Editor’s Note: This article contains references with graphic language
Hours after Nipsey Hussle was gunned down in the Hyde Park neighborhood, Los Angeles Police Commissioner Steve Soboroff announced that he had been scheduled to meet with the rapper.
The Grammy-nominated rhymesmith, a member of the Rollin 60s Neighborhood Crips, had requested the meeting, along with Jay-Z’s Roc Nation, the commissioner said.
The reason? They wanted to speak with Soboroff and Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore “about ways he could help stop gang violence and help us help kids,” Soboroff tweeted. “I’m so very sad.”
Anyone familiar with Nipsey’s woke brand of gangbanging wasn’t surprised. While Crips and Bloods have provided great gangland fodder for Hollywood and other storytellers, Nipsey bucked the conventional trappings of gang life.
He spoke out against rappers who would boast of purported gang affiliations to stunt or look cool – not because he wished them any violence, but rather, to remind them that for too many young people, joining a gang was about survival. People had died over the colors they’d chosen. It wasn’t something to dabble in, Nipsey would remind them.
Legacy of bridge building
Yet for his unabashed affiliation, the 33-year-old worked to pave inroads, recording tracks with Blood-affiliated rappers The Game and YG of Compton and Jay Rock of Watts. When Nipsey dropped his long-awaited studio debut last year, The Game posted the cover to Instagram, along with his recollection of the first time the two met.
“Never thought the young n***a that gave me his demo on Crenshaw at a red light would ever turn out to be one of my favorite West Coast MC’s…. just like I told you that day when you handed it to me n***a, ‘if you want it it’s yours’…. proud of you homie.”
Two days prior, when Cardi B caught flak for a Blood reference in an Instagram post, Nipsey came to her defense during an interview on a Los Angeles radio show, saying that there were certain things that Bloods and Crips might say to each other in private that they shouldn’t say in public or in a song.
“She should probably just correct, go public, and say, ‘Look, this is how Bloods talk privately. We ain’t mean no disrespect,’” he said. “That’s a touchy thing. That’s a delicate thing, and you gotta understand people are gonna be offended when you do that. You gotta know: L.A. – this our culture. This is our lifestyle. This ain’t aesthetic or fashion. You know, your granny’ll tell you change the color of your shoestrings before you get out of the car.”
Upon Nipsey’s death, the “Bodak Yellow” rapper was among scores of entertainers posting tributes to him.
“Rip to a real stand up guy! a great representation of positivity and change to the community,” Cardi B wrote on Instagram. “May the Lord give your family strength. You can’t kill love and you can’t kill respect.”
In one of his final tweets Friday, Nipsey posted a photo of himself in a denim jacket adorned with both red and blue kerchiefs, like those worn by the rival gangs, and in his last post, just hours before he was killed, he said, “Having strong enemies is a blessing.”
Product of Crenshaw
It’s poignant that Nipsey died after being shot in the head and torso in the parking lot of The Marathon Clothing “smartstore” he owned near the corner of Slauson and Crenshaw. The dark amalgam of circumstances seems to encapsulate much about his life.
True to his art and his city, Nipsey regularly invoked his upbringing, beginning with his 2005 mixtape, “Slauson Boy Volume 1,” and continuing through the eerily named three-volume “Bullets Ain’t Got No Name.” He dubbed his eighth mixtape, released in 2013, “Crenshaw,” and priced it at $100 a pop. Jay-Z picked up a 100 of the 1,000 available copies.
“I got an email that came through my team and it just was like, ‘Roc Nation, on behalf of Jay Z wants to buy 100 units. Who do we pay? When can we get the shipment out?’” he told MTV News at the time. “They sent us $10,000. We sent them 100 CDs. … I didn’t get the chance to holler at Jay, but through his people he made it clear that he respects the move and everything, so I was just humbled by it.”
Don’t be fooled by the term “studio debut.” Nipsey collaborated with the likes of Drake, Meek Mill and Rick Ross well before Atlantic Records published his acclaimed “Victory Lap” last year, earning him a Grammy nomination for best rap album (the prize went to Cardi B). For a decade and a half, Nip compiled a thick catalog of music, which he released on mixtapes he produced independently or through his All Money In record label, which he launched to maintain his creative freedom, he said.
Though some music websites classify Nipsey’s music as gangsta rap, his music spans multiple hip-hop genres, including the g-funk, or gangsta funk, sound of Dr. Dre fame that was ubiquitous to the streets of the Crenshaw District where Nipsey grew up in the 1990s.
