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In hip-hop and inner-city cultures, respect is something one earns through tangible accomplishments, not empty posturing or superficial bragging. The truest measure of a person's trustworthiness and expertise is often expressed as his or her street cred, short for "street credibility." Street cred can mark the difference between a talented rapper or break dancer and someone who's only posing, or deliberately exaggerating their skills.
True street cred is not easy to achieve, since it is based on real skills or true experiences. A rap artist who gets signed to a known music label, for example, might earn his "props" (proper respect), but that doesn't necessarily mean he has earned credibility yet. The rapper may have to put on a full concert to demonstrate his skills and prove he or she is the real deal, not someone who got a lucky break. Earning street cred is important in the hip-hop and urban music industry, since potential customers need to know the artist has earned his or her spot on the charts.
The term street cred has actually worked its way into mainstream popular culture. A professional in the legal, financial or medical fields, for example, may have to earn a certain amount of "street cred" in order to attract the best potential clients. A cosmetic surgeon often builds up a significant levels of it by performing high quality work on A-list clients. The same could be said for a stock broker who earns respect by selecting the best stocks, or a lawyer who does so by successfully defending high-profile clients.
Street cred in the inner-city or hip-hop communities is not always a permanent arrangement, however. Someone who shows disrespect for those in his or her former community, for example, may suddenly discover his or her credibility is no longer assured. Exposure as a fraud or a cheat can also seriously affect a person's status. It is important to "walk the walk" and not just "talk the talk" when it comes to maintaining true street cred.
There's nothing worse than people in the rural South throwing around the term "street cred." The use of such slang in places where it is totally inappropriate should be avoided. That's just common sense.