Candidly, I’ve had a difficult time sitting down to write this piece. Even more than a full week after his passing, it’s surreal referring to Nipsey Hussle’s life and career in the past tense. In the purest sense, Nipsey was a positive role model and a staple in hip-hop. He was a father, husband, and philanthropist who used every iota of his influence to uplift the violent and poverty stricken streets of Crenshaw that raised him. Nipsey was a self made millionaire who dedicated his life to empowering less fortunate people facing the same struggles he dealt with growing up. He was unfathomably selfless and made every right decision along the way, but it wasn’t enough to stop Eric Holder from pulling the trigger.
As a rapper, Nipsey’s legacy lives on not just because of his essential contributions to West Coast hip-hop, but because of his success as an independent artist. While most other popular rappers were getting signed to major labels in 2010, Nipsey founded his own label called All Money In, where he independently released five full-length projects. By releasing independently, Nipsey was able to retain full ownership of all his recording masters, allowing him alone to profit from the full potential of his value. For artists weary of the exploitative nature of major labels, this proved that it’s possible and extremely rewarding to remain independent and fully reap the benefits from your talent.
From an entrepreneurial and business standpoint, Nipsey was a visionary. One example of many, for the rollout of his 2013 mixtape, Crenshaw, Nipsey had 1,000 physical copies created that he sold for $100 each. Almost immediately, all 1,000 were sold and download sales skyrocketed as a result of his boldness. Since Nipsey’s use of scarcity to drive up interest in Crenshaw and 2014’s Mailbox Money, other popular artists have followed suit. Frank Ocean’s limited edition Boys Don’t Cry magazine comes to mind.
Far more tragic than Nipsey’s inability to make more music is his inability to continue actively elevating Crenshaw. Beyond obligatory shoutouts in his music, Nipsey invested so much of his time and money creating opportunities and improving conditions for his hometown community. In 2014, Nipsey founded Vector90, a STEM learning center that teaches employable skills to young professionals in Crenshaw. Beyond education, Nipsey offered gainful employment at his clothing brand, Marathon Clothing, that is headquartered on the street Nipsey grew up on.
For so many reasons, Nipsey Hussle’s death is a massive loss. In spite of the environment he grew up in, Nipsey built an empire and shared the wealth. He was filming a documentary, recently grammy nominated, running a thriving business in his hometown and showed no sign of slowing down. Whether or not you like his music, we all lost when Nipsey died.