LOS ANGELES — I maintain coming again to Nipsey Hussle’s vigil — the 1000’s of candles, flowers and handwritten notes — left the place the rapper and activist was shot and killed outdoors his clothes retailer within the metropolis’s Hyde Park neighborhood on March 31. Every time I come again, I’m surrounded by a sea of black and brown faces and the sound of his music, which has now turn into the unofficial soundtrack of the town. The City of Los Angeles is in mourning.
The information got here as a shock. It was Sunday round four p.m., and I used to be interviewing Randy Hook, a member of the Compton Cowboys — a gaggle of 10 childhood buddies who journey horses by Compton — when he put his cellphone down and stated, “We lost Nipsey, man.” Then I started to obtain textual content messages, 20 to be actual. I went on social media, and my concern was confirmed: We had, in truth, misplaced Nipsey.
Part of the explanation his demise was so surprising was that I believed that, in some methods, he was invincible. He typically rapped about demise, however I believed that Nipsey had found out a strategy to overcome the customarily brutal realities of Los Angeles road life. That was not the case.
Nipsey Hussle, born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, and I have been the identical age, 33, and briefly attended Hamilton High School together. At Hamilton, he was more committed to playing basketball than he was to rapping, but it’s almost no surprise that the rapper came out of that school. Prominent Los Angeles musicians like Syd from The Internet and Kamasi Washington, a jazz artist, also attended it.
Nipsey and I never met, but we had mutual friends, and it always seemed as if I knew him. Maybe it was the sound of his voice — a blend of Southern drawl and laid-back West Coast popular here — or his style of clothing that felt like home. Maybe it was because we both grew up in the same era, both grew up going to the Fox Hills Mall on weekends, and both grew up shopping at the Slauson Swapmeet. Maybe it was because every time he spoke, I heard the city I grew up in: a community of black and brown people trying to combat daily bouts with hardship and loss with unyielding joy and love.
The City of Los Angeles appreciated Nipsey for so many reasons: He was an activist who supported his community and gave back — without boasting about it on social media — in ways that continue to be revealed as each day passes. Nipsey unapologetically believed in Los Angeles and represented it at a time when so many of the people and landmarks that we grew up with have changed or have closed down. Every time he rapped about Crenshaw or Slauson Boulevard in a song, he preserved our memory of it, even as the city’s landscape changes and leaves many of us wondering what’s next.
Nipsey had his flaws. He made comments about masculinity that some said were homophobic. He acknowledged on “The Breakfast Club,” a popular radio show, that he still had a lot of growing up to do.
But at a time when so many residents of South L.A. are displaced, Nipsey reinvested a part of the money he made from music into the community that raised him. He was a co-founder of a space called Vector90, which was a ’hood version of WeWork, accessible to people in the community, with an emphasis in STEM for young people of color. He bought up the entire strip mall — the same one where he first sold music from the trunk of his car — that was home to his Marathon clothing store, a space invested in fostering a positive environment for the community. And he gave back generously to the 59th Street elementary school he attended as a child.
We saw ourselves in Nipsey, because, in many ways, he was part of us.
Some people have rightfully noted his past involvement with the Rollin’ 60s Crips, one of Los Angeles’s most notorious street gangs. Allowing that to define his legacy is not only reductive but is also missing the larger point: Like so many other black and brown youth from his community, Nipsey was shaped by forces far beyond his control. At some point, though, Nipsey recognized that being an active member of a gang wasn’t the only way to live. Music became an outlet for his thoughts and ideas about the world.
In many ways, Nipsey was a journalist like me. He wrote and documented the things he experienced and used vivid descriptions and rich metaphors. Songs like “Dedication,” “Blue Laces 2” and “Keys 2 the City” were autobiographical testimonies told through the lens of someone fighting both to preserve a memory and redefine the negative image of his life and community. Nobody could tell it better than he could; he was the expert in his own story.
His story was ours, too.
When “Victory Lap,” his first studio album, was nominated for a Grammy this February, my friends and I felt as if we had just been nominated for one too. We were proud and hopeful, sharing text messages about our favorite songs the week the album came out. It felt like the beginning of Nipsey’s ascent into the upper echelon of mainstream success, after nearly 15 years of putting out some of our favorite mix tapes.
Some people are comparing his death with that of Tupac Shakur,the rapper who was reportedly killed by rival gang violence 23 years ago. The motive for Nipsey’s death is still pending. But some similarities are uncanny: Each one died by gun violence, loved his community, and showed wisdom far beyond his years. Since Nipsey’s death, the city has felt somber, deflated, even.
In the end it was Nipsey’s unwavering commitment to frequent his community as an everyman — to stay connected to the “streets” — that felt like a double-edged sword. On one hand it’s why we loved him, he was accessible, he was humble and his energy was pure; but it was that very connection that, ultimately, led to his killing. And that’s what makes the loss of Nipsey so unbearable.