Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake at the Super Bowl
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Op-Ed: 15 Years After Super Bowl XXXVIII’s “Nipplegate,” Janet Jackson Still Won

Fifteen years ago, on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2004, the Carolina Panthers faced the New England Patriots for Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, Texas. Outside of the game, the entertainment lineup was superb. Due to the game taking place one year after the shuttle Columbia disaster, multi-platinum singer and actor Josh Groban started the pre-game show by performing “You Raise Me Up” in tribute to the crew who lost their lives. Miss Third Ward Houston native Beyoncé then sang a rousing rendition of the national anthem, and Aerosmith took the stage to perform “Baby, Please Don’t Go” and “Dream On.”

The first half came and went, and then it was time for the part of the Super Bowl that everyone loves: the halftime show, which was produced by MTV and CBS Sports. Jessica Simpson, Diddy, Nelly, Kid Rock, Justin Timberlake, and Janet Jackson were all set to perform during the show centered around the Choose or Lose campaign, which was started by MTV in 1992 to encourage their audience to register to vote.

After doing a solo performance of “Rhythm Nation,” Janet Jackson was joined on stage by Timberlake for a duet of his song “Rock Your Body.” As expected for a song with that title, the duo performed a few suggestive moves much to the audience’s delight. Then, it was time for the song to end, and no one was ready for what came next. With the final line “I’m gonna have you naked by the end of this song,” Justin pulled a part of Janet’s outfit that revealed her right breast which was decorated with a nipple shield. CBS cut away from the stage, and the massive fallout began.

 

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Happy Holidays u guys 🤗 I hope u have a great New Year. 💜

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Through her representatives, Jackson issued a statement on Monday following the game. The next day, she issued a video apology for her part in the incident. "The decision to have a costume reveal at the end of my halftime show performance was made after final rehearsals," Jackson said. "MTV was completely unaware of it. It was not my intention that it go as far as it did. I apologize to anyone offended — including the audience, MTV, CBS and the NFL."

MTV followed with a statement that evening, saying, "MTV was as surprised and shocked as anyone last night. Janet Jackson acknowledged that we had no prior knowledge of her plans. We will continue to investigate the circumstances. Our goal with the Super Bowl Halftime show was to produce an entertaining stage experience with a positive message about empowerment and voting. We are disappointed that this message has been overshadowed by the unfortunate incident. MTV apologizes again to anyone who was offended."

However, the apologies weren’t enough to keep CBS from being fined for the incident. Michael Powell, chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) ordered an investigation insisting that “somebody had knowledge of it.” In the end, the FCC fined CBS an astounding $550,000 (later voided in 2011).

And so began the modern day “He-Man Woman-Haters Club,” or maybe just a He-Man Janet Jackson-Haters Club. No one could guess just how long the fallout would last and how it would affect only one party: Janet Jackson.

The 46th annual Grammy Awards were one week later and were set to also air on CBS. Timberlake was nominated and scheduled to perform, while Jackson was set to present to Luther Vandross. A longer tape delay was also planned due to the Super Bowl incident. However, CBS used the Super Bowl incident to their advantage and allegedly worked behind the scenes to have Jackson removed from the program due to her not agreeing to issue yet another apology. Timberlake stayed in line with the old boys’ club and issued several apologies. One such apology happened on stage during his Grammys acceptance speech where Timberlake stated, “What occurred was unintentional, completely regrettable, and I apologize if you guys were offended.”

It was apparent that due to Janet Jackson not playing by CBS’ rules, she would ultimately face the harsh reality of being shunned and blackballed in the industry. The youngest in the Jackson clan went from superstardom to very little promotion and even less support from those who once praised her every move.

CBS' now former CEO and Viacom’s then co-president and Co-COO, Les Moonves, led the charge in blackballing Janet. In his eyes, Jackson wasn’t “sufficiently repentant” and caused him embarrassment. Reportedly, he demanded her songs and music videos be removed from rotation on VH1, MTV, and all Viacom-owned entities. When it was reported several years later that Jackson secured a book deal through Simon & Schuster once they were under CBS, Moonves was irate. Sources reported him saying, “How the f**k did she slip through?”

