Real is rare in Los Angeles, in hip-hop and worldwide. It’s why we gravitate toward storytellers who speak their truth with both conviction and earnestness; it’s why we gravitate toward artists who live the words they rap with an insurmountable resilience.
For more than a decade, real has been why hip-hop fans gravitated toward Nipsey Hussle — a bonafide hustler who not only had enough drive to win the marathon, but to pause along the way and give others in the race the tools to do so as well.
On March 31, 2019, at approximately 3:25 pm, Nipsey Hussle was shot six times outside his The Marathon Clothing store in Los Angeles, California. The GRAMMY-nominated rapper was rushed to a hospital along with two other victims, but was pronounced dead 90 minutes later. Nipsey leaves behind a girlfriend, the actress Lauren London, and two children. He was 33.
Nipsey’s lyrics landed harder than the Crenshaw concrete that molded him, but simply calling him a rapper would be akin to calling an iPhone a piece of metal you use to call a friend. His relentless mixtape releases entrenched him as a fixture in hip-hop from the mid-2000s on, but his business savvy and investment portfolio truly made him a pillar in the local community. Nipsey created a blueprint for young black men to beat the odds stacked against them and to find long-lasting success off the block.
Personally, Nipsey was like a second father figure: a source of wisdom who reinforced the teachings I was often too stubborn to heed. I’ll never forget driving into the night while blasting “All Get Right,” feeling like I could take on the world if Nipsey was soundtracking my adventures.
Visceral instances like these made Nipsey’s music integral to my childhood, but as I prepared for college to chart my path in this world, he opened my eyes to the immeasurable avenues toward financial stability and generational wealth.
Talking to various artists, producers and recording industry members in L.A. over the past four years has only heightened my level of respect for Nipsey Hussle. Countless artists revealed how Nipsey’s essence was a guiding force in their own lives, inspiring elements of their sound and influencing career decisions. An audio engineer told me how being in the same studio with Nipsey was a “life-changing moment,” and how it allowed him to expand his network while providing a revered stamp of self-validation in an industry that rarely affords them.
Nipsey never became the superstar act he was predicted to be when he signed his first record deal in 2009, but in persevering through record label roadblocks and setbacks in his personal life, he became one of the city’s most revered artists. And now, as he was beginning to ascend to another level, both musically and entrepreneurially, that same star has been cruelly snuffed out.
Outside music, Nipsey was determined to set up his community for success long after departing the earth. Although that time has arrived sooner than anyone could have ever anticipated, we can find solace in the fact that he accomplished his mission, leaving behind a legacy that will outlast the tears and cries of sorrow.
His towering figure will no longer walk through the South Central streets, but it will forever live on at Crenshaw and Slauson, where Nipsey invested millions to rejuvenate the plaza surrounding his flagship clothing store. He will no longer be able to inspire us through new albums and mixtapes, but countless young community members will be able to find inspiration at the Vector 90 co-working space he opened last year, which exposes young students to the STEM fields and provides area professionals with a vibrant site to network.
In his second verse on “Racks in the Middle,” Nipsey’s final release before his time in the flesh was cut short, there’s a dedication to Fatts, a long-time friend and business partner. Bemoaning the death of the man born Steven Donelson, Nipsey raps, “Damn, I wish my nigga Fatts was here / How you die at 30 something after banging all those years?”
In the same breath in which Nipsey questions why Donelson, 30, was taken from him, he also shares the parting message he would have given his comrade had he been the one to go first: “If it was me, I’d tell you, ‘Nigga, live your life and grow’ / I’d tell you, ‘Finish what we started, reach them heights, you know?’”
It’s impossible for one person to finish what Nipsey started. He believed in his community and its potential for greatness. Los Angeles is better because of Nipsey Hussle, and it will never be the same without him. A man from Crenshaw dared to manifest his destiny and motivate others to do the same; may his victory lap be everlasting, and may the strides he took on behalf of the entire city never be undone.