It was clear from the very beginning that rapper Nipsey Hussle was going to make it a priority to talk about investing in South Los Angeles.
In what is perhaps his first on-camera interview, at the Russell Simmons’ Get Your Money Right summit in 2006, Hussle spoke plainly about leaving behind the material things synonymous with hip-hop lifestyle — the diamonds, the flashy cars — to secure the financial future of his family and people in his community.
“How come you not blingin’ and having all kind of crazy diamonds and all that,” hip-hop journalist Davey D asked Hussle, who if you squint and think back to 1993, might remind you of a young Snoop Dogg. “I guess you here to get your money, right?”
“I’d rather invest in some real estate,” Hussle said.
“So you trying to get land?” Davey D asked.
“Exactly, homie, a real asset to take care of my people,” Hussle said matter-of-factly.
The 33-year-old rapper, whose real name was Ermias Ashgedom, was shot and killed Sunday in Los Angeles in front of his apparel store, Marathon Clothing. Tributes and condolences from celebrities, politicians and fans poured in, with many people remembering him for his commitment to his community in South Central Los Angeles. Since the beginning of his rap career, he has always represented the Crenshaw District, specifically the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue; his 2005 debut mixtape was titled “Slauson Boy” and his eighth mixtape was titled “Crenshaw.”
He was called Neighborhood Nip for a reason.
Marathon Clothing sits at that Crenshaw/Slauson intersection, one of the main hubs for businesses in South L.A. The apparel shop is a “smart store” that uses an app so customers can see exclusive content from the rapper. Hussle enlisted the help of software engineer Iddris Sandu to create the app and build the store, after a chance meeting at a Starbucks store a couple years ago.
“Nipsey is the reason many people know me today, and to hear that his life was taken in front of the very store we built together is truly a full-circle moment, which aches for me personally as well as for the culture,” Sandu told NBCBLK in an email. “Grateful for the light he saw in me years ago, I vow to continue pushing forward the culture with the very platform he gave me.”
In February, Hussle and his business partner, David Gross, bought the entire plaza at that intersection, with plans to knock it down and build it back up with a six-story residential building atop commercial stores, Forbes reported.
Gross is also founder and CEO of Vector 90, a coworking space and STEM incubator for young people to gain training, professional development and other tools to build their own businesses. Hussle, who invested in Vector 90, has long had an interest in technology and hoped to help bridge the gap between black and brown children in his community and technology entrepreneurs and CEOs in Silicon Valley.
Hussle owned several other businesses in the area, including a Fatburger restaurant, a barbershop and a seafood market. He had invested in the 59th Street Elementary School, giving shoes to all of the students and renovating its basketball courts and playground.
“I just want to give back in an effective way,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 2018. “I remember being young and really having the best intentions and not being met on my efforts. You’re, like, ‘I’m going to really lock into my goals and my passion and my talents’ but you see no industry support. You see no structures or infrastructure built and you get a little frustrated.”
Imani Beal-Ampah, a longtime resident of the Crenshaw District in South Los Angeles, said she remembered when the rapper released one of his earliest singles, “Hussle in the House,” in 2009. Since then, she has seen the effect that Hussle had on her community.
“He became a neighborhood hero; he was such a positive figure in our community,” Beal-Ampah, 29, said. “You see the changes that he made. He worked with elementary schools and helped to bring STEM programs in the community. This is not just someone who just had a business. He wanted to change the community from the root up.”
As an artist, Hussle found ways to disrupt the music industry through his tactics. He was signed to Epic Records, but the deal fell through in 2010. Three years later, he released his mixtape “Crenshaw” independently and unconventionally — by selling 1,000 physical copies for $100 each. (He sold out in less than 24 hours.) Last year, he released his debut studio album “Victory Lap” — in a strategic deal with Atlantic Records and his own record label All Money — which was nominated for best rap album at the 2019 Grammys.
On the mic, he often talked about his entrepreneurial ambitions. In “Blue Laces 2,” he rapped: “Billion dollar project ’bout to crack the cement/So one of our investments had become strategic/Summer roll ’18, man it’s such a season/’Bout to make more partners look like f—— geniuses.”
That “billon-dollar project” likely refers to Destination Crenshaw, a 1.3-mile outdoor space dedicated to the arts and culture of black Los Angeles. The project is a response to the city’s decision to put a section of the Los Angeles County Metro rail line at ground level along Crenshaw Boulevard. Community members lamented that the construction of that Metro line would harm local businesses, according to Curbed LA. Council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson told NBCBLK that often, outsiders come into communities he represents to capitalize off their assets and value while the community often doesn’t benefit.
But Hussle stepped in to make sure that didn’t happen. He was one of the early supporters of the project.
“What Nipsey did is that he flipped that script,” Harris-Dawson, who is leading the Destination Crenshaw effort, said in a phone interview. “He said we’re going to create the content, own the platforms and be a part of the entire chain. So that no one is going to capture value of what we create without us participating. That makes a big difference.”
On Twitter, Harris-Dawson said Hussle was “a critical part of Destination Crenshaw, even inspiring the name.”
Though he’d been associated with the Rollin’ 60s Neighborhood Crips in his youth, Hussle was slated to meet with Steve Soboroff, president of the Los Angeles Police Commission, Los Angeles Police Department Chief Michel Moore and entertainment company Roc Nation to discuss ways to stop gang violence. In the last few years, he participated in anti-gun violence rallies, like the one in 2013, where he met Harris-Dawson. He wanted change, and he wanted it now.
The impact of Hussle’s death is reverberating across the hip-hop world. Many of his fans will stream his songs and spit his lyrics to appreciate his storytelling skills. But for residents of the Crenshaw neighborhood who felt his impact more directly, many will miss his presence and commitment to uplifting others in the community.
“I know in my heart that it’s a higher power and a higher value to what we can do,” the rapper told Complex magazine in February. “The times we do it right and it connects and it has that effect on people; that’s really, really fulfilling.”