As the news of Nipsey Hussle being shot flooded social media timelines, a 2006 clip from one of his earliest interviews at Russell Simmons’ “Get Your Money Right” summit began to spread like wildfire. It finds a then 21-year-old up-and-coming rapper gabbing about purchasing real estate in response to a question about why he isn’t dripping in diamonds like his peers.
Nipsey’s stance catches the interviewer, Davey D, by surprise, and Nipsey is asked to repeat himself. The Crenshaw MC fulfills this request, with a little more bass in his voice the second time around. “I said invest! In some assets! As opposed to trickin’ all my money on some liabilities like diamonds and cars that lose value as soon as you drive ‘em off the lot!”
Moments later, the same young man talks about serving as a symbol of an unfortunate reality. “I’m just representin’ what’s goin’ on out here,” he says of his music. “From a perspective of a young dude that been out in these streets in LA, I’m just givin’ to ‘em raw and uncut. But at the same time, I’m not glorifying what’s poppin’ out here, ‘cause it ain’t nothing to glorify. I look at my music like a snapshot of my neighborhood.”
I said invest! In some assets! As opposed to trickin’ all my money on some liabilities like diamonds and cars that lose value as soon as you drive ‘em off the lot!
This young Black man, born Ermias Asghedom on August 15, 1985, from the violent streets of the Crenshaw District, also happened to know a thing or two about depreciating value. This was foreign. Foreign because it was the culmination of a dichotomy that was never meant to exist: oppression and aptitude.
Growing up Black in any forsaken ‘hood in America is an experience that is riddled with a sense of lack. My own forsaken ‘hood was Brownsville, Brooklyn, New York. Tattered tenements, piss-scented hallways, roaches, drug addicts nodding off on nearby park benches, NYPD light towers, the whole nine. Storied as one of the borough’s toughest neighborhoods to date, “Brownsville” had become synonymous with struggle of all kinds. And for 15 years, it was where I laid my head, watching my father balance a heroin addiction in one hand and two daughters in the other.
The ‘hood has no “silver lining.” For most, the promise of being saved from their surroundings came only from Jesus Christ himself. For others, the will to survive found them at dire straits; our project apartment was once robbed after my father unsuccessfully tried his hand at drug dealing. Welfare was not enough to bring anything past necessity into fruition, like Jordans and dope Christmases. Depression, anxiety and PTSD all earned frequent flyer miles in the heads and hearts of all who scraped the bottom of the barrel in this way.
during an interview last year, this would be our common thread. On the heels of the release of his debut album, Victory Lap, he was most concerned with new listeners taking something from his life. "I think I’ve always just been selling my story,” he said. “That’s been what I’ve been leading with the whole time, so I hope that this brings people in to who I am, and then they can get into the catalog of what I’ve been doing, and see what happened before the album, musically. I just want them to be aware of the story, because to me, the story is inspiring. You can get a lot from a story."
Though on the opposite coast of a country that couldn’t care less about either one of us, Nipsey Hussle was facing his own forsaken ‘hood in South Central Los Angeles, a journey he shared over the course of a dozen mixtapes. His story comes alive through his art, from the morbidly titled Bullets Ain’t Got No Name Vol 1., where he professes his allegiance to his Rollin’ Sixties Crips gang on “R.S.C. for Life,” to The Marathon’s “Blue Laces,” where he outlines the absence of a crystal stair: “I seen n***as get killed for who they roll with/ And chose to keep inside they circle/ Satan sittin' on your sofa/ Same n***a that shot you was the one you used to smoke with.”
He detailed his desperation to earn on Slauson Boy 2’s “I Remember,” noting that he risked 100-year sentences to get rich. He reflected on being incarcerated after finding out he had a child on the way on Famous Lies & Unpopular Truths' “County Jail.” This narration continued right up to his Grammy-nominated debut album, Victory Lap, where on “Blue Laces 2,” he recalls the devastation of finding out that the $250,000 he and his brother buried in their backyard on 60th Street had grown mold.
I just want them to be aware of the story, because to me, the story is inspiring. You can get a lot from a story.
Bar after bar, beat after beat, tape after tape, Nipsey Hussle’s voice began to reverberate beyond repeat value and “next up” conversations. Running tangentially to his affinity for raw rhymes was his ability to enterprise, as the rapper abandoned major label fame for the slow burn of his aptly named music label, All Money In.
For some, their introduction to Nipsey was not his lyrics, but his unmitigated gall to sell his work for greater than market value. In 2013, he sold his Crenshaw album at $100 apiece, catching the attention of Jay-Z, who rang the register for 100 copies. Two years later, the Slauson boy was at it again, this time releasing his Mailbox Money project online for free, while pricing physical copies for $1,000, moving a whopping 60 copies in the first week. In an interview with Forbes (who would seek Nipsey’s thought on more than one occasion) in 2015, he belted out his take on the money structure. “I believe that economics is based on scarcity of markets,” he said. “And it’s possible to monetize your art without compromising the integrity of it for commerce.”
It was clear by these gutsy business moves that Nipsey Hussle had yet another ingredient that wasn’t marked in America’s recipe for him: audacity. The audacity to establish his own wealth. To self-educate. To walk through doors clearly marked “DO NOT ENTER.”
To be gluttonous about one’s own success, to pour into an insatiable desire to want more for one’s self, is not a luxury afforded to many in the ‘hood. Capitalism was not designed for us to participate in; we learned along the way that its primary function is quite the opposite. So imagine the ‘hood’s elation when we learn that one of our own could spin gold? We marveled as he continued to become. He became a self-made label executive, inking a partnership — not just a record deal — with Atlantic Records. He became the proud owner of a barbershop and a fish market. He became the owner of his own brick-and-mortar brand, Marathon Clothing, after hustling in the plaza’s parking lot. Then he teamed up with a fellow Black man to buy the whole plaza. One of us did that. Carrying braids, tattoos and an undying loyalty to his set with him every step of the way.
Still he didn’t forget about those still clawing their ways out. His audacity stretched to include the ‘hood, adding philanthropic efforts to his overwhelmingly inspiring endeavors. He gave new shoes to school children. He helped put down new paving in his neighborhood basketball courts. He gave jobs to people in the community. He partnered with co-working space Vector 90 to launch the “Too Big to Fail” initiative, which seeks to bring a STEM (Science, Technology. Engineering and Math) center not only to Crenshaw, but other inner cities in America.
Not many care this much about us.
On the surface, Nipsey Hussle died exactly how the powers that be would have liked: a victim of gun violence in the very “ghetto” he worked to liberate. But beneath that harrowing narrative lies a truth that cannot be reversed: Nipsey Hussle is now a testament that we can have more. He is now proof that the ‘hood can know more than lack. He now serves as an inspiration to look beyond our tattered tenements. He leaves behind two children, Emani and Kross Asghedom, the second of which was with his longtime partner, actress Lauren London.
Nipsey Hussle’s first name, Ermias, is said to mean “God will rise.” We, the ‘hood, surely hope so.