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What Nipsey Hussle Meant to Me

April 3, 2019

On March 31, rapper aka Nipsey Hu$$le was gunned down outside his recently opened clothing store on a commercial block he planned on developing, sending shockwaves across his community as well as among hip hop at large. Nipsey might not be the most well-known name outside of rap, but within rap, he was the gold standard for effectively staying independent and paying your blessings forward. Nipsey gave tens of thousands of dollars to charities and black businesses, helped start organizations to encourage STEM in his home of Crenshaw, as well as created jobs for people who may not have the opportunities that many are blessed enough to take for granted. He was an articulate man whose interviews contained just as many, if not more, nuggets of wisdom to apply to your own life than did his music. Nipsey Hussle may not have been my favorite rapper, but he’s been one of my favorite people in hip hop for over a decade, and his loss leaves a giant hole in rap.

My first exposure to Nipsey Hussle was at 11 years old. When I used to grocery shop with my mom, I would always stop by the magazines and check the latest issues of XXL & the other hip hop magazines. The 2010 XXL freshman issue had some major superstars-to-be among its ranks including J Cole, Wiz Khalifa, Freddie Gibbs & Big Sean. But the one who stuck out to me the most was the skinny guy with the scratchy voice who sounded like Snoop Dogg might minus a certain character-defining habit that kept snoop as relaxed as he is. Nipsey was graphic, he was gristly. His rapping was technically impressive but not show-offy, his songs had a soul and felt more like a genuine reflection of his experiences as opposed to art made just to have fun or art-for-profit like many of the artists who had been featured by mainstream rap publications. As a kid, I was obsessed with “Realness” in rap, a toxic trait that a lot of younger rap fans share, probably rooting from the strangling homogeneity of our own experiences. I was thirsty for stories and perspectives from people wildly different than mine that felt visceral and exciting and most of all “real”, and Nipsey was never anything but his whole self.  While many of his peers would go on to sell out stadiums, top the charts & become frat party staples, Nipsey decided to follow his own truth and focus on building a better community and try to build sustainable wealth for the people he cared about. His initial buzz died down but Nipsey had become such a hometown hero and organically grown an intensely loyal fanbase that sustained his career and made him a staple of west coast rap (he had a long friendship with blood rapper YG, the two made the iconic FDT together. But more important than his artistry was his activism, his desire to help everyone who wasn’t lucky enough to “make it”. Nipsey went back to his neighborhood and began to overhaul it. There are countless interview clips where Nipsey discusses how building opportunities for kids growing up will lead to a chain reaction ending with lower crime, more happiness, and a self-sustaining community. It was always clear where Nipsey’s priorities were, and it was deeply moving and inspiring to see him pour himself so wholly into them.

For reference, I’m a 21-year-old white guy who grew up blessed enough to never worry about senseless or random violence from my neighbors or the people who are literally employed to protect me, so my experiences vary wildly from a 33-year-old Rollin 60s Crip. But there is something so powerful about someone who knows what they want for the people they love and is willing to dedicate their life to getting it that I’ve always felt like I learned more about what it actually means to be human from Nipsey Hussle and artists/activists like him than I have from most traditional sources of learning that I was exposed to. Through his interviews and music, I learned lessons about sacrifice, self-worth, financial responsibility and how when it seems like there is no place for you in the world, you can build one from the ground up that will sustain you as well as the people you love. Nipsey is a deeply inspiring musician and if you haven’t dived into his music I would definitely give it a try, but he is an even more inspiring man, and I’m thankful that as a fan of music I got to watch him build an empire that actually matters. The loss of any life is tragic but yesterday we lost a man who was a leader in his community, a business owner and self-made entrepreneur who wasn’t afraid to stand up for the ideas he believed in and to forge his own path in an industry filled with traps. Nipsey Hussle was a perfect example of the American dream and can be an inspiration for any person looking to do something with meaning. Rest in peace.

Image courtesy of BET

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