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Festival of Books music writers on Nipsey Hussle’s impact: ‘Dude could rap’

Festival of Books music writers on Nipsey Hussle’s impact: ‘Dude could rap’
Greg Mack, Hanif Abdurraqib, Times writer Gerrick D. Kennedy and Will Ashton speak on a panel at the annual Los Angeles Times Festival of Books at USC. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Although the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books panel was called Drop the Beat, it started with a moment of silence. Amid the celebration of literature of 1990s-era rap music, former KDAY-Los Angeles radio show host Greg Mack — who was the first DJ to play the genre on air in 1983 — made a point to pay tribute to fallen rapper Nipsey Hussle.

“I thought it important that we mention a friend of all of ours,” Mack said.

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“Nipsey was an example of what all people in the entertainment business should be. What I mean is when you reach a certain level in your career, you forget where you came from. And not only did he not forget, but he was a role model in how to give back and he did so much, so much that he gave his life.”

The panel included poet, essayist and cultural critic Hanif Abdurraqib, who penned “Go Ahead in the Rain: Notes to A Tribe Called Quest”; Will Ashon, the founder of Big Dada — an imprint of Ninja Tune records — and author of “Chamber Music: Wu-Tang and America (in 36 Pieces)”; and Gerrick D. Kennedy, L.A. Times music writer and author of “Parental Discretion is Advised: The Rise of N.W.A and the Dawn of Gangsta Rap.” As they spoke about their recent works, the question of Hussle’s impact on the hip-hop and Los Angeles community continued to surface during the packed discussion on Saturday in USC’s Hoffman Hall.

“I think the legacy is going to be the work that he did in the community and how he was working to make South L.A. better,” said Kennedy, who was a part of The Times’ extensive coverage of Hussle. “It’s one thing that makes his death particularly cruel just because of how much he was invested in his neighborhood.”

Hussle’s community efforts, such as hiring felons who couldn’t find work, financially supporting struggling black businesses and donating to children in the area, were evident up and down the Crenshaw District in South Los Angeles. However, Abdurraqib said he hopes that the rapper will also be remembered for the vehicle that afforded him the opportunity to make change: music.

“[What’s] detached from [many] of these tributes is the fact that the dude could rap,” he said. “Nipsey Hussle was a very good rapper who honed his craft, and the work shows up in the projects. He’s one of those rappers who very palpably got better with every project.”

Abdurraqib also spoke of how negative views of certain areas or cities, such as Los Angeles or Chicago, often “live in the imagination of a country before they even reach the people who live there.”

“It was wonderful to see how Hussle rebuilt a new imagination for the place that he loved and lived,” Abdurraqib added. “So I will miss that, but I hope that this carries on for people so that their geography doesn’t become weaponized by people who don’t have the best interest for that geography in mind.”

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