His lyrics did not fit into tidy genres, either. While he employed the bombast and braggadocio common to gangsta and other forms of rap, he also dealt in introspection a la the so-called conscious rappers such as Chance the Rapper and Talib Kweli.
That was perhaps most apparent on the “Victory Lap” track, “Dedication,” a collaboration with Kendrick Lamar, who himself has united Bloods and Crips through no less than his Top Dawg Entertainment.
On the track, Nipsey rhymes, “Young black n***a trapped and he can’t change it/Know he a genius, he just can’t claim it/’Cuz they left him no platforms to explain it/He frustrated so he get faded, but deep down inside he know you can’t fade him/How long should I stay dedicated? How long till opportunity meet preparation?/I need some real n***a reparations before I run up in your bank just for recreation.”
A father and a businessman
Though he is best known for his music, he was a father as well – to son, Kross, 2, with actor and longtime girlfriend Lauren London, and to daughter Emani from a previous relationship.
As his moniker, sometimes stylized as Hu$$le, suggests, the Eritrean-American rapper born Ermias Davidson Asghedom was also an accomplished businessman. His ventures spanned from his music label and The Marathon Clothing store, to his Marathon Agency, a talent and marketing company, and his Proud 2 Pay campaign, a trailblazing means to distribute his music.
After failing to find a way to work with Epic Records, which released him in 2010, he tapped his wealth of social media followers – which today number in the millions – for the campaign, selling the aforementioned “Crenshaw” for a $100 apiece and 100 copies of his “Mailbox Money” mixtape for $1,000 each in a scheme that guaranteed a host of perks for buyers, including hearing “Victory Lap” for the first time with Nipsey himself.
In 2013, he explained in a short YouTube documentary that he was aiming to upend a system in which controlling record labels acted as gatekeepers for young creatives trying to make names for themselves.
“What else is n***as playing for if they don’t want the ring or the crown? Labels know that, and they making it like the only way to that is through them,” he said. “We got power, we got the internet, we got our people, and a n***a gonna shut down (the) industry, man. … I’m Netflix. They’re Blockbusters, know what I’m saying? … Netflix shut their business down. It’s over. They’re bankrupt. It’s a wrap. When’s the last time you rented a video, bro?”
When he finally did ink the deal with Atlantic in 2017, he told Billboard that it was more about reach than racks.
“I wanted to give that message the best chance to be heard and consumed on the highest level. That was my goal from the jump as All Money In took time to build its position in the hip-hop lane,” he said.
An ‘inspiration to many’
But for all the money and music he leaves behind, perhaps his greatest mark will be his philanthropic work, which extended beyond his efforts to mitigate gang violence.
Tapping the anticipation surrounding “Victory Lap” last year, Nipsey opened a workspace and science, technology, engineering and mathematics, or STEM, center that he described as a bridge between Silicon Valley and the inner city. He told the Los Angeles Times he hoped the center, named Vector 90, would give young people more options and opportunities than he had as a kid.
“In our culture, there’s a narrative that says, ‘Follow the athletes, follow the entertainers,’” he told the paper. “That’s cool, but there should be something that says, ‘Follow Elon Musk, follow Zuckerberg.’ I think that with me being influential as an artist and young and coming from the inner city, it makes sense for me to be one of the people that’s waving that flag.”
Upon his death, the paper further reported that Hussle loved his stomping ground in both word and deed, buying shoes for students, fixing playgrounds and basketball courts, helping to renovate an old roller rink, providing jobs and shelter for homeless residents, paying for funerals of those who couldn’t afford them and investing in Destination Crenshaw, an art-and-culture project that celebrates Los Angeles’ black history. Even his clothing store was part of a strip mall renovation that would include apartments for low-income families, the Times reported.
That Nipsey was more movement than music was evident in the tributes that poured in from fans, hundreds of whom flocked to The Marathon Clothing store after he was shot, and from celebrities who noted that his legacy would be a layered one. They encouraged his fans to keep that legacy alive.
Los Angeles County supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas called him an “inspiration to many,” while Atlantic Records called him “an amazing father and a leader in his community” and actor Issa Rae said he inspired her “to invest and own in our communities.”
J. Cole nodded to “what you did for the neighborhood,” activist Colin Kaepernick pointed to Nipsey’s “great work for the people” and Pharrell Williams said, “You were about something..positive and for your community in every chance you had to speak.”
John Legend said he’d just spent Thursday with Nipsey filming a video for a song that they did with DJ Khaled.
“We filmed in Inglewood, close to where he grew up. He was so gifted, so proud of his home, so invested in his community. Utterly stunned that he’s gone so soon,” Legend wrote.