Nipsey Hussle died this week. Or, he was shot and killed this week.
I didn’t know much about him. I’d never listened to any of his music until it came time to write this blog, and I thought it was a fitting sound track. My first exposure to him was through Gary Vaynerchuk of all people. Gary Vee loves to have rappers/entrepreneurs on his YouTube channel. They chop it up, talk about how they hustle, how they succeed and what they want for the future, and he had Nipsey on.
But since his death, I’ve learned in snippets that Nipsey was a great man. Since he was young, he was woke. He saw things on a deeper level than one might expect from someone from his background. And that’s not judgment. It’s a fact. His attitude is what helped to make him famous. He was different.
He didn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade, but he wasn’t ruffling feathers just to shock. In his smoothed out LA way, he was preaching for change. He was vocal that the deck is firmly stacked against black people, and that change is necessary. That we have to build, not buy. We have to value community not commercialism. He suggested real estate is a worthier purchase than a neck chain filled with diamonds, and he was young in the clip I saw of him making that statement. There was still baby fat in his face. But he put his money where his mouth was.
He was very conscious of his legacy, the power in his example for those who would come after him. He seemed to feel a need to leave something behind. Something good.
He was conscious of the passage of time as it relates to change. For instance, in a conversation with Stephen Curry he talked about how the hip hop narrative around women is now more positive versus when he was growing up when things were extremely disrespectful. He’s right. There’s still a lotta work to be done, but Nip – forgive me for being so tender and using his nickname, but I feel a bit of the weight of his loss, and I have a soft spot for what he stood for – he did his part to change that narrative with his music.
He pushed ownership. He owned his music. Before he signed to Atlantic, he made mixtapes. He built his following and a recognizable brand from the ground up. He never shied away from his history. He was a gang member, and he showed with his behavior, his words, his life that he chose a better path, and anyone else could too.
He talked about building an identity outside of labels like gang member. The need to recreate yourself, and the struggle to do that without support. But he was a natural entrepreneur, and he had a mission to build businesses. He famously sold copies of his 2013 mixtape Crenshaw for $100 a piece – and he sold thousands of them. He had: a clothing line and a store from which to sell it, Elite Human Hair, selling bundles, an idea he got from a brother he met in jail, investments in cryptocurrency, a digital marketing agency, the list goes on. He wanted to employ his homeboys, get used to paying taxes, and he did.
One of his more high profile projects was Vector 90, a bi-level, 5,000 sq. ft. upscale office space for entrepreneurs in the inner city. It’s also an incubator. Every 12 months they hold a Shark Tank like contest and fund one entrepreneur. The bottom level is a STEM center to help kids bridge the gap between the inner city and Silicon Valley. All this from a man who only completed the 10thgrade in high school.
If fellow Cali rapper Tupac was the thug poet, Nipsey was the thugpreneur. Ironically, he was killed in front of his own store, but he was a man of his people. He advocated being conscious, having choices and making good ones, learning from repercussions and using feedback and lessons to create a positive structure upon which to build.
He said, “I’m a student of success. I pay attention. So, you don’t got to tell me directly.” He wanted to turn things around, to prevent bad. He wanted to mobilize black people to a higher cause, a higher standard. So much so, he said he planned to name his last album The Spook Who Sat by the Door. Unfortunately, his first studio album, Victory Lap, was also his last.
This blog is such a small snippet of his life, a glimpse into who he was and what he represented. But if there’s one message I’d like to end with it’s this: Nipsey wanted black people to be active participants in the doable goal of building better lives for themselves, their families and the community.
Sadly, I didn’t know any of who he was until after his death. That’s really unfortunate because I bet a lot of other people don’t know either. Had he lived, the things I imagine he’d have done, we’d have heard his story. We’d have learned it, we’d have learned from it. We still can. I wish I could have met him.
RIP Ermias Asghedom – Nipsey Hussle – 1985-2019.