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.
View this post on Instagram
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
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.