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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Hip-hop lost a limb: What the assassination of Nipsey Hussle means in 2019

Hussle was an icon to those in his community and beyond
joey zanotti/flickr

After two weeks, I’m still asking myself why I felt so much grief after the tragic death of Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom, who was gunned down on March 31 in the Hyde Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles, California. Before any of his longtime fans could bring me up on charges of being a “fake” fan, I will be the first to say that prior to his 2018 debut album “Victory Lap,” I wasn’t the biggest Hussle fan. I enjoyed his collaborations on friend and frequent collaborator DOM KENNEDY’s “Pleeze,” on his album “Get Home Safely,” as well as “Checc Me Out,” on Hussle’s 2013 mixtape “Crenshaw.”

I slept on Hussle’s music. I remember being in the ninth or tenth grade in 2008 when my brother, an aspiring rapper himself, brought home a mixtape given to him titled “Bullets Ain’t Got No Name Vol. 2.” Neither of us listened to the project due to us being unfamiliar with the artist as well as the cliché mixtape title turning us off. The name of the rapper on the mixtape was Nipsey Hu$$le, and by the time I graduated high school, I couldn’t escape seeing him all over social media, popular hip-hop blogs and YouTube. Still, I can’t really say I gave him a chance.

Although I didn’t become a fan until listening to “Victory Lap,” as a hip-hop head who has always kept abreast of the cultural happenings, I always supported Hussle from afar. What was unique about Hussle’s career was that he had been consistently releasing music independently for over 10 years up until his 2018 major label debut.

In 2010, Hussle, alongside current rap success stories, Jay Rock, Wiz Khalifa, J. Cole, Freddie Gibbs and Big Sean, was one of 10 upcoming artists to make the heavily-regarded third annual XXL Freshman List. This co-sign validated his emergence as one of the new faces of Los Angeles hip-hop, alongside signing with Sony Music subsidiary, Epic Records.

The union between Hussle and Epic was short-lived, but over the course of the late-aughts up until the release of “Victory Lap,” he built a solid fanbase across the country and internationally, releasing multiple mixtapes a year and touring. Carving out this niche for himself made Hussle one of the most prolific underground rappers of the last decade, and his fanbase stayed loyal.

Hip-hop fans are fickle, and we often treat music and artists as if they’re disposable. It’s hard to count the number of times I’ve seen people begin to grow in their fandom in the early stages of an artist’s career and after several years, this fandom dwindles. This can be a result of fans feeling as if an artist’s sound has become musically stagnant or, when they do attain commercial success, their artistry has become watered down. In the case of Hussle, neither critiques were present.

Like all human beings, particularly those who come from a street lifestyle, Hussle was a complex individual. At age 14, he became involved with the drug trade and joined the Rollin’ 60’s Crips, one of the largest and most notorious Crip sets in Los Angeles. His music reflected the harsh realities of the South Los Angeles streets where he was raised, but at times glorified this same violence and crime his neighborhood was afflicted with.

Overtime, Hussle’s growth became evident in his music. For every “Hussle In The House,” uplifting songs dominated Hussle’s catalog and “Victory Lap,” like the intro of the same name featuring Stacy Barthe, “Dedication” featuring Kendrick Lamar and “Double Up” featuring Belly and DOM KENNEDY.

Hussle was the definition of multi-faceted. He possessed the survival tactics to survive in LA’s notorious gang culture, while also having a reputation in his community and industry of being  philanthropic, intelligent and a forward-thinking protector, just as he was for up-and-coming rapper Maliibu Miitch. In 2017, he opened The Marathon Clothing store at the corner of Crenshaw and Slauson where he sold clothing inspired by the Crenshaw District – the place where he spent his entire life.

This clothing store went from being your typical brick and mortar to becoming the first “smartstore,” with the help of 20-year-old engineer Iddris Sandu. In combination with Hussle’s forward thinking and Sandu’s technological savvy, this smartstore allowed fans to have an interactive experience with Hussle’s Marathon brand that was deeper than going to a store and buying clothes. With the help of the corresponding app of the same name as the store, fans not only had access to purchasing clothing but also to exclusive content.

