Nipsey Hussle: So Much More Than Rap
The Life and Legacy of Ermias Asghedom
Grieve not that I die young. Is it not well to pass away ere life hath lost its brightness?
— Lady Flora Hastings
He was different.
It wasn’t just the $100 Crenshaw mixtape or the Marathon Clothing store or the work he did to quell gang violence and promote his beloved neighborhood’s art and culture.
It was all of that — and so much more.
Ermias Asghedom, known to the rest of us as Nipsey Hussle, was shot and killed at the age of thirty-three in his hometown of Los Angeles. In the days since his shocking death, the phrase that has come up over and over again about the man is, “he was so much more than just rap.”
But hip-hop was his entryway, the door through which he’d walk before turning around and offering a hand to so many others that were coming behind him. He had been making music for a few years, but people began to notice the lanky kid with the South Central state of mind and a hoarse voice full of urgent desperation that belied his calm eyes and relaxed demeanor when his mixtape, Bullets Ain’t Got No Name, and its sequel hit the streets in 2008. Two years later, he graced the cover of the annual XXL Freshman issue alongside J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, Big Sean, and others.
After his deal with Epic Records stalled, he created his own label, All Money In, and went back to the mixtapes, culminating in 2013 with Crenshaw. To illustrate the devaluation of music in the digital age, Hussle made a limited edition run of a thousand copies of the DJ Drama-presented project with a price tag of $100 each and sold them at a pop-up shop. Jay-Z, always one to recognize a savvy business move, bought 100 copies through Roc Nation, and all thousand were sold that day. The move led to Forbes calling him “Independent Music’s Next Mogul.”
In all, he released thirteen mixtapes, but his only official major label album, Victory Lap, didn’t drop until 2018. He was patient and didn’t release it until everything was just right — not just the music, but the situation, the timing, and the climate. It proved to be worth the wait, receiving rave reviews and even garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album.
He waited more than an entire decade to release his debut album. That’s why it could be called Victory Lap and make perfect sense.
He was different. And he was so much more than rap.
It’s possible to monetize your art without compromising the integrity of it for commerce.
— Nipsey Hussle
A member of the Rollin 60’s Neighborhood Crips who was deep in the street life as a young man, he seemed to make it to the other side and had begun to focus on positivity and the future, creating a sustainable neighborhood built on black capitalism. He knew the difference between rap and reality — rhyming about wearing five chains while taking the profits from that song not to buy more chains, but to buy property and change the trajectory of lives:
After walking away from life as a gang member in Los Angeles, Asghedom gave back to his South Central community by starting businesses, buying local real estate and empowering his fellow African Americans to use their money for purchases of lasting value and not popular vanity items. He gave jobs to locals in need, including the homeless, and gave shoes to an entire elementary school, and he donated money to renovate playgrounds and basketball courts, according to the Los Angeles Times. The 33-year-old was also planning to meet with Los Angeles police about gang violence prevention and aiding kids in need.
How many other emcees are considered “disruptors” in the technology sense? Hussle opened a co-working space for aspiring entrepreneurs in the inner city with a second floor dedicated to teaching STEM to young people so that they would be equipped to get a job in Silicon Valley.
How many other gangsters-turned-rappers are looking into owning mixed-use condo developments and launching franchises that will infuse the neighborhood with much needed capital?
He was different.
He was far from perfect — some interviews and comments reveal a man that wasn’t always as accepting as one would hope — but he never claimed to be flawless and asking our artists and activists to be perfect is a recipe for disaster. It’s more important that they are themselves.
Nipsey Hussle was himself.
He had love for his neighborhood and his people and he believed in them, and, in turn, they loved him back and believed in him. He was the example, the proof that it was possible.
He was different, but that’s not all.
He was more.
This originally appeared on Ice Cream Sundays