Much has already been written about the ways in which the rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was killed Sunday in front of his Crenshaw district retail store, contributed to his community and set his righteous ambitions into action. An entrepreneur and community organizer as much as he was an artist, Hussle helped renovate World on Wheels roller rink and invested in Destination Crenshaw, a mile-long stretch of rotating and permanent art installations, among many other initiatives.
Yet Hussle, who was born Ermias Asghedom, earned his first successes through telling his own story, utilizing verses in service of messages designed to be recited the world over.
Evidence of his magnetism can be found in the lauded peers with whom he made music: Kendrick Lamar, Childish Gambino, Drake, YG, Snoop and others.
Proud of his Rolex — or, as he called it, his “Rollie” — but unafraid to rap about taking the Metro Blue Line, he rhymed about his heritage, provincialism and recent history with equanimity. The artist showed up on Childish Gambino’s 2012 mixtape “Royalty,” where in the track “Black Faces” he offered a capsule bio.
… Pops was an immigrant / Lifestyle illegit but know I own businesses / Started out the trunk, ended up at the dealership / All gold Rollie, black face, no blemishes / Legend in my city ’cause I grind so vigorous / If I show my face west of Texas that's a big event.
As relayed on his 2010 track “Blue Laces,” Hussle recalled life in “Westside California,” where “they run up on you / Ask you where you from / And check your tats under your clothing.”
Despite the constant threats, “Blue Laces” features a poetic description of the artist, clad in Converse Chuck Taylors and classic slacks, on the move:
Weight of the world on my shoulders / Gold Rollie on my wrist / Neighborhood Chucks, blue checkerboard tint / Dickies saggin' off my ass / Walk with a hoodsta limp.
Unafraid to speak his mind whether discussing neighborhood or global politics, Hussle was more than willing to speak truth to power. In his Donald Trump-bashing 2016 track with South L.A. neighbor YG entitled “FDT,” he rhymed of his role as a messenger and power-broker.
I’m from a place where you probably can’t go / Speaking for some people that you probably ain’t know / It’s pressure built up, and it’s probably gonna blow / And if we say go, then they’re probably gonna go.
Defiantly independent, Hussle didn’t release his major-label debut until 2018. He didn’t seem too concerned about the wait, or his lack of a Dr. Dre-produced track,when he joined Marion Band$ in 2014 on “Hold Up.”
Came up, you can't hate that / Self-made, you can't take that / Yeah, self-made, you can't make that / Some say I need a record deal / I need a cosign, I need a Dre track / But all the time I had a mean flow / I had a cold grind and that's a great match.
Ultimately, the artist issued his label debut for Atlantic. Deservedly titled “Victory Lap,” the Grammy-nominated album opens with a boast, one delivered with a cool, weed-infused casualness.
I'm prolific, so gifted / I'm the type that's gonna go get it, no kidding / Breaking down a Swisher in front of your building / Sitting on the steps feeling no feelings
Yet always aware of life’s tenuousness, 2016’s “Ocean Views” presents a self-portrait of an artist seemingly living on borrowed time and determined to sweat every day.
He even left instructions for the mourners at his funeral, and while his choice of farewell drink — or gang affiliation — might not be yours, the sentiment remains.
My precedure, stay crackin till my life’s low / Then when I die, blue rag around my rifle / Hundred-thousand in my coffin, that's just life though / Play a Stevie Wonder song, smoke some flight, bro / Crack a pint of Actavis then pour in some Sprite, bro / Until that day I'm walking toward what's in my sights, though.
One of Hussle’s most introspective tracks, “Ocean Views” arrived on his “Slauson Boy 2” mixtape. Tragically for Los Angeles, it now reads like a benediction.