Symbolisms have always been a part of art (music included). Over the years, signs and symbols have always been a strong part of the hip-hop/rap culture.
The four-finger hand sign had always been used by rap artists from the earliest days of the rap culture. Rappers like 2pac Shakur, Dr Dre and Snoop Dogg have all played important roles in popularizing the four-finger symbol.
Contrary to what many people wrongly interpret it to be, the four-finger shows representation and allegiance to the West Coast. Rappers like 2pac, Snoop, and others all made use of this sign.
In this article, we will take a look at some historical perspectives on the four-finger symbol, and discuss in detail why some rappers did it and still do it.
Also, will discuss different variations and how some rappers modify this cultural symbol.
Meaning of the Four-Finger Sign in Rap Music
The four-finger sign has been a part of rap music from the early days of rap itself. With roots in West Coast hip-hop since the early 90s, this hand gesture has become a standard in the hip-hop world.
Many artists and fans alike from other regions have also come up with their own hand gestures for themselves.
The standard four-finger sign, in which the middle finger rests on the ring finger while the pinky and index fingers stay upright, is used to signify the West Coast.
Rappers such as Tupac Shakur and Dr Dre were among the first artists to use this sign.
This style of the four-finger sign stands for the letter ‘W’ which is used as an acronym for the West Coast. This is why this sign is also commonly referred to as the ‘Westside Sign’.
It is used to display their association with the West Coast of America, the region where these rappers came from. Rappers from states such as California tend to use this sign the most.
It is a way for them to show respect to the West Coast or exhibit their association with that area, other artists from that area and even fans from the West Coast.
Rappers Who Frequently Used and still Use the Four-Finger Symbol
The Westside sign has become a staple for rappers hailing from the West Coast. Nearly all rappers have used this sign at some point or another. Here are some of the most prominent names that have used, and continue to use, this sign.
1. Eazy E
As a member of N.W.A and the founder of Ruthless Records, Eazy-E was a key figure in the rise of West Coast gangsta rap. He frequently used the four-finger sign in his music videos and promotional photos.
He was a very popular figure in the hip-hop scene in the early 90s and till today is considered one of the best rappers to come out of the Westside.
2. The Game
The Game became popular in the late 90s and early 2000s with a few solo releases and also some tracks with 50 Cent. For some time he was also a member of the G-Unit.
The Game has used the four-finger sign to represent his affiliation with the Bloods gang and his pride in being from Compton, California.
He is a longstanding member of the Bloods Gang and has faced several personal, legal and professional challenges due to this affiliation.
3. Snoop Dogg
As a protégé of Dr Dre, Snoop Dogg helped popularize the West Coast gangsta rap sound in the early 1990s. He has been seen throwing up the four-finger sign in many of his music videos and performances.
Snoop Dogg is one of the longest-serving hip-hop artists from the Westside and continues to release singles and albums to this day. The Westside sign is a common feature of his music videos.
4. Ice Cube
A founding member of N.W.A and one of the most influential West Coast rappers of all time, Ice Cube has been known to throw up the four-finger sign in his music videos and performances.
Ice cube later on went to establish a good acting career. In many roles on the big screen, he is also shown as a Westside rapper.
Another legendary West Coast rapper, Tupac often used the four-finger sign to represent his affiliation with the “Thug Life” movement.
This was a sign that also became an iconic gesture after Tupacs’ heated hip-hop rivalry with his East Coast rival Notorious B.I.G.
Other Meanings of the Four-Finger Symbol
The four-finger sign is something that is not only limited to the rap and hip-hop culture. Symbolism using the hands has been used for a variety of purposes from communication to sports to even politics.
Here is a look at some other mediums in which four-finger hand signs are commonly used.
In 2020, the Canadian Women Federation developed a hand signal that women could use to signal for help.
Domestic violence was increasing exponentially as people were going into lockdown and women needed a way to seek help without getting on the radar.
For this signal, the distressed will point their palm towards the camera, tuck their thumb into their palm and then fold the remaining four fingers over the thumb.
This makes a specific kind of fist sign that you can use to signal for help without making a sound or attracting too much attention. A lot of women have sent video messages for help using this signal which only takes a second to do.
In 2021, there was a flood of TikTok memes where people get pictures of celebrities doing the standard four-finger sign and share that as a joke.