This space is a one-of-a-kind experience, not only for how innovative it is, but for the fact that it’s located in an area synonymous with crime and poverty. Ironically enough, The Marathon Clothing store is in the same strip mall that Hussle began some his earliest entrepreneurial endeavors – legal and illegal – and where he eventually lost his life.

As teens, Hussle and his older brother, Samiel “Blacc Sam” Asghedom, were arrested on several occasions for selling CDs in the parking lot of this dilapidated and abandoned strip mall. It also served as a hangout spot they were kicked out of on numerous occasions. As young men, Hussle and Asghedom experienced life in this parking lot and for them to own property in the same strip mall was a full circle moment.

Hussle’s entrepreneurial prowess didn’t stop at The Marathon Clothing store. From 2013 to his death on March 31, 2019, he was involved in roughly 22 business ventures in entertainment, real estate, food, tech and lifestyle, as well various philanthropic projects.

Hussle wasn’t some greedy Scrooge McDuck who believed in hoarding money. He gave back. He hired ex-convicts and felons who wouldn’t be able to find employment elsewhere, as well as young gang members who were headed down the same path of destruction that he once led. On April 13, an story documented that the projected total number of people that Hussle hired, assisted and impacted personally was 41,369 and the projected value of his investments for community, tech and lifestyle ventures was $210,413,500.

A common theme in Hussle’s life was ownership. In a 2017 YouTube documentary detailing the journey to open and own The Marathon Clothing store, Asghedom recalls how he and Hussle always aspired to own something after seeing that the owner of the gas station across the street from the lot was a Black man.

For Hussle, having an ownership mentality didn’t stop at real estate and owning small businesses. He grew up in the 1990s and early on was influenced by independent Black music moguls like Master P, Birdman, E40, Too $hort and JAY-Z. All four of these men were able to carve out musical careers while running successful record labels, leaving a legacy that young Black men like Hussle could be inspired by.

Hussle used the foundation of Black independent music professionals before him and through his Proud2Pay campaign sold 1,000 physical copies of his mixtape “Crenshaw” for $100, despite the fact that the mixtape was available for free download on all mixtape platforms. This practice was the first of its kind and it caught the attention of JAY-Z, who showed his support by purchasing 100 copies. A year later in 2014, Hussle continued the Proud2Pay campaign with his “Mailbox Money mixtape where, instead of selling 1,000 copies for $100, he sold 100 copies for $1,000, with the mixtape also being free to download on all mixtape platforms as well.

The impact of these men explained why Hussle never settled. He spent the majority of his storied career as an independent artist with a few years in-between being signed to two different major labels. He ended up not releasing any albums under these labels, but this didn’t discourage him. Instead, it encouraged him in 2010 to start his own record label, All Money In No Money Out, to have control over his career and artistry.

Continuing to release free music grew Hussle’s fanbase which in turn gave him the leverage to sign a partnership with Atlantic Records in 2017 that fit him best. Hussle never sacrificed his integrity as an artist or business man in exchange for an advance from a record company. He was in it for the long haul no matter how long it took for him to get what he deserved. This explains his use of the word ‘marathon’ and why it was incorporated into the name of Hussle’s clothing brand, branding, marketing, media agency and mixtape series. There were even rumblings on social media that he owned all of his master recordings, which is rare amongst artists.

With all of Hussle’s creative and savvy business moves, Vector 90, his two-story workspace in collaboration with real estate developer David Gross, set him apart from hip-hop entrepreneurs of the past and present. Located in the heart of Hussle’s Southwestern Los Angeles, Vector 90’s goal is to build a bridge between the inner city and Silicon Valley.

The bottom level of this space is occupied by a STEM program. Through an application process, Vector 90 provides families and local children’s organizations with the same technological resources that more affluent communities have in order to compete in culturally-homogenous tech world. Using a similar application process, the second story of Vector 90 operates as a co-working space for entrepreneurs with short-term private and shared rental work spaces, workshops and mentorship.

During Hussle’s ‘Celebration of Life’ funeral service at the Staples Center, his older brother Samiel Asghedom told a story about a 12-year-old Hussle bringing home a different computer part daily, adamant about building a computer from scratch. For Asghedom, the idea of building a computer from scratch at the time was a foreign concept, so it was easy for him to dismiss his younger brother’s ambitions. Day after day, Hussle would bring home more computer parts and, with the help of different computer magazines, he was able to build a working computer.