Obviously, the same way his sexual misconduct slipped under the radar, that is, until the summer of 2018. The longtime CBS chairman was ousted when he joined a long list of powerful men being brought down by the #MeToo movement. In a detailed report from The New Yorker last August, more than a dozen women including former CBS employees, delivered powerful statements regarding sexual misconduct by Moonves. In turn, he was let go from the position that he held for over 20 years and was denied $120 million in severance pay. He was stripped of the same power that he used to blackball Jackson and deny her the spotlight to advance her career.

However, Moonves wasn’t been the only party to suffer due to their disregard and mistreatment of Jackson. Timberlake, who used the momentum and press from the Super Bowl to catapult his solo career into high gear, also recently suffered in album sales and popularity, particularly in the black community.

Following the Super Bowl mishap, Timberlake’s star was on the rise. Thanks to his laughable apology, he was allowed a spot on the Grammy stage and took home two Grammy awards that year. He went on to grace stages worldwide, star in movies, start a family and release more solo albums. He also eventually admitted to Jackson receiving more criticism for the mishap than he did.

“If you consider it 50-50, then I probably got 10 percent of the blame,” Timberlake said in a 2006 MTV interview. “I think America is harsher on women. I think America is unfairly harsh on ethnic people.”

Then, it was announced that he was performing at last year’s Super Bowl LII and releasing a less than soulful album with Man of the Woods. The album produced the lowest first-week sales Timberlake has ever garnered for his five albums, sans NSYNC, moving 293,000 units in its first week. That was a major drop from the sales of his previous album, The 20/20 Experience, which sold 968,000 units during its first week. His 2018 Super Bowl performance also garnered mixed reviews and ample side eyes. It was preceded with a #JanetJacksonAppreciationDay hashtag, which was one of the top trending topics on Twitter the entire day of the Super Bowl, somewhat overshadowing his return to the Big Game’s stage and rightfully so.

In the midst of the ridicule, shame and complete disdain for an act that involved more than one party, Janet Jackson has held her head high and persevered. She released her eighth studio album Damito Jo two months after the incident with little to no promotion. However, the album still went on to debut at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 charts. Although she suffered a personal loss with the death of her brother Michael in 2009, she still pressed on with hit albums, numerous awards and film and television roles. In 2015, she inked a major partnership with BMG, which included the beginning of her own label, Rhythm Nation.

Since “Nipplegate,” Jackson has rocked arenas around the world on four highly-anticipated tours. For her Unbreakable World Tour, Jackson partnered with Uber to give fans in more than 25 cities the chance to win tickets by just using the app for rides. The State of the World Tour, which included 78 stops between 2017 and 2019, grossed over $44 million in sales.

Jackson even went on to star in a real-life “role” of a lifetime when she welcomed her baby boy, Eissa Al Mana, on Jan. 3, 2017 at 50 years old. Just last year, she won the Icon Award at the Billboard Music Awards, the first black female artist to do so. And most recently, in December 2018, it was announced that she is joining six other inductees for the 2019 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame class.

In addition to her many accomplishments, she is also revered and respected by her music peers, and she has inspired the career of many of today’s pop and R&B stars, including Britney Spears, Jennifer Lopez, and especially Ciara. During the 2015 BET Awards, the Princess of Crunk & B paid tribute to her idol with rousing performances of “If” and “Rhythm Nation.” Then in 2018, Ciara re-expressed her love for Janet to Billboard saying, “Everything she does is perfection. It says a lot to me. It says you gotta care, you gotta give 100 percent every time... She is queen of creating those iconic moments that we still talk about today. She has been a huge influence in my life.”

That level of impact in a career that spans more than four decades cannot be denied nor held down. Following “Nipplegate,” she may have endured a few hiccups and been shunned, but her star will forever shine brightly. She has proven that much with her success before and definitely with the “Black Girl Magic” she has displayed since then.

What a difference 15 years makes, huh? In the end, Janet “Miss Jackson If You’re Nasty” won.

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Eminem performs on stage during the MTV EMAs 2017 held at The SSE Arena, Wembley on November 12, 2017 in London, England.
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Why Would Sada Baby Not Rank Eminem In His Top Five From Detroit?

