The biggest mistake folks who aren’t into rap or millennial culture can make is to assume the tragic death of rapper Nipsey Hussle was just that, another rapper who perished violently.
Some of your favorite NBA players — LeBron James, Steph Curry, Isaiah Thomas — are in mourning right now. They viewed Nipsey as a friend, some a mentor, others a teacher, others a cool cat wearing his Magic Johnson throwback jersey while sitting courtside at Lakers games.
The fusion between the NBA and hip-hop is strong and appears unbreakable. Hip-hop artists and NBA players share a mutual admiration. How many NBA players have tried rap and singing careers? How many hip-hop artists claim basketball would have been their career if music didn’t work out.
Hussle, who was an underground legend before his first official album was nominated for a Grammy last year, was popular among the NBA brethren. These young men who have been told to shut up and dribble or enjoy their millions and embrace the conventional world admire those who don’t or don’t have to.
They admire self-made men from their own neighborhoods. They admire men who have escaped from their impoverished upbringings (in some situations) to become successful hip-hop stars and entrepreneurs. Many admired Hussle even more because he was trying to help rebuild and revitalize South Los Angeles, where he grew up.
He launched a coworking space in the Crenshaw District called Vector90, which, according to its website, “will anchor cultural and intellectual hubs for entrepreneurs and creatives, and will heighten the economic and social fabric of the neighborhood we enter.” He also initiated a STEM center in Los Angeles that he wanted to spread to cities across the country.
Hussle, whose given name was Ermias Joseph Asghedom, was murdered on the 3400 block of Slauson near Crenshaw, essentially the heart of the black community in Los Angeles. He perished in front of the clothing store he opened in 2017, one of the many things he launched to rebuild that community.
Inasmuch as some of us may not understand the music generation that Hussle was a part of or as much as we’d like to categorize him for his abundance of tattoos and as much as some of us want to say we couldn’t relate to someone like that because of his look or his music or his upbringing or his unconventional path, we have to respect the impact he had on not only those professional athletes but also on a generation of young people who have no issue with those elements. To them, Hussle was just an everyday man who wanted to give back.
My familiarity with Hussle was not extensive. I would smile when I heard his name because of its creativity, because when I was younger at my grandmother’s house just about a mile from where Hussle was slain, I would come home from elementary school and she would be watching “Match Game,” the game show with a comedian named Nipsey Russell as one of its celebrity guests.
Forty years later, my community is suffering because of Hussle’s untimely death, and so are those who considered him a pioneer and a leader who sought to improve his neighborhood by staying there and being active there.
“It’s just hard,” Celtics guard Kyrie Irving said when I asked him about Hussle’s impact and disheartening demise. “Having the world at your fingertips and knowing what Nipsey stood for, knowing what he was trying to promote in his community and around the world with his music. It may not be liked by everyone in terms of how it was coming across, but I think the reality is we’re all emotionally invested in the lyrics the artists are putting out there and what they represent.
“It’s just hard because, especially men of color, losing their lives like that, in their communities, a lot of questions, it probably doesn’t make it to this stage, this platform. [If] it’s not anybody else’s favorite artist, they don’t care enough. For us, we’re all very connected a lot of different ways. Our communities, from me being from Jersey and being in LA and having a lot of friends out there. It’s just hard. A lot of rappers and entertainers losing their lives early on before they really get to change the world.
“It is a sad day.”
Though many of us may not understand Hussle or followed his music or even understood his celebrity, he was impactful on a generation of young people that we do care about, and that generation just received a harsh dose of reality about mortality, as if it really needed one.
So perhaps this tragic incident will allow us the opportunity to find out why Hussle was so influential on not only the hip-hop community but also on professional athletes, regular young folk, and some 40- and 50 somethings. It’s sad Hussle will be revered now more than when he was alive.
It’s amazing and rather sad that less than 24 hours before his death, Hussle was at the Honda Center in Anaheim, cheering on Texas Tech in its win over Gonzaga in the NCAA West Regional Final. The suddenness of his death stunned those in the Celtics locker room, as well as many others around the NBA, who felt as if they lost a voice, a peer, a friend.
“My thing is that I don’t give no person that much power over my path that I’m walking. Not one person can make or break what I’m doing, except me or God.”
— Nipsey Hussle