It’s Day 2 at the very first Marathon Clothing New York City pop-up held at Live Nation. It’s a little after 12:30 p.m. on a sunny brisk Saturday afternoon in the Meatpacking District and I’m greeted by Jorge Peniche, former tour manager of the prolific rapper Nipsey Hussle, but more importantly, he was family. He says he’s catching a red-eye back to L.A. to celebrate his son’s Mickey Mouse-themed 2nd birthday party. We chat for a bit and then I head outside to talk to fans waiting in line. Isha Kabba Al-Saadi, who drove from Boston the night before and waited in line for four hours before entering the pop-up, said Nipsey’s music and entrepreneurial interviews inspired her to be her own boss.
“I got my real estate license. I’m done working for people. You want to be something in this life, get your own and be your own boss.” Her goal is to continue to educate others on financial freedom and financial literacy. Another fan waiting in line to get his hands on TMC merchandise was Rob who said Nipsey’s 2013 Crenshaw mixtape helped him through college. His lyrical messages were a great reminder to keep pushing forward by any means necessary.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been eight months since the rapper was violently gunned down in front of his South Central L.A. Marathon Clothing store on March 31, 2019. For New Yorkers who have never visited the City of Angels, rocking a Crenshaw snapback ($40.00) or hoodie ($100.00) would give them a tangible taste of Crenshaw and Slauson, where Nip resided. Not to mention meeting the Marathon team in person like Jorge, Nip’s older brother Samiel “Blacc Sam” Asghedom, Adam Andebrhan, Jonathan Fagan, Archer One and of course Slauson Bruce who surprised the crowd when he appeared on opening day dressed as Santa Claus. J Stone, an artist that Hussle signed to his label, was also in attendance promoting his newly released album titled The Definition of Loyalty. The team also flew out Nipsey’s beloved grandmother, Margaret Boutte, who was visiting the Big Apple for the very first time and took photos with fans at the pop-up. I asked Jorge why the team decided to open on Black Friday and he said they’ve done that in previous years and had a successful turn out financially.
I make my way inside the crowded pop-up where I find myself bumping to Victory Lap playing in the background. Fans are crowded around me trying to get their hands on their favorite items. From Crenshaw lighters to Marathon baby onesies, TMC had something for everyone at different price points. Veteran music and film director Benny Boom even stopped by to show support and purchased some merch before he sat down with VIBE to talk about his friend.
I know you wanted Nipsey to play Snoop Dogg in the film All Eyez On Me but due to circumstances, he couldn’t do it.
Benny Boom: Yeah, I’ve known Nip for a really long time. Since he was 19. I came to L.A. in 2005 to direct and produce a movie called Crenshaw Boulevard and I had to meet with the Rollin 60s. One of those meetings he was there. He was kind of quiet in the background and that’s when I first met him and we became cool after that.
What was he like as a person?
Benny Boom: Every time I saw him he was just the same guy as when I first met him. He was very reserved and quiet. It was actually a birthday party for Big U’s son and Nipsey was there so it was a very family, informal situation. It was in a backyard in L.A. he was just cool, something about him. The first thing that struck me was “Man, this kid looks like Snoop so much.” It was crazy.
I’m sure he got that a lot!
Benny Boom: He got that a lot which was probably a lot of the reason why I think when we were trying to get him for the role, it was part of the reason why he backed off of it because he didn’t really want that attached to him when he was about to really blow up.
I understand that though.
Benny Boom: When I lived in L.A., we lived in the same apartment complex so I would see him often. We would just hang out. I had a really good relationship with him when we’d see each other. I watched him go from Neighborhood Nip to Slauson Boys to an MC to a rapper and it was really great to see that transition.
Then for him to be at the Grammys…
Benny Boom: That was amazing to me because when I first met him I didn’t know he was a rapper. I always thought he was one of the kids from the 60s that we had to talk to. He’s inspirational. As he went on, I remember when he first started this line. I was in L.A. doing a project and a friend of mine told me, ”You know that Crenshaw stuff, that’s Nipsey’s stuff.” I’m like, “Really?” I got in touch with him and he said, “What do you need?” and I said, “A couple of shirts, a couple of hats.” He sent over two boxes full and I said, “C’mon man that’s too much merchandise.”
I feel like that’s how he was.
Benny Boom: Yeah that’s how he was. I just wanted a few shirts and he sent over so much merchandise that I had to bring it back home to New York and I had to give it away. This was 2014 when I first got the stuff. I don’t think the store opened yet and he said, “Man, just tell people about it,” and I said, “Alright” and I came back to New York. I was giving people Crenshaw tee shirts and you know people from New York were like, “Crenshaw? What’s that?” and I said, “No, this is Nipsey Hussle’s line.” That was five or six years ago.
So forward it to now and he has his first pop-up in New York City and unfortunately, he’s not here. Just coming to the pop-up today, how did you feel?
Benny Boom: It sends a little chill. Anytime I’m around people that know him or talk to him…to see something like this. I wish he was here because this is something he would’ve wanted to happen. Just the respect that he had for everybody around him.
It wasn’t just celebrities. It was anybody.
Benny Boom: To see this travel the way it has. His message and people quoting him the way that they quote Dr. King. The whole marathon continues I think it’s very real. The little bit of what we were able to get from him. That small portion of knowledge and celebrity as you would call it. I think it’s going to travel the distance. It’s going to travel in terms of time. Ten years from now, I think people are going to still be quoting him. Out of the tragedy, something good has to happen. We always look for the silver lining in things. Of course, the family and Lauren [London], who’s a good friend of mine, the kids, they miss him. We miss him. They are aching more and we’re here to support them. That’s the reason why I’m here to support the movement. It’s not just about talking, it’s about walking as well. I just wish he was here. He was such a great kid and I have my memories of him that I’ll always hold on to. Us laughing in the backyard or us hanging out by the pool in the complex in L.A. just talking regular, everyday-life-talk so I’m holding on to those things.