Eminem is the most prolific and successful rapper of all time. His stats can’t be faded. When it’s all said and done, we’ll be retiring his number in every stadium he’s ever sold out.

With over 100 million records sold worldwide, an Oscar for Best Original Song, 10 No. 1 albums, more than 1 billion streams on Spotify, two top 100, all-time best selling albums, Marshall Bruce Mathers III is the highest selling rapper of all time. His top five status should be firmly cemented.

The respect for Em also extends to the greatest names in hip-hop. In 2012, VIBE compiled a list of the top 40 compliments Eminem has been given from his peers with names stretching from Scarface to Redman to Jay-Z. In a 2008 interview with BBC, Nas says of Em, “He contributes so much lyrically and musically. He’s amazing.” In a 2010 conversation with Hot 97, Kanye West is on record as saying, “Nobody’s gonna be bigger than Eminem.”

So why does it seem like he isn’t getting the respect he deserves in his own city?

In a recent interview with Say Cheese TV, Detroit rapper Sada Baby – when asked if Eminem was a top five rapper – said, “Out of Detroit? Hell naw. You talking about my Detroit?” While the internet took that quote and decided their varying levels of agreement or anger, there was one thing Sada said that stood out.

“My Detroit.”

While that phrase may not mean anything to outsiders, that distinction means the world to Detroiters.

Detroit is a tale of two cities when it comes to rap. Many know iconic producer J Dilla and wordsmiths like eLZhi and Royce Da 5’9”, but the D has a long, legendary history of street rappers who have helped pave the way. That’s a legacy that younger artists such as Icewear Vezzo, Payroll Giovanni of Doughboyz Cashout, Tee Grizzley, and Sada Baby are pushing forward to this day. As a native Metro Detroiter, artist manager, and digital label manager for Soulspazm Records, Eric “Soko” Reynaert sees both sides as equally important. “The different circles carry a lot of importance in encompassing the variety we have to offer. It's all important equally because it's what makes Detroit hip-hop what it is. Detroit's been running the overseas market touring wise for years, Detroit street rap is making noise in the major label market, Danny Brown's a fucking star: it's all good for Detroit hip-hop as a whole.”

The blunt, straightforward approach of Detroit’s street rappers just doesn’t mesh well with Eminem’s style of storytelling and wordplay. Slim Shady’s knack for entendres, stuffing multisyllabic rhyme schemes inside of each bar and floating between different pockets is a dense, complex style that, in Sada Baby’s own admission, most people just don’t get. “Eminem will get to saying some shit [that’s] going over everybody’s head,” Sada shrugged. “I might be able to decipher some of that shit but that nigga’s shit going over everybody head”.

That’s Sada’s Detroit. Among his musical influences are the late, great Detroit street rappers Blade Icewood and Wipeout - both murdered over the beef between their respective crews, Street Lord'z and the Eastside Chedda Boyz. If you truly want to know what a Detroit native lives by, take a listen to the Eastside Chedda Boyz’s “Oh Boy” and Blade Icewood’s “Boy Would You.” The true anthems of the city, both songs deified by their infectious hooks, blunt and deliberate lyrics, and a simplistic yet highly effective message draped in the energy that Detroiters carry with them. They’re not trying to win you over with metaphors and similes, but rather connect to their audience with honesty and directness in their rhyming. Similar styles can be heard in other 313 legends like Big Herk, K Deezy, and even Trick Trick and his Goon Sqwad click that has been active on the city’s music scene since the mid-‘90s. These are the artists that dominated the streets and Detroit radio. Not J Dilla. Not Slum Village. Not Black Milk. Detroit’s lyrical rappers tout immense worldwide respect but have always been relegated to the background in Detroit’s hierarchy, only sniffing radio play by doing jingles for local disc jockeys.

“There’s a street side and a hip-hop side to the music scene in Detroit,” says battle rap pioneer and Detroit MC Marvwon, while explaining the differences amongst the city’s musical landscape. “The funny thing is [that] there’s no difference in level of talent. The only difference is the backdrops.”

Those backdrops are also socioeconomic in nature as Detroit is a city whose residents have been denied basic human necessities. And for the Motor City? There’s no better representation of the city than the music at the most fundamental, street level. As Marv continued to explain, “The division comes from perception. The street cats believe that there hasn’t been an accurate representation of Detroit in the music world.”

