A Marathon, Not a Sprint: Rap Game Beating the Odds in Crenshaw and Across Black America

An Inspirational Quote

Kendrick Lamar tweeted this last night and once you look beyond the opposition and supposed take over of mumble rap and its creators, greatness continues to come from hip-hop culture. Two days ago, I wrote about mediocrity and how bad taste prevails among rappers. I also made it clear I wasn’t hating on the wealth they’ve attained and the talent most rappers have. Each rapper Kendrick mentioned, including himself, is a great communicator and has poetically shared their life stories, fears, and aspirations with us — they deserve every dollar earned. These brothers have not only invested in themselves several times over, but they’ve also directly and indirectly reinvested in the communities that helped them reach extraordinary socioeconomic statuses. The direct reinvestment through starting their own businesses and employing other blacks and the indirect reinvestment through inspiring other young blacks to bet on themselves all has added, in my opinion, to a resurgence in black pride. Ask any black rap fan of the past twenty-five years how their favorite rappers’ music got them through tough times, how the best lyrics encouraged them to be better, got them amped before a game, or even helped them ace college mid-terms and finals — you’ll hear a wide range of fans’ success stories, which wouldn’t have happened without the success of the culure’s most prolific voices.

I’m going to talk about the word great again because it plays an important role in today’s writing. More specifically, I want to speak on the opening of Nipsey Hussle’s The Marathon Clothing store in Los Angeles. My house is 2,685 miles away from the store, but I was able to feel its impact on the opposite coastline after seeing the headlines on Twitter and doing some research. I watched a mini-documentary, which gives us more background on the store and the significance of its location at the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue. We also hear from Nipsey Hussle’s older brother and The Marathon Clothing Store co-owner, Black Sam, and several of their friends and OGs as they described the struggles and setbacks occurring on the path to the store’s opening this past Saturday. There are plenty of streetwear stores across America, some in the hood and others not far outside of it. The apparel category streetwear brands owned by blacks is usually put in is urbanwear and streetwear is classically reserved for brands typically not black-owned and have a skater connection. The association of the word urban with black and Latino people living in cities annoys me, so I only say “urban” when referring to city life. Back on topic — people of all races have their stake in streetwear and there’s plenty of cultural commingling happening, too. But what we haven’t seen is any significant innovation in streetwear, brick-and-mortar or branding alone, besides maybe app creation and concierge services. Nipsey Hussle, however, did something great in streetwear and as a black business owner — he took app creation a step further and opened the world’s first smart store.

When you walk into the store, there’s going to be tags that are going to have content,” explained Nip. “So we’ll promote this certain shirt, and it’ll be a piece of content that’s programmed specifically to this shirt so that when the shirt drops you get the shirt and a piece of content that’s not on iTunes or YouTube. You can’t consume it anywhere else.

Nip mentioned in his interview on Power106 LA’s, The Cruz Show, he met SpaceX partner — as in Elon Musk’s SpaceX — Idree Sandu, who helped him develop the store’s smart technology. He also made Sandu the store’s chief technology officer. In the mini-documentary, Nip also spoke on the importance of youth in the Crenshaw neighborhood seeing a store of this caliber and how he wants it to be a tourist attraction. First off, a black man from the streets being first to market with a tech product isn’t what anyone saw coming. Jay Z — maybe and only because he’s reached a level where this is feasible. A top-tier college-educated black person, either from a city or the suburbs — more likely. We often hear about white guys with retail startups being first to market with innovations in marketing and operations (ie. Warby Parker and Bonobos), but not a rapper from Crenshaw with deep ties to the streets. Nipsey Hussle and company have given black people across America something else to celebrate with this move.

I don’t think enough black people believe we should strive for greatness. We may not have been raised to do so, we may have been discouraged by personal strife or society’s framing of us, or maybe we just don’t care to be better than good enough. I think if more of us set out to be great in our professional undertakings, our pride as a race would always be evident with or without Pan-African flags, traditional African prints, hashtags, or any other symbol. Our pride would show in how we treat one another — we’d be more apt to help instead of hurt or hate on the next person. Our pride would show in our work and business acumen — no one would ever be able to say we’re lazy, rude, or bad with money and a black person exhibiting these traits would be called out by US. In a capitalist society, self-determination paired with a desire to be great can take you far. We’ve seen it repeatedly happen on a macro level with the founders of major corporations and on a micro level with independent businesses and many of our favorites in sports and entertainment.

When I hear blacks who started out with more than a Nipsey Hussle, Jay Z, Kendrick Lamar, 2 Chainz or 2Pac speak as if a fraction of what these men have achieved is impossible for most of us — I call foul and say get your nose out the books/off the internet for a little while and apply your knowledge in the streets. Disadvantaged blacks need real world examples of all forms of black success to spark a movement on their turf. Of all the internal issues we have as a race, I think giving back in order to empower is the easiest part of the solution and the best place to start. This is why what The Marathon Clothing Store is and represents is great.