We’ve had a week to mourn entrepreneur and rapper Nipsey Hussle’s untimely and tragic death – a week to process how someone whose spirit seemed so right and who stood so strongly for his community could be taken from us so unnecessarily.
Mainstream media has had that amount of time to “discover” the multifaceted talent (born Ermias Joseph Asghedom), as have many fellow musicians and fans, including some latecomers who, admittedly, weren’t really about the life that Hussle spoke of in his songs, and who didn’t pay much attention to the slain rapper before he became headline news last Sunday.
Longer term fans have spent the week recalling their loyalty to the rapper, which, based on some claims, dates back to his Bullets Ain’t Got No Name series from the ‘00s.
Somewhere in the middle are those people who knew of Hussle but never really rolled with him like that. To them, the rapper’s music kinda got lost in the shuffle of delayed mixtapes and album releases that finally culminated in his first full studio effort – last year’s Victory Lap.
And how prophetic a title was that?
Who besides his assassin knew that Hussle’s first official studio album would be his last while living – an album the rapper personally deemed to be the best hip-hop album of 2018; one that the Grammy powers-that-be agreed was at least one of the five best (not that Hussle or his true fans needed Grammy or even mainstream validation)?
Victory Lap as a title suggests both winning and ending, something that Hussle was on the verge of in both cases. And although none of us could have predicted the latter at the time, we had a feeling about the former.
We saw a rapper reaching his stride at the ripe old age of 33, and Nipsey Hussle was finally picking up steam in the hip-hop game – whether he strived for it or not. His name, after all, was now included among such heavyweights as Cardi B, Pusha T, Travis Scott and fellow late rapper Mac Miller in a bid for Best Rap Album at this year’s Grammys – a “victory” by many standards.
But even the prophecy of an album titled Victory Lap couldn’t eclipse the one offered by Hussle himself…in this last tweet.
“Having strong enemies is a blessing.”
Tweeted merely hours before he died of gunshot wounds suffered in front of his Marathon Clothing store on March 31, Hussle must have had a premonition about something in his life. It could have been the reportedly impending April 1st meeting with the LAPD about trying to curb rival gang violence on LA’s south side.
Or maybe it was his ongoing efforts to spread knowledge to those around him and in his expanded community about the virtues of entrepreneurship.
Perhaps it was just his realization that he had been fueled by his enemies all along – even rival gang members – to make a better life for himself, to escape a lifestyle he considered an inevitability for many urban youth, but one he wouldn’t wish upon anyone, not even his worst enemy.
Whatever the epiphany was that sparked his final tweet, it’s now clear that at least one enemy wanted to see an end to all the good coming from Hussle’s life. The accused – a man who was identified, arrested and charged within days of Hussle’s murder – must have figured it would end right there. That he somehow would escape unscathed while the media dismissed Hussle as just another statistic – a rapper slain because he was caught up in the very gangster lifestyle he rapped about (and, by extension, promoted).
The accused killer, who still gets to wear the “alleged” modifier while his criminal case is pending, won’t be mentioned by name here. He doesn’t deserve that recognition. His life is pretty much over, and in years to come he will be a forgotten footnote in this story.
Hussle, on the other hand, will live on – his spirit exalted before the rapper has even been laid to rest.
The Victory Lap album will return to the top 10 on the album chart this week, nearly a year after falling off the entire Billboard 200 list. His streams have multiplied to more than a thousand percent more than what they were prior to his death.
The amount of praise heaped on Hussle in the week since his death has been unprecedented, whether it be by fellow artists, the media, fans who’ve rode with him for a decade, or those just discovering him.
It’s not the kind of universally positive sendoff rappers, or black men in general, usually get when they die a violent death such as his. It’s been almost poetic, even Shakespearean in its tragic, yet hopeful aspects.
The beauty in all of this – if there’s any to be found – is that, while the streets may have had Nipsey Hussle in life, the world got to learn more about him and his good deeds in his death. The focus, for once, has been about the right aspects of this man’s existence, and that has to serve as an inspiration to the many who looked up to him.
Hussle may have been the least known rapper in that crop of Grammy nominees, and his album may have experienced the fewest sales/streams and achieved the lowest peak position (No. 4) than any of his competition (at least before today’s new official numbers are released).
And yes, he rapped (and often spoke) about his life as a gang member, and the language was typically brutal and ugly, but the perspective was often cautionary, particularly to those wannabe rappers who liked to glorify that life, many of them with no real street cred or alliance of their own.
The one studio album he released, along with the several mixtapes, won’t even elevate him to Biggie or Tupac status when all is said and done.
But years from now, none of that will matter. The impact he had away from the rap mic – particularly in his community as an unsung activist with a “don’t-do-as-I-do” message – will be felt far longer than that of the few record sales or the rap legacy he accomplished during his career.
And, for once, the world is recognizing the fallen for the right reasons, and seeing just how much his life truly mattered.
R.I.P. Nipsey Hussle (August 15, 1985 – March 31, 2019).
DJRob is a freelance blogger who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter @djrobblog.