Young people from the low-income settlements in Kenya's third-largest city, Kisumu, struggling with unemployment refer to their efforts to generate a livelihood as ‘hustling’. At the same time, many of them put art (dance, music, poetry) at the centre of their lives. This article attempts to account for the significant popularity of the arts among Kisumu's youth. It understands the ‘way of the artist’ as an alternative interpretation of work and a framework in which people situate their experiences of unemployment, waiting and insecure work. To examine this framework in action, the article follows Janabii, a poet who has been at the centre of attempts to establish a spoken word scene in Kisumu. Janabii has spent several years in limbo, oscillating between glittering performances and a more discreet daily life, marked by functional homelessness and a refusal to surrender to the violence of Kenya's informal world of work. The article contributes to recent studies about hustling by combining an ethnography of a week in Janabii's life with a literary analysis of excerpts from one of his poems, in order to elucidate how his struggles to get by are narrated and stylized through a spoken word, artistic imaginary that interrelates with his everyday life.