To many, Nipsey Hussle was the first rapper in a while to wholeheartedly, fearlessly practice what he preached. He didn’t just send a representative on his behalf – he showed and proved in his community. He didn’t think twice about showing up last Sunday (March 31) to give a recently released friend some new clothes after their release from jail. No security in tow, just him and his heart with good intentions. His deed became part of his demise, but he died doing what he was placed on this earth to do: give back.
On this sunny Friday afternoon days after Nipsey was shot and killed, a line of fans and loved ones snaked into the backend alleyway — behind the small strip mall nestled on Crenshaw and Slauson Avenue — and spilled onto the block opposite of Slauson. This strip mall is where Neighborhood Nip had hustled and sold his music out of the trunk before earning enough to open his retail store, The Marathon, in June of 2017. He owned the whole mall and had announced plans to develop affordable housing above its stores. And today, we’re all here to pay our respects, a few feet away from where he lost his life.
At the entrance of the alleyway, men clad in black suits are distributing copies of The Final Call, a local free newspaper from The Nation of Islam that circulates through the streets of South Central. The cover of the paper features Nipsey, born Ermias Asghedom, in a black tuxedo the night of 2019’s Grammy Awards. He was nominated that night for Best Rap Album for 2018’s stellar Victory Lap.
The air is thick with despair and heartbreak. And in spite of the masses of people outside in this area, right in this very moment, everyone in this line is relatively quiet except for a few side chatters here and there, mere decibels above a whisper. All other noise is coming from Nipsey, his bars pouring out of each car that cruises by. I’ve heard his brash, motivational rhymes about life in the hood and his endless hustle every day all over Los Angeles since his untimely death.
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In front of the strip mall, Nipsey’s childhood friend Adrena Hodge is behind a table opening a pack of tortillas and other ingredients. She’s here all day preparing free tacos and hot dogs for the community. Hodge grew up riding bikes with the future rap legend in the Hyde Park area.
Adrena says that even before the fame, he always wanted to do right by his people. “Before he even got big, he always helped and gave back to the community. This was even before the fame. This has always been him,” she says, clad in a white t-shirt underneath a navy blue apron. “I have a cousin that’s in prison right now. Nipsey takes care of him; sends him $500 a month. I can’t call no friends to depend on for $500 a month for someone incarcerated. To me, that’s a real ni**a. Period.”
“I’m sad about this and that’s why I’m here just to help out in any way that I can. It’s still unbelievable to me at this moment,” she continues. “Yeah, he’s a former gang member, but he turned his life around. Like really tried to do something positive, and for somebody to try to take his life over nothing—I think it’s like some hater…it’s just sad. It breaks my heart. I want to say rest in peace Nip, I love you. Dree Dree out here for you. And I’m supporting you all the way through.”
At just 33 years old, Nipsey had already become a beacon of hope for his community. He made it his lifelong mission to give back to the maligned streets that birthed and raised him. He was a man for the people and believed in rehabilitating his crime-ridden hometown (or The 60’s, as locals call it) neighborhood. Instead of risking the loss of the Crenshaw district to gentrification, he made it a point to buy parts of the neighborhood himself for the community’s own benefit. He hired felons and aspiring artists and gave them a second chance.
A second chance that in the real world, outside of the beautiful bubble Nipsey created, comes as frequently as seeing a solar eclipse. Nipsey didn’t just talk about the hood and the corrupt politics that enslaved its constituents— he created a tangible stimulus package for local residents to benefit from.
Last year, he launched a STEM-inspired community space called Vector 90 in the Crenshaw district, in efforts to serve as a vehicle to promote diversity in the tech world and help the youth engage in science and mathematics.
“In our culture, there’s a narrative that says, ‘Follow the athletes, follow the entertainers,'” he told The Los Angeles Times. “And that’s cool, but there should be something that says, ‘Follow Elon Musk, follow [Mark] Zuckerberg.’ I think that with me being influential as an artist and young and coming from the inner city, it makes sense for me to be one of the people that’s waving that flag.”
On “Overtime” off his Mailbox Money mixtape (2014), he raps about the pressure of being his hood’s messiah while acknowledging the power of his talents and the confidence that would eventually cement his spot in hip-hop. “I just want all of this paper, though/So maybe I could try and change this sh*t/Maybe, me, I’m too ambitious/Or maybe this a new dimension/Maybe them, they too religious/Maybe they judge my intentions/But either way, I’m on my mission/In the sky, for our love, I’ma tie a ribbon.”
“Feel the pressure from your people, right?/Still choose to lead ’em right?/Sometimes I rap about my feature price/Or all of my defeats in life/They told me don’t believe the hype/But I felt like this ’bout myself before the mic.”
Five years later, the father of two’s hard work earned him mainstream superstardom after years of grinding on the mixtape circuit. His star was rising and reached the pages of GQ in a gorgeous spread with his partner, Lauren London. It made the internet swoon and yearn for that same hood fairytale love story. Days after his murder, London revealed she felt “lost” without him.
Ermias, the “Dedication” rapper’s first name, means “God will rise,” which is tatted beside his left eye. Born to an Eritrean father and African-American mother, his parents believe he was put on Earth to fulfill a mission put in place by a higher power.
“It was like he was sent by God to give some love to bring us together because that’s what his lyrics were saying, always,” his father, Dawit Asghedom told The Los Angeles Times. “He’s not shy to tell the truth even though it might not look good. He wasn’t scared of anything. [God] sent him to send a message. It looks like, ‘Your time is up because you have completed what I sent you to do.’ We all have a plan, but God has his own plan. So he had completed what he needed to be doing and he did it early so [God] probably want to take him early, too.”
Before we’re let inside the parking lot of the mall to pay our condolences, at the alleyway, a caramel-skinned young lady with honey brown locs and a gold hoop hooked on her left nostril, kneels down on the concrete to write something for Nipsey on a cement block wall that sits across from a heavenly, airbrushed painting of him.
The wall is inundated with graffiti and beautiful messages for him. With a black marker she writes, “Thank You For Your Light. WE STILL SHINING 4 U.” How can we keep shining?
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