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How does the marathon continue in your life?
Benny Boom: It continues with me because I look at where I’ve gone. I’ve been directing for 20 years now. It’s like the next phase of my career and what I want to do. If you ever get disgruntled, you just have to keep going on. The marathon continues. It’s not just a saying, you gotta really believe it. I’m a firm believer in the bible. I’m a Christian. I believe things happen for a reason and sometimes divine intervention happens. These things happen in life and it’s a sign for you to take notice and to give you a message and messages come in different ways. If we can learn anything from his death, I would say that we have to learn how to love one another a little bit better. I don’t know all the circumstances, the guy and why he did it.
None of us do.
Benny Boom: At the end of the day, it’s not that important but I do know that Nipsey had love for everybody that was around him. Even the person that did it, at some point we do know that Nipsey had love for him too. So we walk away from it thinking how can we be better to each other as human beings and I think that is what the Marathon is about as well. It’s about the things he talked about but it’s also about the thing that happened, his death and how do we be better to each other as human beings. Our brothers, our sisters. How do we take care of each other better? We’re not slaves anymore, you know what I’m saying? We’ve come a long way since then and we’re all in a position to help one another to be better. I think that for me is what the marathon was. You saw how the gangs came together.
That was beautiful. That was history in the making.
Benny Boom: It was historic for everyone to look at that and to really understand that all these gangs…I know a lot of those guys, not from the 60s but from other neighborhoods that shouldn’t go over there just to hang out. They would never come to the Marathon store.
But they did.
Benny Boom: They did for HIM.
That says a lot about him.
Benny Boom: And the respect that he had in that city and everywhere else. I think if we continue to love one another, to uplift each other, to try to help each other, that’s what Nipsey was doing. Sometime in the future, I’ll be able to do something outside the career. Something tangible that I’ve been thinking of trying to put together that would be an extension of what Nipsey was trying to do.
Would you ever do a movie on him?
Benny Boom: I don’t know. For me it’s difficult and I think it’s too soon. I definitely think it’s too soon. We need to heal. I don’t think the healing has happened yet. Part of the reason why the line is so long outside is because the healing hasn’t happened. Especially here in New York. People in New York, we just got a little taste of what Nipsey was. In L.A., I’ll be driving down Fairfax and I’ll think, why is there no pop-up here and I just can’t imagine. That street would be crazy. It would be 10,000 people out there so I love the fact that it came here to New York City. I think there needs to be one in Chicago, Atlanta, Miami. We need to take this to other places and not just be about commerce. It needs to be about what you’re doing. Sitting down talking to people that either knew him or had some connection to him that can actually talk about what it means to come here and be a part of something historic with the Marathon pop-up. It should travel. That’s part of the marathon as well.
I hope so. I hope they do. I feel like they are. 2020…you never know. Philly, you’re next!
Benny Boom: Philly, that’s my hometown. If you put it in Philly I’ll tell you now it’s going to be 20,000 people out there. They have to start making merchandise now. People will be out there because that’s the type of city that really embraced Nipsey and everything that he stood for and they loved him.
I feel like everybody really loved him. That’s what he exudes…love.
Shortly after my conversation with Benny, comedian Tony Rock enters from the side entrance. He’s looking through boxes of Marathon product to find his size. I walk up to him and introduce myself. He tells me he went to The Marathon store in L.A. to show his support after Nipsey’s passing and how he had to welcome the TMC team to his city.
How does it feel having the pop-up shop here in the Concrete Jungle?
Tony Rock: There should be one in New York. There should be one in Atlanta. There should be one in L.A. But you know, it’s a slow build-up.
As a comedian, how has Nip inspired you? It’s not just about the music. The marathon continues in comedy too.
Tony Rock: You know what the crazy thing is? If you look at the black experience, every couple of years or so a black person has the blueprint and black people just don’t for whatever reason follow that person’s lead and Nip had the blueprint. How we could have financial freedom. How we could own. How we could live in harmony, so to speak, and it took something horrible for the God in us to wake everybody up and realize he really had the blueprint. I say that not jokingly. God is in everybody but it takes something for us to wake up and realize we have to walk in our purpose and Nip did that. He walked on the left side for a while and then when God woke him up he became a whole different person. That’s why it affected people because they realize he’s walking in his purpose.
Wow. How are you continuing the marathon in your own life?
Tony Rock: In my life, I’m trying to do the same thing. I’m trying to lead by example. I hire my friends. Any capacity that my friends can be of service to where I don’t need to hire the next man to do, I make sure my friends get that job. If I have to teach my friends how to do that job, I will. That keeps the marathon going.
What’s one of your favorite Nipsey songs?
Tony Rock: “None of This” and many more but that’s the one I have on repeat when I’m at the crib getting ready to go out.
I had a lot of guys say they listen to his music when they workout. Do you do that?
Tony Rock: It’s more inspirational than a workout. It’s more when you’re chilling, trying to get your mind right than lifting weights. Plus I don’t workout (Laughs).
Hours pass and people continue to line up outside waiting to get a glimpse in. I sat down with the man behind the graphics for the clothing line designer, Archer One. When he first arrived on Black Friday and saw the line wrap around the corner he became emotional but in a good way. Growing up in South Central himself, as a kid from the West Coast, it was heartwarming to see and feel the love from New York.