Nipsey Hussle performing at the New Parish in Oakland in 2013. (Pendarvis Harshaw)
Yesterday Nipsey Hussle was murdered in Los Angeles.
Bullets took the life from his flesh. But through his music and the impact of his actions, his mindset lives on.
Hussle's appeal was his mentality.
Beyond the music, Hussle, born born Ermias Asghedom, was a benefactor to the black community of South Central Los Angeles.
Just last year, he opened a STEM education center and co-working space, Vector 90, in the neighborhood where he grew up.
He brought jobs to the area. His generosity and care are apparent in this video of Slauson Bruce, a neighborhood elder Hussle hired for janitorial work and later treated to a day of pampering, pedicures and all. On a larger scale, Hussle aimed for community impact. One of his latest ventures was Destination Crenshaw, an open-air museum dedicated to recognizing black cultural innovators.
Last month, Forbes wrote about how Hussle purchased the same strip mall he used to hustle in. His Marathon Clothing Company became the anchor tenant, and he often spoke of planting the seeds for generational wealth.
That same lot was where he was murdered.
Years ago, way before Hussle got a Grammy nomination or appeared on the cover of GQ, I became hooked on his music when I first heard "Hussle in The House," a track that sounded like my childhood favorite, Kris Kross' "Jump, Jump." From there, I followed his career.
His MO was that of a reformed gangbanger who used his musical talents to speak his mind. He'd talk about business acumen and his perspective on personal relationships. He rapped candidly about his views on politics, like with his feature on the YG song "FDT." He interspersed all of that with references to luxury cars, marijuana, alcohol and a whole lot of cussing. He offered a glimpse of the mindset of a young man in urban America simply chasing that dream.
And he put it all into words that I could directly apply to my life.
He had better wordplay than Tupac Shakur but the same kind of "thug passion." The same critiques of "the system" and poetry about the environment where he grew up. He was a rose that grew from the concrete jungle of South Central Los Angeles—Slauson Avenue to be exact.
He could sometimes be a man with a tempter and a foul mouth, and it would've made Tupac proud.
His wasn't a blind vulgarity: it was a byproduct of Hussle speaking his mind. It earned him the love of the streets, though sometimes he crossed the proverbial line, as with his controversial, homophobic Instagram post last year or the heated argument that led to him slapping a worker at a recent BET award show.
But his music made me want to drive faster, wake up earlier and finish sets of pushups. And although he was speaking to the masses, at times it seemed like it was just a conversation between him and himself.
On his tape, The Marathon Continues, there's a song called "Sound of My Ceremony." I promise you, on that track he's not even rapping. He's providing guidance counseling in the form of lyrics. "I ain't got a boss, I am not a slave / Turning up my hustle is how I give myself a raise." Whew! That hit the bullseye in my mind's eye. That's exactly what I needed to hear as a young freelance writer.
I took that mentality and two cameras with me to the New Parish when Hussle came to Oakland in 2013. I wasn't just in the building, I was on the job. The idea was to get some quality shots and sell them to a publication.
The shots came out blurry and out of focus. Some were too blown-out to bring back. I ended up posting two or three of the photos to social media, and didn't do anything else with the rest of them.
Last night, after I got the news Hussle was killed, I looked over the photos again. Shots that once looked like evidence that I was partying more than working now appear to be some of the greatest photos I've ever taken.
I don't remember much about that night—it's all kind of hazy now. I know there was a bunch of weed. Probably some alcohol. My car window got shattered, but nothing was stolen. And the Jacka was there.
Kevin Allen, who once went on a 30-city tour with Hussle, was one of the opening acts. My friends from middle school and my homies from college were in the building too. And Hussle had on this chain with a big-ass gold Malcolm X pendant—his mindset in jewelry form.
In the middle of rocking the stage, Hussle pulled an ace out the deck and brought out the Bay Area's own beloved urban poet, the Jacka of Mobb Figaz.
A year and a half later, in early 2015, the Jacka was shot and killed in East Oakland. I posted one of the photos from that night, Hussle shared it on social media.
We never actually communicated, but we shared the same message, the same mindset.
Known for his slogan "the marathon continues," and his usage of the checkered race flag emoji on social media, Hussle was all about the long game. Winning in the end.
He was community-centric. He was working on a documentary about Dr. Sebi, the famed healer some believe the government doesn't want us to know about. Hussle was a family man who often talked about his two children and significant other, model and actress Lauren London.
He was one of the strongest voices in today's rap world. He had tracks with Rick Ross and Kendrick Lamar. He shared bars with Rapsody and Curren$y. He hung out courtside at the Lakers games, and took photos with L.A. native James Harden right after Harden won the MVP award. I think Nip had pics before the NBA did.
He was a rising star open about his shortcomings. A student of Steve Jobs, and supported by Diddy. Even Jay-Z purchased 100 copies of Hussle's $100 mixtape, Crenshaw, as a vote of confidence in his vision.
He was interested in prison reform and cooperative economics. He had songs that caused me to Google the term "integrated vertically."
He wasn't just trying to get a piece of the American pie. He had his eye on the whole bakery—and breaking bread with his people.
That's why so many people are hurt. We've seen this story before. A black man from the hood doing good, only to get murdered.
He's the story of a kid from the concrete jungle of Northern America, who was in hot pursuit of the dream they told us we could achieve if we just worked hard. He was focused on achieving it until his body was riddled with bullets, and one those talons pierced the headquarters of the marathon mindset.