Nipsey Hussle Proved His Dedication Far Beyond His Music
Less than 24 hours ago (March 31), Nipsey Hussle was the victim of a fatal shooting in South Los Angeles, California. More specifically, 33-year-old Ermias Davidson Asghedom, a father of two, a family man, an entrepreneur, a community activist, and a beloved figure of unity in Hip-Hop lost his life. He was gunned down in front of The Marathon, a West Slauson Avenue store that was symbolic of “Neighborhood Nip’s” commitment to the Crenshaw District. The area streets raised him, molded him, and stayed in his sight-line on a journey across the globe and up the charts. Since the mid-2000s, Nipsey Hussle’s music picked up where Ice Cube left off. His was a narrative of not only how to survive in South Central, but how to flourish and bring change through “Dedication.”
“If you check the stats, the murder rates and incarceration rates in the years I was a teenager in L.A., in my section of the Crenshaw District in the Rollin’ 60s [Crips], none of my peers survived. None of my peers avoided prison. None of ’em. Everybody got bullet wounds and felonies and strikes,” Nipsey told NPR‘s Rodney Carmichael one year ago. “So to make it out mentally stable and not in prison and not on drugs, that’s a win. That’s a victory in itself. Then to be in the position I find myself in as an artist and entrepreneur who has respect around the world; that’s legendary. And I say it in the most humble way.”
Like other gone-too-soon greats in Rap, Nipsey Hussle’s life was taken just as he reached a new pinnacle in his career. 2018’s Victory Lap served as a statement album after a nearly 15-year climb. Partnering with Atlantic Records, the Grammy-nominated body of work for “Best Rap Album” was an artist revving his engines for bright, new horizons. However, Asghedom‘s vision and efforts went far beyond beats and rhymes. This was an MC rooted in his ‘hood, and trying to bring lasting opportunity, and change to a treacherous locale that Rap listeners had followed for years.
To reach his Victory Lap, Nipsey Hussle bootstrapped for years. Starting with late 2005’s Slauson Boy mixtape, the artist did what many were doing in the era. Within the next year, labels took an interest in the MC. While Compton’s The Game was bringing a new crop of West Coast Gangsta Rap to the mainstream, Nipsey was one of the artists that was grabbed up in reaction. However, while half a dozen L.A. Rap acts were signed to labels in the mid-2000s, Nipsey sought something different.
Rip Nipsey Hussle.
May God have mercy on your soul and bring peace to your family and friends.
You ARE a light and an inspiration to us all. And we gonna keep running this marathon. That yellow tape ain’t the finish line it’s the beginning of the victory lap. Legacy.
— “DROGAS WAVE” NOW PLAYING (@LupeFiasco) April 1, 2019
Although Nipsey landed at Epic Records during a period of label re-structuring, it never halted his hustle. Refusing the hurry-up-and-wait model, the artist took matters into his own hands. No longer just feeding the streets, Hussle’s mixtapes appeased multiple audiences that stretched far beyond the palm tree-lined blocks of South Los Angeles. Songs on the Bullets Ain’t Got No Name three-volume series honored the rich tradition of Gangsta Rap. Nip’ nodded to Above The Law, Cube, and others. Early on, he was featured on the posthumous, gold-certified Pac’s Life album in 2006. Snoop Dogg welcomed him to Malice ‘N Wonderland. Along with the menacing accounts of gangland L.A., Nipsey dropped jewels.
By 2010’s The Marathon, the raspy-voiced lyricist became a pillar of persistence. He exited the label deal, doing more for himself than big buildings and infrastructure ever seemingly could. However, this period also reshaped the understanding of what “a mixtape” was. While the free and low-cost nature of CD-R’s and download links had seemed to suggest a minor league to artists giving away free music, Nipsey Hussle—along with onetime Cinematic label-mate Big K.R.I.T., Wiz Khalifa, Wale, J. Cole, and others showed otherwise.
Nipsey’s bodies of work displayed poise and polish. He seemed to no longer be a rapper looking to make his way to a label; he was a voice of the streets transmitting with less red tape and well-heeled middlemen. Rumors circulated of Nipsey turning down various deals, including from Rick Ross’ scorching-hot Maybach Music Group. Even without hit singles or radio spins to back his claim, Nipsey saw himself as a boss. His moves echoed that sentiment. He would rather get money with Rozay than be signed to him outright, as the two parties demonstrated since.
Meanwhile, the art had matured with the mind-state. Just as O.G.’s had created opportunities for Nip’, his music was a springboard for emerging voices. Hussle worked with a cross-section of Rap relentlessly. He connected himself with blogs, industry conduits, and artists of all varieties. Just as one of his face tattoos proclaimed, few in music were as “prolific.”
