Tattoo my tears
February 23, 2004 8:04 PM   Subscribe

Anybody know exactly what the teardrop tattoos that many gang members and rappers have signify? I heard once that they represent people you killed, or people you knew that died, or bullets you've taken, or something like that. Anyone know for sure which it is? For those that have no idea what i'm talking about, here are two pictures of rapper Baby: 1 2
posted by rorycberger to Society & Culture (10 answers total)
The meaning changes from place to place, and from group to group. Generally, it's a representation of the time you've spent in prison. Two teardrops might mean two years, two seperate stays, or a variety of prison-related incidents, including having killed two people.
posted by Jairus at 8:18 PM on February 23, 2004

I have heard that they each signify an in-prison kill. Of course, as Jairus says, the meanings vary, and it's easy enough for someone who wants to look tough to get one without actually killing anyone. Funny, but I can't think of a better symbol for someone who commits homicide inside.
posted by scarabic at 11:19 PM on February 23, 2004

I always understood it to just represent just how much of a 'double hard b'stard' someone was - as I understand it, to be tattooed just under the eye is excruciatingly painful. Thus, going through such pain meant that you were obviously someone to be reckoned with.

It does look crap though.
posted by metaxa at 3:27 AM on February 24, 2004

While it doesn't directly address your question, you might find this website about Russian Prison Tattoos (and their meanings) interesting.
posted by grabbingsand at 5:54 AM on February 24, 2004

I read somewhere ages ago that, on a female gang member, they represented having a boyfriend inside prison. Lotsa different answers popping up here.
posted by Shane at 6:06 AM on February 24, 2004

This site suggests an evolving mixture of some of the answers given already.
posted by biffa at 6:45 AM on February 24, 2004

...on a female gang member, they represented having a boyfriend inside prison.

I'm thinking this might have been a Mexican thing. Maybe I even read it in a Love and Rockets comic, circa Death of Speedy? Not that this would devalue the information, as Los Bros Hernandez know their shit understand the reality behind their fiction.
posted by Shane at 7:46 AM on February 24, 2004

I've also heard it's directly related to how much time someone does (one tear per 5 years or whatever). As tor the inverse, on women, there's always that line from Tom Waits: "A tattooed tear. 'One for every year he's away,' she said."
posted by dobbs at 7:49 AM on February 24, 2004

I could be way off. This: More recently they have begun to represent each of the family or gang members who have died while a prisoner is locked up. ...from biffa's link rings a bell, too.
posted by Shane at 7:50 AM on February 24, 2004

The teardrops are a statement: "I'm a badass."

And because this society worships the badasses, it's their ticket to popularity. Ain't no one gonna listen to a squeaky-clean rapper.

I eagerly await the day our most popular musical artist is a mass baby raper. Can't get more badass than baby raping.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:25 AM on February 24, 2004

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