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Nipsey Hussle’s Grammy triumphs are bittersweet

The late rapper’s two Grammys brought a sense of pride, but the impact of his death changed everything

The 62nd Annual Grammy Awards always figured to be an emotional night, even before news broke of a helicopter crash that claimed nine lives, including Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter Gianna. That’s because the grief surrounding Nipsey Hussle, 10 months after his death, looms.

And how could it not?

In February 2019, the businessman, philanthropist and Grammy-nominated rapper beamed with pride as he walked the red carpet with his daughter Emani and partner Lauren London. After years of cultivating a dedicated fan base through independent endeavors both in and out of the booth, his professional apex rested at his fingertips. A month later, in front of his Marathon Clothing store, his life ended.

Hussle posthumously captured his two Grammys for best rap performance for “Racks In The Middle” featuring Roddy Ricch and Hit Boy and best rap song in “Higher” with DJ Khaled and John Legend. Hussle’s brother, Samiel “Blacc Sam” Asghedom, delivered an impassioned speech about Hussle coming away empty-handed last year. Hussle found peace in the moment. “When it was given to somebody else, we looked at each other … God’s plan is God’s plan and we went with that,” said the elder Asghedom brother. “When Nip was back nominated [this year], it reminded me of our conversation.”

“Being a part of this song has been very educational for me,” said DJ Corbett, a Grammy-winning co-producer on “Racks In The Middle.” “I don’t know if there will ever be a bigger honor from a musical standpoint than being a small part of Nipsey’s legacy. I get chills just thinking about how this whole thing has played out. It’s a movie, a documentary and everything all in one.”

Meek Mill performs at the 62nd Annual Grammy Awards on Jan. 26 in Los Angeles.

Photo by John Shearer/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

The much anticipated Grammys tribute featured Kirk Franklin, Meek Mill, Roddy Ricch, DJ Khaled, John Legend and YG. Shortly after the show came the official release of Mill and Ricch’s “Letter To Nipsey,” an ode they performed during the show. It was a master class in exercising vulnerability. Ricch’s admission to revealing his psyche upon finding out about Hussle’s murder involved cutting off his phone and meditating for days at a time is nerve-searing. A seemingly endless solar system of anger, loneliness and emotional disorientation. Yet, it is Mill, one of rap’s most emotional wordsmiths, who reveals what losing Hussle did for his psyche over the last year.

“And I ain’t finna say it like I’m your main homie/But when we lost you it really put some pain on me/Got me scared to go outside without that flame on me/And when them n—-s went against me, you ain’t change on me.

“You made me cry, n—-/And I don’t cry, n—-/ You the first one made me feel like I could die, n—-.”

Evident by the admissions in his music, Mill’s level of survivor’s remorse is paramount. On any given day, any given Instagram post, seeing the Championships rapper wearing Hussle or Lil’ Snupe chains. Call it a form of therapy. Or never allowing himself to relinquish relationships he’ll have to wait another lifetime to rekindle. He couldn’t forget Hussle if he wanted to — and even that carries its own insurmountable grief.

“Couple days ago was chillin’ with my youngun/Seeing your kids on the ’Gram it made me sicker to my stomach,” said Meek. “And as the marathon continue we keep running/But I’m like, ‘Damn, I wish you see that p— coming, for real.”

Bittersweet is the appropriate response whenever Hussle’s name is mentioned. For everyone who mentions his name, there’s a common smirk that masks the pain. It wasn’t supposed to end like this. On Jan. 24, Atlantic Records held a private event downtown honoring Hussle with a plaque presentation signaling more than 6 million certified sales. Murals of his face and likeness are inked across the city. His voice, never too far from radio. Pictures of him and partner London were hung at the Roc Nation brunch.

Hussle’s two Grammys brought an immense sense of pride. But the tangible impact of Hussle’s death changed everything. The first year of grief can be erratic. Emotions ebb and flow unpredictably. For Hussle, his first birthday and the first holiday season without him are in life’s rearview mirror. Each moment represents an unexpected echo of his life. Grief is a fingerprint — subjective and unique to every individual.

“It was really a brotherhood. That’s why you can tell everyone on the team is so …” Anthony Orozco’s voice trails off via FaceTime. He is known as DJ V.I.P. and served as Hussle’s official DJ since 2013. “Although everyone is trying to stay motivated, you can tell a lot of people are lost. He was our big brother. He was our leader. S— fell apart when we lost him.”

DJ V.I.P.’s kinship with Hussle went beyond music. It’s evident in the fact the two never signed contracts. Their relationship boiled down to one man respecting another and neither wanting to violate that code. In DJ V.I.P.’s phone lives his last conversation with Hussle. “Well-oiled machine,” said Hussle at 1:14 a.m. on March 31, a response to DJ V.I.P. quickly putting together a service pack of songs for All Money In artist Pacman Da Gunman.

Like most people on the team, DJ V.I.P. spent more time with Hussle than he did his own family. The news he’d learn hours later of Hussle’s death was devastating. The loss altered his world and the future he envisioned.

“I feel like I was robbed of so many experiences with him,” said DJ V.I.P.

There’s no denying Hussle’s posthumous success presents an awkward reality.

“It’s absolutely [bittersweet] because you always wish people get their flowers while they’re alive,” said singer Tinashe. “Obviously, Nipsey was an incredible artist a year ago. But he still deserves this, whether he’s here or not.”

A month following the song’s release, Hussle died. But it was never about having undeniable records. Hussle always understood everything came with an expiration date. His music, his business and, most importantly, himself. There was always a combined sense of urgency and patience in Hussle’s decision-making. He made sure whatever he gave people was something he could stand on. Grief’s timetable never reveals its hands. Yet, with Hussle and the now permanent reality of his face and voice only living through music and old interviews, the love will always be there, too.

“He gave me so much opportunity and a platform,” said DJ V.I.P., “that I feel like almost one of Jesus’ disciples.”

That’s a high compliment, but there’s also another. “Racks In The Middle” is outdated. He’s no longer Grammy-nominated. From now until time runs its course, he’s Grammy award-winning Nipsey Hussle.

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.