Nipsey Hussle remembered as a South Central icon. ‘He was a voice among our people’
Story by Joliana Frausto and Kate Sequeira
Power 106 radio personality Cece Valencia recently spoke with rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle in an interview about two weeks ago. She saw Hussle as a “hometown hero” and remembers showing him her support.
“When you win, we win,” she remembers telling Hussle.
On Monday morning, Valencia joined more than 50 others who gathered in front of The Marathon Clothing to remember Hussle. Some cried, others drank as they celebrated the life of the South Central icon.
“I got to exchange some last beautiful words with him,” said Valencia, of Compton. “But man, we gotta do better as a community. L.A. is in pain right now. This one is real. This one hurts us.”
The vibrant atmosphere of Crenshaw Boulevard is now somber. Worries turned to horror Sunday night when Hussle was pronounced dead at the hospital after he was shot multiple times outside his South Central store Marathon Clothing. He was 33.
“I’ve always been inspired by Nipsey and I’ve always been rooting for Nipsey on the sidelines,” Valencia said. “You just see him and you watch him and he’s been hustling and grinding for a long time and, man, he was special. I think that everybody out here and just the amount of love that he’s received, it shows the character of who that man truly was besides an artist.”
The Crenshaw native, born Ermias Asghedom, never left his community despite the fame that followed his music career. He renovated basketball courts for the kids at a local elementary school. He invested in the reopening of Mid-City’s World on Wheels, a safe haven for South Central kids and teenagers to jam to hip-hop and funk music on the weekends. In a recent GQ interview, Hussle and his partner Lauren London were photographed around the Crenshaw neighborhood. In one iconic photo, the couple was featured in the middle of Slauson Avenue with London atop a white stallion.
“He was a voice among our people,” said a woman who goes by Sunshine. “He was just a lot of things and to think that right here in the hood, not on Beverly Hills, not on Melrose, not on Rodeo, not on anywhere he could have been. He stayed true to what he was.”
The culture of South Central was important to Hussle. Before he died, he worked on Destination Crenshaw, an art installation meant to preserve the black culture integral to the community. It was a response to LA Metro’s decision to build its new transit line through the area — a project that is expected to bring in new visitors.
Hussle was also big on promoting black ownership.
In February, Nipsey announced he had closed escrow and opened Marathon Clothing at the intersection of West Slauson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard. The store lies between Princess Insurance and a T Mobile Boost, near where he grew up.
“He bought up everything,” said Myisha Ward, of South Central. “He was a smart man, he was a businessman, he was an educated black man … He wasn’t afraid to come back to his community and give back. He didn’t get any money and leave, he brought the money to us.”
Throughout his years as an artist, Hussle did not forget his roots. He titled his eighth mixtape “Crenshaw.” He’s released trailers featuring him driving through South Central. Because of his music and his legacy, Ward and others see him as a role model.
“I listened to his music for motivation, to up my spirits,” Ward said. “I was a fan and I felt like he was a friend because he was a regular person. You could talk to him, you could walk up to him and say, ‘hey,’ and he would never treat you like a million dollar man [would].”
Streetsblog LA reporter Sahra Sulaiman, who covers South Central, said he was loyal to his neighborhood.
“There’s so many reasons that this is heartbreaking, but a big one is that he chose to stay where he came up,” Sulaiman tweeted. “Marathon is at the intersection where he grew up hustling t-shirts with his brother/getting busted. He invested in it out of love and loyalty to the community.”
Bricks & Wood founder Kacey Lynch, of South Central, said Hussle inspired him to use his business as a way to help his community thrive.
“Nip, I blame you for all this — I blame you for inspiring me to not leave the crib we call South Central,” Lynch wrote on Instagram. “I blame you for being the perfect example of not just making it out the hood but making the hood a better place. You are my hero and I feel like a child who just watched his hero get defeated in a movie or TV show but this is real.”
The Grammy-nominated rapper was also an inspiration among artists hoping to make it big. To Mathieu Koontz, an artist and producer from Inglewood, Hussle was a huge influence on L.A. culture.
“In the weight room, when I was in college and I was going through my little adversities, there were so many of his projects and so many of his mixtapes that got me through,” Koontz said. “[He kept] me motivated, [kept] my eyes on the prize. He’s an example that anybody can get it. Anybody can be successful no matter where you’re from.”
To Valencia, Hussle’s death reminds her of Tupac Shakur’s death in 1996.
“He was somebody that was always cool, never showed you anything but love,” Valencia said. “I just can’t believe that this is happening to one of our West Coast legends. Everybody is saying this is the same pain, same turmoil we went through when Pac died. We are feeling the same emotions all over again. The city of L.A. is hurting right now.”