Those feelings are echoed throughout the scene. Detroit MC Seven The General traverses through both worlds in a manner that the city hasn’t seen since the late Big Proof (known as Eminem’s close friend, as a member of his group D12). As Seven explains, “When I was incarcerated, we felt that the street aspect of Detroit wasn’t being heard with Eminem. But when I came home in ‘03 and heard Rock Bottom, I realized it was there but it just wasn’t receiving the same attention nationally. It had been held back and secluded to the streets for so long that people felt Eminem didn’t like it or care. It caused a resentment and caused rappers to feel like he doesn’t listen to us so why should we listen to him. It made us ask, ‘Where on the list of Eminem‘s top five Detroit artists would any of us fit?’”

When taking in these factors, it’s easy to see why Eminem doesn’t translate well for Sada Baby. However, Eminem’s impact has transcended not only Detroit but the world. Artists such as Kendrick Lamar, Hopsin, Tyler The Creator, and Juice WRLD are amongst today’s generation of rappers that all list him as a major influence. For better or worse, Em is also a catalyst for today’s druggie rap scene. Street rappers have gone from rapping about selling drugs to today’s scene glorifying the use of Xanax and Percocet - something that Marshall pioneered on his early albums with songs like “Drug Ballad” and “Purple Pills.” And with the blockbuster film 8 Mile and its hit song “Lose Yourself,” Eminem helped take battle rap culture mainstream to unfamiliar audiences.

Thanks to Eminem, Detroit’s street rap and lyrical scenes have crossed over. Somewhere at the intersection of manager/A&R Hex Murda and Big Sean, the worlds collided. As Marv states, “Big Sean, Danny Brown, and anyone else from the city mostly talk about the same things: money, bitches, and bossing up.” For every J Dilla, we now have a Black Milk who can equally rap and produce between both worlds. Where there’s a Dex Osama, there’s a Guilty Simpson and Seven The General whose blunt and brash flows hit you in the chest as hard as their lyrical ability and wordplay.

And don’t get it twisted; Em definitely sees the work that Detroit’s street rappers are putting in. “I have a personal relationship with all of the rappers around him,” Seven says. “I feel he rocks with me and has love for me. If he could see a way for us to make bread together, I feel like he’d pull me in; but D12 is actively in the streets assisting artists. I’ve personally seen what Em does for Detroit like his partnerships with (Metro Detroit sneaker boutique) Burn Rubber and (locally-founded clothing company) Detroit vs Everybody.”

He may not be your flavor but there’s no denying the skill and impact that Em has had on the city of Detroit and the genre as a whole. If Eminem isn’t top five in Detroit, you’re doing it wrong.

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Cardi B and Beautycon co-founder and CEO Moj Mahdara in conversation at the "Making Money Moves" panel.
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Beautycon NYC: 4 Takeaways From The 5th Annual Event

For the fifth year in a row, Beautycon — an annual festival bringing together beauty and fashion brands, fans, celebrities, and influencers — packed the Jacob Javits Center in Manhattan, N.Y.

On April 6 and 7, thousands of women, men, gender non-conforming individuals and more took part in the exciting, sold-out event, which saw stars such as Cardi B, Issa Rae, Yara Shahidi, Marsai Martin and Regina Hall partaking in panels, workshops, tutorials, meet-and-greets and much more. Brands like The Mane Choice, Too Faced, Sally Beauty, and Rimmel were on hand to promote and sell products, and all festivalgoers went home with a multitude of free products.

The annual two-day event’s underlying message is to highlight a more diverse, inclusive world, with hopes of filtering out judgment and negativity. Whether you’re just starting out in the beauty game or you’ve got hundreds of thousands of followers aiming to learn your ways, Beautycon aims to make everyone feel safe, welcome and ultimately beautiful in the skin they’re in.

“We are far from perfect, we are still learning,” Beautycon co-founder and CEO Moj Mahdara said during the event. “We are growing every day, and it’s really all of you that make this better and better.” Beautycon festivals are held in New York City, Los Angeles, London, and recently, the company announced that for the first time this June, Beautycon is heading to Japan.

