Black love matters. Nipsey Hussle knew that.
When GQ ran a photo of Hussle and Lauren London, wearing all white with a white stallion in the middle of their Los Angeles neighborhood of Crenshaw, in February, our hearts cracked open and a fairy tale came true.
There they were — a king and a queen centered in their community, one like a lot of black communities, dismissed as crime-ridden, impoverished, and for the taking by big developers.
Instead, it was their kingdom, their home, a California love. They changed the narrative. Hussle, or “Neighborhood Nip,” as the rapper was known, believed in buying back the block, building the people, and black love.
Not just in the romantic sense, but in the purest sense of loving one another enough to fix what’s broken rather than run from it.
We thought a happily ever after was in his future.
It’s been more than a week since Hussle, 33, was shot and killed in Los Angeles in front of his clothing store. The suspect in his killing, Eric Holder, has been arrested and charged with murder.
Born Ermias Davidson Asghedom, Hussle is being mourned across the world — not just by fans of his music, but by activists, the LAPD, lawmakers, entrepreneurs, and athletes alike. He’s missed by people from his father’s homeland of Eritrea, where Hussle had an awakening. And basketball’s finest have been paying tribute to the man who, much like them, learned a game to survive.
Fittingly, his memorial service Thursday will be held at Staples Center — where the LA Lakers play home games. And it’s open to the public, though the free tickets are sold out.
But everyday people investing in their communities all over America recognized in him the beautiful struggle to thrive in America. And they are paying tribute to Hussle.
Like Black Market Dudley, a Roxbury space dedicated to amplifying local black pop-up shops the first weekend of every month. Kai and Christopher Grant launched Black Market two years ago to help bridge the wealth gap by buying black.
On Friday, they hosted Hustle & Motivate, a candlelight vigil and panel discussion celebrating Hussle’s community spirit. The name of the event was inspired by Nipsey’s song “Hussle & Motivate.”
“He was striving for excellence, not perfection,” Kai says of Hussle. “And along the way he was fighting his demons, too. It’s important not to side step that he had controversial views on misogyny and homophobia, but he was growing. It’s important for us to pay homage to his evolution, to his life and spirit. His principles of gentrifying your own neighborhood, creating jobs, and valuing your gifts and worth are our tenets.”
More than a hundred people gathered into Black Market, where there was standing room only but lots of space for love. One fan held a sign with a quote Hussle once shared with the Guardian in 2015: “The highest human act is to inspire.”
His influence was clear as panelists like Jessicah Pierre, founder of Queens Company; fashion designer Stanley Rameau; real estate duo Ralph Corgain and Obi Igwe; musician Malcolm Grant; and finance specialist and realtor Kimesha Janey-Rogers highlighted the importance of community.
Just before Hussle’s death, Rameau celebrated his grandmother’s 103rd birthday.
“It’s ironic that in the same way you can celebrate life, on that same token you can mourn death,” he told the crowd. “Nipsey was on his renaissance, the marathon he was on, things were coming to fruition for him. He was killed in his city in front of the business he built. It’s not about the money and the cars; it’s about the impact and love and healing.”
Too often, Rameau said, we are stuck on the stigma of Boston being a bad city. But it’s time for a rebirth. What’s the message we’re going to send, he asked.
“Community over competition,” is the mantra Pierre spoke and wore on her shirt. “It’s about giving back.”
Hussle worked with members of the LA City Council and developers to open an affordable shared workspace in Crenshaw, was working on a STEM program to launch in inner cities nationwide, and was on the “Destination Crenshaw” team.
Karen Civil, one of his friends and business partners, said he was a teacher.
“Nipsey was an incredible human being who gave the energy and love he wanted to see in the world. It was captured in his authenticity, vulnerability and dedication to not only walking the walk but teaching what he learned himself,” she said. “None of us can put into words fully the light that he was to the world and that speaks volumes to his spirit.”
He was a visionary. His 2018 debut studio album, “Victory Lap,” was nominated for a Grammy. This was after years of dropping mixtapes and pioneering a model that allowed him to give away his music for free online but sell physical copies of his 2013 “Crenshaw” mixtape for $100. Jay-Z bought 100 copies. A year later, Hussle went on to sell 60 copies of “Mailbox Money” for $1,000 each.
But it wasn’t about the money as a flex. It was about the money as a tool for growth. He used his money to invest in his community and launch dreams for a better future.
“At the core, one of my original goals is to redefine what the streets expect, and amplify the pressure we put on these young people once they step into decision-making mode,” he told Forbes last year. “There was a level of ignorance and self-destructiveness in the narrative that was pushed on us through music in our generation. I see how damaging that was, for myself included, and we’re all subject to the social pressure. I wasn’t above it . . . I wanted to redefine the lifestyle and what we view as important.”
In his life and death, Hussle sparked change.
Last Thursday and Friday, rival Los Angeles gangs came together to honor the rapper and community leader. They marched from a Crenshaw grocery store to Nipsey’s Marathon clothing store. It’s reportedly the biggest unification of LA gang rivals since 1992.
To look again at the photo of Nipsey and Lauren London in GQ is to see a phoenix king. Nip was a former Crip. He was born into a fire that says we won’t survive our blackness and our poverty and our neighborhoods. He walked through those flames, at one point poured gas on them and joined the violence, and then he miraculously grew from it. He started planting seeds and watering growth, burning with a light that shines life.
You didn’t have to be a fan of the music to be a fan of the man. He was an American neighborhood fairy-tale king. His life showed us you don’t have to ditch your whole self to succeed, you can beat the odds, you can right your wrongs, and home can be a hopeful place.
He was murdered while making the dream a reality. Still, we have to keep believing.
When London posted the GQ photo by Awol Erizku, the caption read, “Our grandchildren will frame this.”
We’ve all framed it in our minds, a gallery of dreams that remind us Nipsey Hussle did more than run a marathon. He was part of a relay that so many before him ran to further the culture, to create change, and move in love.
The baton is ours now. The Hussle don’t stop.
Jeneé Osterheldt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sincerelyjenee.