This anecdote posed an important question for me: What if Hussle was able to harness this natural technological ability in an environment where it could’ve been cultivated? Maybe this would’ve had a positive influence on him in his early teens, possibly deterring him dropping out of high school at 14 years old which led him to falling deeper into the streets.

At the same time, if Hussle was never lured by the fast money of the streets as a teen, would we have a Nipsey Hussle? We wouldn’t have the vivid cautionary tales of “Blues Laces 2” or the second verse of “Loaded Bases” that two days after his death made me burst into tears in the bathroom of Morrill Science Building III.

Hussle may not have been the most technical lyricist, but his words were always clear, sincere and passionate, similar to that of a 2Pac figure. Hussle’s subject matter not only resonated with the streets and those who’ve grown up under similar circumstances as him, but themes of motivation, determination and ownership in his music were things that were applicable to anyone from any walk of life.

I was personally hurt after Hussle’s murder. I grieved as if he was my older brother, something I’ve never done or felt before when a celebrity passed away. It’s because I knew what he meant to his community and his fans, and how profound his words were on “Victory Lap.” He didn’t take a bar off or tell a lie, and it showed.

While grieving the loss of Hussle, I felt selfish because after a year of really buying into him as an artist and his story, I lost him. During my fandom, while listening to “Victory Lap” and watching interviews, I felt like I lost an older sibling due to Hussle being in the same age group as my brother and sister. During his ‘Celebration of Life,’ Hussle’s mother Angelique Smith’s words about how we grieve for selfish reasons because we’re no longer in our loved one’s “electromagnetic sphere” spoke to me.

According to Smith, “The ego is what hurts us. So, when we can get me, my, I and mine out of our thinking and think about what is the other person feeling, what is the other person thinking, what is the other person experiencing? What is the situation about in its fuller spiritual context? Then it makes the pains that we experience as human beings on the road of life that we travel a lot easier to handle.”

These words gave me closure on my grief as if she was personally speaking to me. If Smith as his mother felt that his transition was all in divine order, then us as fans shouldn’t selfishly mourn not knowing that who we mourn for may be at peace with how their life turned out.

On May 1, 2016, Hussle tweeted “The highest human act is to inspire…,” and that’s exactly how he lived his life. The same way he was inspired by Black music moguls before him to own something and to never settle for less than what you deserve is the same way that generations younger than him from South Los Angeles and internationally will view Hussle. Hip-hop lost a forward-thinking visionary. A gangsta with the laid-back demeanor of Snoop Dogg. The diplomacy of a politician while possessing the humanitarian qualities of Warren Buffet.

On “Million While You Young” featuring The-Dream, Hussle asks, “Where you ever represented hope where the hopeless at?” in a verse where he’s pushing artists who portray a particular image in their music to be who they say they are. For Hussle, his authenticity and integrity were never in question and his homegrown business ventures were a beacon of light for young people in his and the hip-hop community. Hussle’s murder is a metaphor for the hopeless becoming more hopeless, but it’s also a sign that we cannot let him die in vain. We have to pick up where he left off. The marathon continues.

Akil Pinnock can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @_AkNgozi.

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  • B

    Brandon WoolridgeApr 22, 2019 at 8:20 pm

    Such an inspiring article my brother therapeutic writing from your heart, mind & soul

    Nipsey will forever be a legend to the community & his leading example that’s he paved down for upcoming hip-hop artists

    We’ll truly be missed RIP

  • A

    amyApr 18, 2019 at 7:54 pm

    Nipsey Hussle died just like countless gangsters, by a gun.

    Live by the sword, die by a sword. He wasn’t very talented either. Violence isn’t something to be celebrated and if anything his death should be a lesson for those who want to follow a life of crime and being a ‘gangsta’.

  • D

    DionneApr 17, 2019 at 7:25 pm

    Excellent piece. Great perspective. Well written Cous.

  • P

    Prof. Nick McBrideApr 17, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    A beautiful piece Akil, clear, specific, inspirational Truth.

  • S

    ShauniceApr 17, 2019 at 2:06 pm

    Wonderful article!!!! Great job!!!