The tragic passing of Ermias Asghedom, better known as Nipsey Hussle continues to reverberate throughout hip-hop culture. He was destined for megastardom as an artist, an entrepreneur, and an activist. Although he did not live long and Victory Lap was his only major commercial release, two years after his tragic death, the measure of Nip’s impact has been immense as he inspired an entire generation with his motivational music, his business acumen, and his commitment to his hometown, Los Angeles.
Noted music journalist and author Rob Kenner, in his latest book The Marathon Don’t Stop: The Life and Times of Nipsey Hussle, gives the first biographical account of Nipsey’s transformative legacy. Kenner’s in-depth analysis of Nispey’s life reveals the makings of a legend and the events that made Nipsey Hussle a worldwide icon.
BET.com spoke with Kenner about Nipsey’s development as an artist, his vision to empower his community, and why his movement will never die.
BET.com: Before we jump into the book, I read that you first met Nipsey way back in 2009 when you were at Vibe. Take us back to that first meeting. What initially drew you to Nip who was relatively unknown at the time?
Rob Kenner: I met Nipsey when I worked at Vibe when he was promoting his mixtape Bullets Aint Got No Name Vol 1. He was sending his demos, headshots, and promo packages to our office. He was already ahead of the game with his digital strategy. As with everything else in his life, he stayed focused, persisted, and never got discouraged. When he finally showed up to the office, without knowing who he was, I was instantly impressed by his demeanor, his charisma, and the sharpness of his mind. He performed “Dre Jackin For Beats” which was like déjà vu because we gave Snoop Dogg, who Nipsey reminded us of, his first profile. When he rhymed over the “Gin and Juice,” I knew he was a star. He was the last profile we did at Vibe in print before it became a digital platform.
BET.com: Since then, you have become an authority on Nipsey but can you tell us something that you discovered while writing the book that you didn’t know before?
Rob Kenner: That’s a good question. As someone that loved and respected his music and his whole movement, I thought I was well informed. But I've learned so much more talking to people who knew him best.
One thing that blew my mind was that Nip and Ralo Stylez did a track and that got into the hands of Afeni Shakur. She was so impressed with the track that she invited Nip, Ralo, and all the artists that were involved on the song down to perform in Atlanta at a release event for one of his Tupac’s posthumous tribute albums. Before he became a household name, he was flying out of L.A. to perform with the blessing of Tupac’s mother. What’s crazy is that years later, he would say that he was the ‘Tupac for his generation.’ It was much deeper than what most people thought. I could only describe it as mystical. His destiny was calling him.
BET.com: In your research, were you able to speak with any members of Nipsey’s family?
Rob Kenner: I was very fortunate and blessed to speak with Nip’s big brother, Black Sam, as well as his sister Samantha Smith. I must say that the book is not an authorized biography by any means but my own journalistic account. My goal is to place him into the context of hip-hop history, L.A. history, and American history. I wanted to understand the forces that shaped him in becoming a singular figure in hip-hop and an American culture. Part of that happened when he traveled to East Africa to visit his family with his father and brother. They traveled to Eritrea at a crucial point in his development and that had a huge impact on his vision. His family was a big part of his story.
BET.com: What’s a major takeaway that you want die-hard fans of Nipsey and even more casual fans to get from your book?
Rob Kenner: Although Nip has a bunch of amazing interviews on YouTube, there are hardly any long profiles of him. I thought it was very important for people who don't understand why he was so important to have this as a foundation that they could tap into and build upon.
BET.com: What do you think will become of his movement in the aftermath of his passing?
Rob Kenner: As far as his movement, he predicted so many things that came true. He was early on cryptocurrency and Bitcoin which is going crazy. With the racial tension in this country coming to fever pitch and systemic oppression against people of color, Nip was a big advocate of all those points. Also, I think more hip-hop artists are using his playbook by understanding the importance of owning their masters and not signing the first record deal that's offered to them. In so many ways, Nip’s legacy still lives one.
The Marathon Don't Stop: The Life & Times of Nipsey Hussle is available on Amazon in all formats.
Photo by Prince Williams/Wireimage