The idea behind it was that people showing a sign with the four-finger gesture were signalling that they were gay but weren’t yet comfortable bringing this to the mainstream.
It turns out that there is no hard evidence about this gesture and it may have just been a troll post that went viral or a joke that someone did and it got more attention than it deserved.
This trend has faded out but there are still some TikTokers that use this just as a joke to tease people about homosexuality.
American football is filled with all kinds of hand symbols that help communicate messages, strategies and even personal comments amongst players, coaches and the audience alike.
The four-finger hand signal in football typically signals the fourth quarter of the game; the most crucial quarter of the entire game.
Typically, players will do this signal to their fellow comrades and even the audience members will do this signal to the players at the end of the third quarter.
In a way, this is to tell each other that they need to get over what has happened in the first three quarters and bring all their focus and energy to this last segment of the game.
This is the most pivotal part of the game and even a losing team can turn out to be the winner if they perform well in the fourth quarter.
Some players also use it as a sign to say they are about to bring their best as the fourth quarter is usually associated with high performance and going all out.
Just as the four-finger sign is used by rappers to show their allegiance with the West Coast, some people from the East Coast, and specifically Florida, use the four-finger sign to show their allegiance to specific areas in the state of Florida.
Most commonly this is used to represent Broward county, Pompano Beach, Oakland Park or Lauderdale.
During the Arab Spring movement in 2013 holding up four fingers was seen as a sign of supporting Egypt and rejecting the Arab Spring movement.
However, this was symbolism that only lasted while the political unrest in the region remained and today it is no longer associated with supporting the oppressed in this fashion.
In 2017, BBC UK launched a big movement to help bring awareness to mental health issues. It was reported at the time that one in every four adults faces some kind of mental health challenge.
The movement was popularized by the British broadcaster as the ‘#1in4’ movement. Famous celebrities and influential personalities were seen posing for pictures with four fingers up and their palms facing the camera.
The idea was to make people more aware and receptive to this societal issue and to make it possible for people to talk about these problems before they become serious or even life-threatening issues.
Four-Fingers in Contemporary Hip-Hop
The four-finger sign is a mainstay in modern hip hop especially when it comes to pictures and videos. You will commonly find artists throwing different signs, including the West Coast ‘W’ when they are performing live on stage as well.
At the core of it, the Westside sign is one of those early signs that really started the movement of gang signs. Prior to the early 90s, gang signs were present but they weren’t quite as common.
After the incredible popularity of the Westside sign gangs from all over regions also came up with their own signs.
Today, there are countless signs that are used. Some are just for portraying the initials of a neighborhood while others can be far more intricate and detailed.
This is a video of the popular rapper The Game explaining what kinds of signs are most commonly used and what they mean. Here is another video of a hip-hop fan showing you how you can do different signs and what they all mean.
Variations Of The Westside Sign
The standard westside sign involves turning the palm to yourself, turning the thumb into the palm and folding the middle finger over the ring finger and showing the back of your hand to the audience.
In this pose, the tips of the four-pointed fingers are facing the roof/sky similar to how a ‘W’ would look in a sentence.
One variation of this sign is to simply fold your thumb into the palm of your hand and stick all four fingers up and then point your fingers to the side.
You would be holding your hand across your body so your fingers are pointing to one side while you are holding the back of your hand to the audience. In this version, the space between the four fingers creates the ‘W.’
Yet another variation is to fold your pinky finger into your palm and hold it down with your thumb. This way, your index, middle and ring finger are pointed up and these create the ‘W’ for the westside sign.
The Westside sign, and other gang signs, may look cool and entertaining when you see your favorite rappers doing them.
However, you should always remember that these signs communicate different things and relay different messages to different people.
On that note, you might want to apply some extra care while doing it outside the comfort of your house.
This is important because the last thing you wish to do is pass the wrong message or attract the wrong kind of attention to yourself or your loved ones.
To be on the safe side, this is not something you might want to do outside your house and especially in busy public places. This is very important if you don’t understand the exact meaning of the gesture you are doing.
Some of these signs are not inherently offensive but you never know who you are showing them to and how they will interpret these signs.
Sometimes showing your hood sign means you are looking for trouble and want to take on any other gangs that may be in the vicinity.
Learning about these signs is not a problem but you should be aware of the context and the situation before you use these in front of anyone.