VIBE Vixen got a chance to sit in on panels, partake in the various installations and take in all of the sights of the Beautycon NYC Festival. Here are four things we learned while at this year’s edition in the Big Apple.

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Inclusion Is Finally In, So Now It’s Time For Allyship

While makeup companies are starting to be more inclusive as it pertains to consumers of color, it’s important for brands to continue the crusade by being allies.

During a panel called “The Intersection of Fashion and Beauty,” moderator Priscilla Ono praised makeup artist Raisa Flowers for being open and honest about the disadvantages makeup artists of color face. While their work is championed online “for clicks,” Flowers noted that some of the best makeup artists of color are still unable to find work in the industry. A similar sentiment trended on Twitter earlier in the year regarding the lack of black makeup artists and hairstylists in Hollywood.

“In the industry, they don’t really bring us out,” Flowers said of the power of social media for beauty gurus. “I work with mostly black women, but I can do [makeup on] everyone, and [I’m hired] to [work with] certain people… even if it’s not on a black woman, the work I do is powerful enough to change the energy in the room.”

Of course, the importance of allyship and knowing consumers translates to clothing brands. As we’ve seen this year with luxury brands such as Gucci, it’s imperative to make sure that the history of certain communities is known, so that brands won’t make massive mistakes or exclude a group through their work or designs. This can be done by employing diverse, qualified members to these teams and taking into consideration the lives of all people who buy into these brands.

 

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My Collab with @eloquii has been a dream to create over the past year! Getting to design for sizes 14+ with a brand that knows FIT so well! And I had NO LIMITS! Something I’m so grateful for! I hope you enjoy this collection as much as I do💛#PriscillaOnoxEloquii

A post shared by Priscilla Ono (@priscillaono) on Apr 5, 2019 at 8:09am PDT

All Shapes And Sizes Deserve Representation In Beauty And Fashion

With fast-fashion brands such as Fashion Nova, there appears to be just one body type that is championed. Although the Instagram-favorite has extended themselves with lines for men and plus-sized women, it’s important that all shapes and sizes are represented in the fashion and beauty spaces.

“Across the board, there are different aesthetics [for plus sized women],” fashion photographer Lydia Hudgens explained during the panel, ‘The Intersection of Fashion and Beauty.’ “When women are plus-sized, there’s a different room for them. She’s different, you’re different, I’m different. Having a voice and a different style heard is important too.”

Beautycon’s commitment to diversity was apparent in the brands they brought to their event. Cacique Intimates is a lingerie brand specializing in sizes from 0-28. Their display and mannequin showcased the plus-sized products in their collection, which was incredibly refreshing to see. Makeup artist Priscilla Ono also debuted her clothing design collaboration with Eloquii, which specializes in eye-popping and trendy fashions catered to women who are a size 14 and up.

 

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We just LOVE our booth @beautycon in NYC. Follow the story for more! #BeautyConNYC 💕

A post shared by Cacique (@caciqueintimates) on Apr 6, 2019 at 11:44am PDT

Bright Colors Are In

If you’re committed to Yeezy Season neutrals such as grays, greens and black in your wardrobe, you’re in for a bit of disappointing news. It was clear at the Beautycon NYC Festival that vibrant fashion is the theme of 2019.

Bright pink and green pastels filled the Convention Center. Regardless of whether you’re trying to be a “Cozy Girl,” or if you’re ready to rip the runway, your best bet is to go with something as bright as humanly possible if you’re trying to make a statement this year.

This suggestion also works with accessories. Patterned head wraps were en vogue at this year’s Beautycon NYC Festival, as well as bright bundles, wigs and weaves. The energetic and fun colors helped these individuals both fit in and stand out.

 

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Struttin through #BeautyConNYC in @fashionnova 💚 @thezurisaddai

A post shared by Aliya Janell (@thealiyajanell) on Apr 8, 2019 at 11:02am PDT

 

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The cast of “Little”, @issarae in @therow, @marsaimartin in @ralphandrusso, and @morereginahall, glam up to attend BeautyCon NYC! #IssaRae #TheRow #MarsaiMartin #RalphandRusso #ReginaHall #LittleMovie #talksandthoughts

A post shared by @ talksandthought on Apr 8, 2019 at 9:56am PDT

Beautycon’s Tone Could Use A Facelift

As Beautycon co-founder Moj Mahdara said, the five-year-old company is continuing to grow and learn. While Beautycon’s motive is to start necessary, intentional conversations in the fashion, beauty and social justice realms, it seems that the NYC festival needed a little work with keeping a consistent tone throughout the two-day event.

