The rap community and violence sadly seem to go hand in hand. From the first rap feuds in the eighties and nineties to the modern era of drama, beef, and diss tracks, rappers are subjected to abnormal levels of violence, crime, and incarceration. This was explored in depth in a study done by the Santa Clara Law Review which states that, “hip-hop culture denounces crime and punishment in the United States by defying the underlying penal philosophy adopted and championed by legislators for decades. Since the inception of hip-hop as a musical genre, hip-hop artists have rhymed in a narrative format that starkly informs listeners and fans that the entire fundamental regime of prison for crime in the United States is suspect, illegitimate, and profane.”
The amount of untimely deaths and murders in the rap community is almost staggering. One of the most recognized and well-known deaths from back in the day was the murder of Tupac Shakur by rival artists and gang members for actions he and his crew committed in Las Vegas all the way back in September of 1996. A more recent example of needless violence was the 2019 murder of Nipsey Hussle in South Los Angeles.
Who Was Nipsey Hussle?
Born Ermias Joseph Asghedom in August of 1985, Nipsey Hussle was a rapper and activist in the West Coast hip hop scene in the early to mid 2000s. His early life, like so many influential names in hip hop music, was extremely difficult and no doubt led to much of his musical perspective. For example, his family life was difficult, and he was unable to graduate high school, dropping out early on. At fourteen, he left home and joined a sub-group of the local Crips gang that was based in his hometown of Crenshaw. However, at nineteen, he was able to visit his father’s home country of Eritrea in East Africa which instilled in him an entrepreneurial and giving spirit. From a very early age, he wanted to make things better for those around him, which is something that he still strove for up until his death.
Nipsey’s Musical Career
Every artist strives to combine their life experiences with their current emotions. The life of the past combined with the struggles of the present really are a great recipe for creating a message that an audience or a fanbase can really resonate with. Nipsey was no different.
His musical career debuted in 2005 when he independently released his first mixtape, Slauson Boy Volume 1. It received some moderate local success and actually led to him being signed to Cinematic Music Group and Epic Records. Being signed and having a moderately successful mixtape grew his fanbase to albeit local levels, but it helped him to get his name out into the world. A few years later in 2008, he released his next mixtape, Bullets Ain’t Got No Name in a series of installments, which helped grow his audience on a much larger scale.
The first time his name really got out on the big stage was due to a 2009 collaboration with Drake on the song “Killer” and another collaboration with Snoop Dogg on Snoop’s song “Upside Down”.
These collaborations combined with Nipsey’s individual releases helped him be able to leave Epic Records and create his own record label, All Money In. His first independently produced mixtape was The Marathon, and he released a sequel a year later titled The Marathon Continues. Both of these mixtapes featured several local names and this kind of local connection helped Nipsey stay true to his local audience while still creating music for the masses.
Overall, he had a very successful and influential career, even using his music to comment on social and political issues in a way that would allow his audience to relate to his music and to the struggles they faced on a daily basis.
Most of Nipsey’s global recognition came posthumously, and his awards status is no different. He was the posthumous winner of the BET Award for Humanitarian effort in 2019 and was also nominated for four Grammys, including Best Rap Song, Best Rap Performance, Best Rap Album, and Best Rap/Sung Performance. He won two posthumously, Best Rap Performance for “Racks in the Middle” and Best Rap/Sung Performance for “Higher”.
On March 31 of 2019, Nipsey Hussle was shot several times outside his clothing store, Marathon Clothing, in South Los Angeles. He was pronounced dead upon his arrival at the hospital. The shooting allegedly came as the result of an exchange about snitching according to grand jury transcripts unsealed by a Los Angeles judge.
One-time friend Eric Holder was eventually arrested and indicted for the murder. He originally pled not guilty to one count of murder and one count of possession of a firearm by a felon, and two counts of attempted murder and assault with a firearm according to RapTV.
Fellow artist Suge Knight thinks that loyalty was the reason that Nipsey was killed, commenting that, “Nipsey’s loyalty to his neighborhood is what left him exposed and in danger.”
Whatever the reason for his death, it remains a tragedy that few fans have gotten over yet.
One of the things that Nipsey Hussle did so well during his lifetime was leverage his position and privilege to help those he knew and loved. His plan to conquer gentrification in his neighborhood and across America spoke volumes about his desire to provide, to care for, and to better the lives of those that lived around him. His business partner and real estate investor David Gross shared with the world that Nipsey’s goal was to implement an “economic version of Black Lives Matter”, affecting change in cities all over America. He loved his neighborhood, he loved his fans, and he loved having a positive impact in their lives which stemmed all the way back to the trip he went on with his father as a teenager.
While the death of Nipsey Hussle is a tragedy, his legacy lives on in not only his music but through the impact he had in the lives of those around him. Not only did he create art for real people with real lives and real struggles, he took that art and used it to give himself a platform for change, a platform for reform, and a platform for the bettering of the places he loved and was loyal too. And whether or not that vulnerability was what ended up costing him his life, vulnerability and care are rare things in our modern world, and they should not be forgotten in any way. May those who worked with him before his death take up the torch that he left behind and may they work to further his legacy and complete his vision for a better neighborhood, a better Los Angeles, a better America, and a better world.