View this post on Instagram
We are at a great loss today. This hurts. Straight to the point. It’s dangerous to be an MC. Dangerous to be a b-ball player. It’s dangerous to have money. Dangerous To Be A Black Man. So much hatred. We live like our brothers and sisters in third world countries live. Right in America. Decisions we make about our own life be based on decisions cuz we might not live. Its so deep rooted. It’s not a easy fix. Hard to fix anything when kids are still living in poverty. I ain’t shutting up though, Nipsey is a True voice. He will never be silenced. He still is A stand up General for the People who never left his people. He is Loved by the people. Prayers for his family. Let’s keep pushing Truth for The Man. Love You King Nipsey Hussle/ Ermias Asghedom Respectfully, Nasir Jones
2013’s Crenshaw was a statement release. With hard copies sold for $100 a pop, Nipsey Hussle was not grabbing for cash as much as he was reminding artists the value of their work. As music was moving to the cloud, the MC created a display item with music worth just as much. “I believe that economics is based on scarcity of markets,” he told Forbes‘ Natalie Robehmed in 2015. Some of that strategy reportedly came from The 22 Immutable Laws Of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout, a text he was given. “It’s possible to monetize your art without compromising the integrity of it for commerce.” JAY-Z famously ordered a stack of 100 of those CDs, showing his solidarity with the music, the movement, and the message. The artist who created Roc-A-Fella as a new model to the industry in the mid-’90s saluted a mid-2010s maneuver of the same kind. According to Forbes‘ Zack O’Malley Greenburg, those dividends funded Nipsey’s imprint, All Money In No Money Out, formed with several partners. For those not able to dole out three figures on the music, Nipsey still made his art available for free. The choice was ours.
2014’s Mailbox Money upped that ante, to $1,000. With 100 hard copies reportedly available, Nipsey made some of the best music of his nearly decade-old career. With the money he made, the artist committed to re-investing. The Forbes article points to Hussle’s famed “Crenshaw” blue-and-gold shirts. Inspired by an old photo of local legend Darryl Strawberry, Nipsey printed the shirts and wore them in his music video, “Hussle In The House.” At a time when labels were demanding 360-deals to draw revenue from artists’ merchandise, Nipsey was carving new paths to the money, with a purpose behind him. He was also supplementing a career when there were no guarantees in Rap.
More than fashion, the Crenshaw pieces promoted civic pride. In 2017, he opened The Marathon, a store to sell merchandise, music, and other brands. He reportedly also had stakes in a barbershop and a hamburger restaurant, among other ventures. Instead of Fairfax or a local mall, he planted this shingle on West Slauson. It was just another brick in Nipsey’s lifestyle brand. He was somebody who could navigate himself out of a perilous place, without ever turning his back. Instead, he reached back, with a helping hand, and care about the future. KTLA reports that Nipsey Hussle once provided sneakers to every elementary school in Hyde Park. He paid funeral costs. He donated to improve local playgrounds for the youth.
At that time, Nipsey found the label deal he was looking for in Atlantic Records. For a label that had historically signed acts from the South and East Coast, Nipsey became a flagship act. “It’s a partnership,” Nipsey told Forbes of his Atlantic deal. “I shook hands and said I wouldn’t give full details, but we’re sharing everything: profit, masters…I was holding out for a long time for these terms.” Ownership meant something significant to the the son of an Eritean immigrant father. In late 2017, he started a campaign towards Victory Lap. The LP involved Kendrick on a song that presented two products of neighborhoods once told they were enemies. It signaled his winning hand with the tapes in “Blue Laces 2.” It shared his story in “Grinding All My Life.” It adhered to what Nip’ had always been. In his bars, he referenced life insurance policies, institutional racism, and scoffing at the fast, lighter-weighted bags of the predatory music industry.
Earlier this year, Nipsey and business partner Dave Gross purchased the plaza that housed the store. Bigger than just real estate, Gross and Nipsey mapped out plans to create employment and raise the value of a distressed area.
— CJ (@howtogetyoked) April 1, 2019
The last few years had also been a period of personal growth and maturity. Nipsey’s daughter accompanied him to February’s Grammy Awards. Nipsey and actress Lauren London have been in a lengthy, high-profile relationship. London, a fellow L.A. native, gave birth to the couple’s son in 2016.
Sunday night’s news brought a sudden and tragic end to a personal story that was truly inspiring to so many. Locally, Nipsey Hussle fought for a fair, homegrown future for a community that so many cast aside. Musically, this artist made Gangsta Rap with substance, integrity, and wisdom. In both arenas, Nipsey’s work will continue to be done. However, the man who fought so hard to make a way will not be here to see his efforts bloom to their full potential.