For example, we love Cardi B’s unapologetic, unfiltered approach to life just as much as we love Yara Shahidi’s intelligence and conscious way of looking at the world. Women are multifaceted, and it’s important to show both sides. While it was amazing to have both of these figures at the event, if you’re looking at the full scope of Beautycon, the ebb and flow made the content of the panels just seem a bit all over the place.

Cardi’s explicitness during her panel “Making Money Moves” was expected. However, there were far too many children in the audience for some of the comments she brought forth. The day before, a large group of people ended up leaving Shahidi’s “fireside chat” called “Fighting the Fear of Being Yourself," which some who passed VIBE Vixen called- for lack of a better word- ‘boring.’ It was right after a twerktastic dance performance and motivational speech from dancer and choreographer, Aliya Janell.

Now, this isn’t to say that Beautycon doesn’t know who they’re attempting to reach out to. It’s clear through the brands that attended the festival that the company knows who they’d like to get the attention of. But when it comes to the tone of conversations they were trying to promote, coupled with celebrities and speakers for these particular conversations, they could use some readjusting. There wasn’t the right rhythm most of the time, however, the company continues to grow and thrive. Hopefully, they’ll figure out their tone in due time.

 

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A quick throwback to yesterday when @noor and I reunited at @beautycon to talk about media, social engagement and inclusion 😘❣️ a big merci to @moj

A post shared by Yara (يارا‎) Shahidi (@yarashahidi) on Apr 7, 2019 at 5:30pm PDT

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Nipsey Hussle at A Craft Syndicate Music Collaboration Unveiling Event at Opera Atlanta on December 10, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia.
Prince Williams/Wireimage

The Authentic Spirit Of Nipsey Hussle

In what is touted as his first interview ever, and what it certainly has become his most famous, a 21-year-old Nipsey Hussle was asked why he wasn’t draped in jewelry like rappers typically are. His answer was so unusual and extraordinary, the interviewer from Hard Knock TV was aghast.

“All that is cool for the image and all that, but all them is liabilities,” he said. “I’d rather invest in some real estate.”

The answer floored the interviewer so much he cut Nipsey off and asked him to elaborate before he even got the chance to finish his sentence. This was not normal rapper jargon, and it has become abundantly clear over the next decade that Nipsey Hussle was not a normal rapper.

Nipsey Hussle was an outlier.

Even as he was constantly told he bore a striking resemblance to one of his idols, Snoop Dogg, Nipsey always stood out. Lanky, with a district voice and a perspective we had yet to see from a rapper in his mold. In the blog era seemingly cluttered with more rappers than ever, he found a way to break through with the gift of authenticity.

Nipsey resonated with the public for many reasons but relatability is the most evident. He came from the streets of Los Angeles but told nationwide street tales. When he began to win on a larger scale, it felt like one of us had made it. His success became our success and showed a whole corner of the community that it was possible to elevate themselves and become something more than the meager prison or jail future that often felt like destiny. Nipsey showed people they could be more.

When he signed with Epic Records back in 2008, that felt like the victory he’d always needed, but after several years of label strife he eventually was released from his contract - and that's when his elevation truly began. Nipsey responded to his newfound independence with a game-changing strategy: first a $100 album which sold 1,000 copies in the first day (including 100 copies purchased by Jay-Z), then a $1,000 album that sold 60 copies. Nipsey’s startling talk of assets and appreciation was beginning to manifest itself, not just in his potent lyrics, but also in his precedent-setting business moves.

That was just more of Nipsey’s authenticity shining through. He told us he only wanted assets that appreciate, realized that he was the most valuable asset, and he began to build on that. Eventually, his success began to catch up with all the work he’d put in. His last record, Victory Lap, was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 61st Grammy Awards, and that felt like the validation he’d always deserved, whether he won or not.

