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Nipsey Hussle and J Stone’s bond is far beyond just boys from the ‘hood

Rapper J Stone talks about the Hussle he grew up with

30 for 30 Podcasts and The Undefeated present The King of Crenshaw. This four-part series dives into the connection between the late rapper, entrepreneur, philanthropist and activist Nipsey Hussle and the NBA. Listen now wherever you get your podcasts.

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Rapper J Stone is sitting in a Los Angeles studio when I ask about his first impressions of Nipsey Hussle. Even though he had known Nipsey forever and the two had been through a lot, the answer didn’t immediately come to mind. 

Then it hit him. How they met wasn’t as important as the camaraderie the moment encapsulated. 

“He had just gotten into a fight at the mall. Him and another one of my closest homeboys,” J Stone said. They were both teenagers at the time in South Los Angeles, who, however dangerous it might be, didn’t back down when their gangster was tested. “That made me mad to see him mad. I was ready to go wherever he thought they was at. Like, let’s go find them. … But that’s what locked it in. Ever since then we’ve been 100.”

J Stone stops for a moment before continuing. “Then once I see his ambition, as far as the music … not only did we click in the streets being who we are and where we from, we actually clicked on another level.”

J Stone, now 35, knew Hussle for more than half his life. He’d been a day one member of Hussle’s All Money In No Money Out label and is still recording 2½ years after Hussle was murdered.

Both grew up in Crenshaw and came to understand the value of their community, from the lowriders driving down the street to the cookouts, the block parties, the corner stores, the basketball courts. But like every Black kid growing up there, they had to navigate an obstacle course that often carried life-and-death consequences. By the time they were 14, both had joined one of the country’s most notorious gangs: the Rollin’ 60s Crips.

The hustling, the banging, the violence, it was all right outside their front door. But so was camaraderie and protection. 

“The culture of my area is gang culture,” Hussle said in a 2014 interview. “So, by being outside, being involved with hustling … doing things trying to get money, being young and riding your bike through the ‘hood, getting shot at, your loved ones and your homies that’s your age getting killed, getting jumped at malls and basketball and football games, we were just raised if you with me, and something go down, I’m in it.”

Outsiders might only see young Black men hell-bent on carnage, with no hope or care for a better future. But Hussle and J Stone’s friendship ran far deeper than a color, a set or the neighborhood that brought them together.

The Rollin’ 60s may have brought Hussle and J Stone together. Yet, their mutual obsession with music convinced them that their world was bigger than the street corners from which the gang took its name. Well before Grammy nominations and victories were even a remote possibility, the two were sleeping in the studio. Hussle, speaking during his Victory Lap concert in 2018, recalled the days when he and J Stone sold “fake dope” to purchase weed and studio time because obtaining the real stuff wasn’t possible in the moment and money was needed immediately.

“For us to have that story, it’s just inspirational, bro,” J Stone said of the by-any-means-necessary approach. “We weren’t supposed to be doing it, but you know, we did it to get by.”

At the time, recording music was a two-man operation. When one was in the booth rhyming, the other would serve as the engineer. There were always roadblocks, from dealing with the police to properly promoting the music once it was completed.

“It was places that we couldn’t go,” J Stone said, looking back. “By us being from 60s, we couldn’t go to the Eight Tray Gangsters [territory] and put up posters. We couldn’t go to the Hoovers and put up posters. We couldn’t go to Inglewood and put up posters without getting in altercations. But we was just trying to get our message across.”

The hustling, the banging, the violence, it was all right outside Nipsey Hussle (left) and J Stone’s front door. But so was camaraderie and protection.

jstone_allmoneyin/Instagram

So how exactly did Hussle and J Stone get their message across?

“We had to pay a couple of smokers,” J Stone said. “It was also a couple of homegirls from the ‘hood, too. We’ll give them a few dollars and some weed and they’ll go post up our posters everywhere that we couldn’t … that we didn’t want to be seen.”

Despite the rivalries, J Stone says their intention was always rooted in coming up. And leaving the streets — the nonsense in them, at least — behind. They wanted the money that came with it, sure. And the notoriety of being a rap star was far better than being just another name in the police department’s gang database. But what they really wanted more than anything was freedom.

“The goal was to inspire,” he said earnestly. “As far as unity, later on down the line, look what happened with him and YG and how they got so close. It brought a lot of unity together with Crips and Bloods.”

As the 2000s transitioned into the 2010s, Hussle’s All Money In record label became the headquarters for himself, J Stone and all of his partners from the Slauson Boyz crew, consisting of Cobby Supreme, Hoodsta Rob, Cuzzy Capone, Rimpau the Rebel, BH, Ralo, Wee Dogg, Tiny Drawz, Killa Twan, J Stone and later artists such as PacMan Da Gunman. Hussle’s output in the 2010s was dizzying, with projects dropping almost yearly. J Stone, whose standout tracks include “The Marathon Continues” and “All Get Right” with Hussle, was prolific, too, with projects dropping every year since 2013 (sans 2014).

