1997, Baby Gangsta released a single called ‘Ride or Die’ that would introduce the now-famous phrase into the cultural lexicon. A year later, Jay-Z would amplify the phrase by covering ‘Ride or Die’ himself. And two years after that, The LOX would put out a duet with Eve called ‘Ryde or Die, B*itch.’
The seed that Bonnie and Clyde had planted with their ill-fated drive across Bienville Parish, Louisiana was beginning to sprout. What had started as one couple’s commitment to one another no matter the cost had become a cultural phenomenon.
As it did, people began to use the phrase ‘ride or die’ to refer to anyone they were utterly committed to. It was used to describe men and women who were faithful even when their faithfulness put them in danger – or worse.
Ride or Die’s and The Relationship with Bike Culture
Although the true origin of ride or die is steeped in folklore and mystery somewhere along the way, the phrase entered bike culture. Not because bikers have an affinity for Jay-Z or UGG boots but because the phrase ‘ride or die’ correctly expresses the affinity most motorcyclist have towards riding.
As ride or die burrowed its way into biker culture, it did so with a slightly different connotation than it had in its Hip-Hop origins. It no longer referred to a woman who was committed to standing by her man no matter what insane thing he did.
In bike circles, ride or die largely referred to a motorcyclist commitment to the love of riding. It was a statement declaring he had only two options in life: he could ride… or he could die, because giving up his bike would be like tearing out his heart. This phrase can be seen strewn across bikes, t-shirts and belt buckles. It has equally permeated through all facets of bike culture, no matter what you ride from crotch rockets to HOGs it has meant the same thing.
Among certain groups of bikers, the meaning of the phrase was slightly more focused. Ride or die didn’t just refer to a commitment to riding. It was about his dedication to the club of bikers he rode with. And in some of those clubs, quitting meant you were signing your death warrant (see 1%’ers to learn more).
The Last Word…
So where does ride or die sits today?
Within Hip-Hop culture, it still refers to a woman that won’t leave her man no matter what. Among basic white girls, it’s a true-blue BFF always down for latte and nails. Motorcyclist still use it to talk about their devotion for the love of riding (or the club you ride with).
Like all language, ride or die will likely continue to evolve and take on different meanings into the future.
Who knows what it may eventually mean among conservative evangelicals… or flamboyant drag-queens… or any of the dozens of other subcultures in modern American society?
Only time will tell. In the meantime, this phrase will always mean something special to those of us that have fallen in love with everything BRAAAP.