With the death of Nipsey Hussle last week, the sun sinks low on the West coast. The Crenshaw native’s ascension to Grammy-nominated promanance for his final album, Victory Lap, is a story of perseverance in the classic Southern California fashion, and his all-too-soon passing leaves rap missing one of its most important voices.
Hussle earned his stripes as most of the greats do, with a series of mixtapes, beginning in 2005, with Slauson Boy Volume 1, followed by the Bullets Aint Got No Name trilogy. In 2009, he signed with Epic records, a division of Sony, but split from the label a year later over creative liberty and ownership of his own material. In 2010, after the split, he founded his own label, All Money In, which would serve as a vehicle for The Marathon, The Marathon Continues, Crenshaw, and finally his studio debut, Victory Lap. As the head of his own label, Hussle championed black entrepreneurship and ownership, famously selling 1000 hard copies of his 2013 project, Crenshaw, for $100 each in a single day at an event where he spoke against major label artistic and financial control over much of the music industry.
Looking at the history of West Coast rap reveals a legacy of artists whose brash personas and gang-affiliated bars, when examined in context, speak to a die-hard dedication to their communities, and to a self-reliance born out of years of social and economic neglect. From the early days of Tupac and Snoop Dogg, to N.W.A. and Dre, to TDE and All Money In, the importance of hip-hop not just as black art but as black business can’t be understated. Nipsey Hussle understood this, and used his own music as a springboard into activism and community building, acting as a founding member of the Destination Crenshaw Project, and the Vector 90 space dedicated to improving diversity in STEM fields.
Hussle’s murder, while tragic and senseless, should underscore the importance of the work he was doing up until his death. His signature braggadocio takes on a bittersweet hue, but the celebratory anthems of Victory Lap should continue to echo through the streets, chasing the light of a dream for something better.