At All Money In, J Stone, Hussle and the others could pursue a path other than the streets. They understood, though, that they were always one decision away from returning there.

J Stone recalled his friend’s loyalty to him during one of the most trying periods of his life in the late 2000s and early 2010s. It felt as if every time Hussle would release a project, J Stone would be back in jail. There were the fights with rival gang members in prison, a reality J Stone vividly relives on his 2021 single “County Jail.”

But equally painful was the feeling that he had let Hussle down. But his friend helped J Stone keep his sanity while he sat down and the two spoke constantly on the phone.

“He would just be talking to me with just pure goodness,” J Stone recalled, smiling at the memory.

“You know things happen, bro,” Hussle would tell him. “Just come home. We gon’ run these laps again. Remember how we were stressing over weed and smoking cigarettes? You ain’t gotta worry about that no more.”

“Bro always put it in my head, like, ‘Things happen. Don’t be in there beating yourself up. We all make mistakes,’ ” J Stone said. “That would always make me feel good. He’d ask me if I’m in there writing raps. Like, ’cause that’s what I didn’t want you to do. Just throw it all away and stop writing.’ ”

The two would talk about everything from music, business and finance to life, love and grief. J Stone remembers one time in particular when Hussle waxed poetic on fatherhood. More than being a rapper or a businessman, Hussle was enamored with being a father. He saw his daughter Emani, and later his son Kross with actress Lauren London as his living, breathing legacy.

Not too long after Emani was born in 2008, J Stone and his child’s mother were expecting. J Stone was stressed out. They were still trying to figure out life themselves, so bringing a new life into the world — however excited he was — came with its own triggers.

“I’m like, ‘Bro, why didn’t you tell me this was going to get crazy!’ ” J Stone said.

Hussle stopped what he was doing and looked J Stone in the eye. Parenthood, Hussle told him, was never going to be easy. Now there was a life, his daughter, who never requested to be here who would soon be arriving, and J Stone was half the reason. This was going to be his most important responsibility for the rest of his life.

“He broke the whole situation down and how to deal with it.” J Stone remembers Hussle telling him of the range of emotions that comes over both parents during pregnancy. “He humbled me a little bit.”

In anything in life — running the streets, jail, music and kids — J Stone had Nipsey. And Nipsey had J Stone. Even now that’s the case. J Stone said he’ll never truly accept Hussle’s death. But he knows he has no choice.

Death, unfortunately, isn’t anything new to J Stone. His mother died when he was young and for the first seven years of his life, he believed his aunt was his mom. When he was around 13, his older brother was killed.

And on March 31, 2019, J Stone was in the studio working on his album, fittingly titled The Definition of Loyalty. He was focused on a song called “Nineteen” that featured Hussle. The two had spoken previously about parts that needed to be rerecorded. After completing that, J Stone dropped his girlfriend off at work and headed to Hussle’s Marathon clothing store in Crenshaw, where he had intended to be earlier in the day.

“I kinda got off to a late start,” J Stone told me.

After receiving the call about Hussle’s shooting, he closed his eyes, took a deep breath and “smashed my foot on the gas real hard to get there.” J Stone was praying. Telling himself that Hussle would recover. That they had years to grow old together. That they had survived too many street wars for it to end like this.

Hussle’s death, as it did for so many in the inner circle, took a lot out of J Stone. Time, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t heal all wounds. But death could never stop friendship. He still sees his friend everywhere. It’s hard to go many places in Los Angeles and not see a mammoth poster or mural of Hussle. He hears his voice everywhere, too. And that doesn’t stand to change for a long, long time.

In its own way, death added a deeper obligation to what Hussle and J Stone spent their lives building. Hussle’s motto, “The Marathon Continues,” isn’t just a catchphrase to J Stone. It’s now part of J Stone’s life purpose. Some of that is through speaking his name whenever possible. Listen to his music, browse through Instagram or watch his interviews on YouTube and the topic of Hussle is never far away. But there’s also the private emotional attachment like when Hussle’s kids call him Uncle J Stone or seeing his offspring side by side with Hussle’s. “Words can’t even express that feeling,” he said.

He’s also trying to be more vocal about the pressures of the marathon. About feeling like he can lose it at any point. That keeping things bottled up helps no one in the long run. 

“I’ma forever feel like that. That’s probably what keeps me going. I still got that chip on my shoulder. I still got that fight in me. I feel like I’m on life support,” he said.

All the more reason to keep fighting. That’s how they initially met, after all.

J Stone now stands on his own two feet as an artist with his own story, much like how Hussle envisioned for everyone around him. Over the past year, he’s been in the studio with Usher, Hit-Boy and DMX.

Still, his friend is never far from his heart. 

“If I could tell Nip one thing, I would tell him, ‘Look, bro. Your family and your kids are straight. You can be at peace, bro.’ ”

Justin Tinsley is a culture and sports writer for The Undefeated. He firmly believes “Cash Money Records takin’ ova for da ’99 and da 2000” is the single-most impactful statement of his generation.