The album was a masterpiece, and it was Nipsey’s natural charisma that made it so. Again, the word authenticity comes to mind, as every syllable he confidently churned out had an air of legitimacy that is rare in a world where embellishment is the status quo. As usual, Nipsey stood out, both for his humanity and his ability to speak so frankly about his life. That allowed fans to digest a stunning glance at a mirror, and not only know that they weren’t alone in their suffering and plight, but that there was light at the end of the tunnel as well.

When the final verse of “Blue Laces 2” was hailed as one of the best verses of 2018, it was due to the same feasibility that oozed out of the speaker when Nipsey spoke. There’s no unorthodox flow to impress the listener, or any metaphors or similes to sift through, dissect and interpret. It was just straight to the point, a story you just knew was real because you probably have been there and lived through it before. This is exactly what it’s like when someone gets shot, this is the mania and trauma you live through in the moment, and the soothing calmness with which he delivered the entire stanza is the same calmness we’re expected to elicit in the moment we’re forced to traverse through such a traumatic experience. This was real life, Nipsey just happened to say it on wax.

In being that rare thread of authenticity in the fabric of the lush tapestry that makes up the world of hip-hop, Nipsey was doing the unthinkable, especially on the west coast, following in the footsteps of LA’s most transcendent rap star ever. After his death in 1996, there was a Tupac-sized void in the world of hip-hop and in the black community that just seemed like it would never be filled. Pac was the world’s most popular rapper at the time of his death, and his demise only seemed to further deify him. He always felt like more of a revolutionary than a rapper, and his death left the feeling of unfinished business. Twenty-six years simply weren’t enough for Pac to accomplish all of the things he seemed to be destined to accomplish.

Many rappers have been compared to Pac, but it always felt hyperbolic, or downright blasphemous. Over 20 years since his death, Nipsey felt like his truest heir, in all facets of life. Afforded seven more years of life than Pac, Nipsey seemed to accomplish all of the things Pac envisioned. He started businesses in his community to employ the unemployable, he looked to educate and empower the children who grew up like him in an effort to ensure they wouldn’t always have to live that life. He launched a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math center in his neighborhood the day before he released his latest album because, as he put it, “In our culture, there's a narrative that says, 'Follow the athletes, follow the entertainers,'" he said. "And that's cool but there should be something that says, 'Follow Elon Musk, follow [Mark] Zuckerberg.’”

With all he was able to accomplish, and the way he projected his principles of empowerment onto his community and the world, Nipsey made the comparison apt. In fact, Nipsey’s legacy is probably better suited to stand on its own, because much like Pac before him. Nipsey will be immortalized, with his impact being felt long after this tragic moment, both in the community he spent his life trying to uplift and beyond.

But even in death, his life’s work lives on, and not just in song. Yes, his records are impactful, and yes, they will help countless fans through their hard times with that same cool, calm and collected tranquility he relied on to help his friend on “Blue Laces 2.” But so will the STEM center he helped launch, and the others he had hoped to launch in other cities across America. So will the basketball court he renovated across from his grandma’s house, the one that served as a refuge for him during his childhood.

 

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Damn I wish my nigga @allmoneyinfats Was here! How u die at 30 somethin After Bangin all them years Grammy Nominated In tha Sauna shedding Tears All this Money Power Fame And I can’t make u re-appear But I don’t wipe um tho... We jus embrace tha only life we kno If it was me I’d tell u nigga live yo life and grow I’d tell u finish what we started Reach Them Heights U Kno? And gas tha V12 Till tha Piping Smoke

A post shared by Nipsey Hussle (@nipseyhussle) on Feb 18, 2019 at 7:47pm PST

Nipsey Hussle was more than a rapper—he was Ermias Asghedom, son of an Eritrean immigrant, a father, brother, friend and so much more. He was an entrepreneur, a revolutionary for Eritreans and African Americans and a philanthropist determined to resurrect and restructure the community that raised him.. He was unwavering in his attempts to uplift his people and pursue true independence no matter how much he was chided, scoffed at and accosted. His death was senseless, and now we’re all stuck trying to make sense out of it.

Rappers love to say “It’s bigger than rap,” though what they’re discussing rarely is. This time is the exception. We didn’t deserve Nipsey Hussle, and now, unfortunately, we’re going to have to learn to live without him.

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