Music

Still grieving Nipsey Hussle a year later

Coming to terms with Hussle’s death hasn’t gotten any easier

In one of the final interviews of his life, Ermias Asghedom, better known to the world as Nipsey Hussle, spoke of what he hoped the foundation of his music would always be rooted in.

“I read somewhere that the highest human act is to inspire,” he said on the Rap Radar Podcast. As a natural-born hustler, he couldn’t help but keep track of his album’s performance or how many streams his single received. Being a starving artist was never part of the plan. But the business paled compared with how he touched people.

“When I think about what factor made me like the music, it’s the music that inspires you.”

His legacy is a North Star of inspiration — even more so in the year following his slaying outside his Marathon clothing store on March 31, 2019. Hussle was a father, partner, brother, son, rapper, philanthropist, entrepreneur, hustler, intellectual and Rollin’ 60s Crip. Hussle’s last words to the shooter allegedly were, “You got me.” The trial of the man accused of killing him, Eric Holder, also a Crip, who accused Hussle of calling him a snitch, is set to begin in April.

Grief, particularly in Los Angeles, has been overwhelming. Most directly to his family and friends, but also to the legion of fans who used his music and interviews as life road maps. At the time of his death, Hussle, 33, was on the cusp of massive stardom thanks in part to the success of his Grammy-nominated album Victory Lap.

Actor Denzel Washington (left) and Nipsey Hussle (right) attend an NBA game between the Houston Rockets and Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on Oct. 26, 2016, in Los Angeles.

Photo by Noel Vasquez/GC Images

His activism drew comparisons to Tupac Shakur. His business mind frame to Master P. But Hussle was his own man. His marathon continues. But not without tears, the inspiration he left behind and residual anger.

“I still feel really bad for his family and friends. I think a lot about Lauren [London], his kids and Blacc Sam,” an emotional J. Cruz of Los Angeles’ REAL 92.3’s The Cruz Show said. “I’ve cried when I’m alone, when I’m driving. Other times I might just sneak away and head to the restroom to cry. I’m even tearing up now.”

Both the BET Awards and the Grammys honored Hussle with stirring tributes. U.S. women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe quoted Hussle after the team’s World Cup title run last summer. Jay-Z, an ardent supporter of Hussle’s, saluted the All Money In impresario at his B-Sides 2 concert. And March 27, Hit-Boy — the producer behind Hussle’s Grammy-winning “Racks in the Middle” — previewed a collaboration between Hussle and Big Sean while on an Instagram Live beat battle with Boi-1da. Yet, year one without Hussle has been a case study in survivor’s remorse.

“[Life without Nipsey] has been surreal. Like [I’m] in a bad dream, but everything that happened is real,” said Javier Martinez, who leads the Washington chapter of The Marathon Book Club. “We all grew up with examples of black men not having the chance to reach their full potential, but this felt personal. He humanized the young black experience in such a powerful way. A prince was stolen from us.”

Hussle understood there was a chance his life could end the way it did. “Look, damn right I like the life I built,” he boasted on “Grindin’ All My Life.” “I’m from Westside 60, s—, I might got killed.” The record, an entrepreneurial and autobiographical manifesto, was featured on Victory Lap. Two songs later, he revisited the topic of an early demise on the CeeLo Green feature, “Loaded Bases.”

“I ain’t gon’ make a hundred mil’ off in these streets and/ More than likely I’m gon’ end up in somebody precinct,” he said. The lyrics reflected a come-to-God moment Nipsey had with himself before he really began taking music seriously. Or, as he weighed his options on “Loaded Bases,” Even worse, the horse and carriage front the church, laid off in a hearse/ I dealt with it, I ain’t just out here for my health with it.”

Hussle embraced the responsibility of carrying his neighborhood on his 6-foot-3 frame. The change he was looking for wasn’t going to come through satellite activism or through lucrative donations. Hussle had to be in the trenches. His Marathon store and the shopping center it sat in were the first steps. Alongside business partner David Gross, Hussle’s “Too Big to Fail” STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) program was aimed at kids in his Crenshaw neighborhood and the Vector 90 workspace was dedicated to nurturing entrepreneurs in South Los Angeles. Plans for a residential complex were in the works. And his fingerprint was all over the Destination Crenshaw community revitalization project.

The sting of moving on without Hussle is apparent in those closest to him during their moments of public introspection. Lauren London, Hussle’s partner and mother of his son, Kross, recently offered support to those dealing with trauma caused by the coronavirus. Her Instagram, along with Hussle’s sister, Samantha’s, have effectively been turned into Hussle memorials over the last year. His daughter, Emani, gave a speech at her elementary school graduation last summer, thanking her father for his support and belief in her.

A survey of Hussle’s confidantes’ social media over the last year — his bodyguard JRoc, longtime friends and labelmates Cobby Supreme, J.Stone and BH, frequent collaborators Snoop Dogg and Dave East, tour manager Jorge Peniche — reveals that his presence is never far from their memory banks either. It’s heartbreaking to watch Hussle’s loved ones attempt to move on. The tragedy they live with disrupted so much of what will never be replaced. “He was our big brother … our leader,” DJ V.I.P., Hussle’s official DJ, said. “S— fell apart when we lost him.”

Nipsey Hussle (center) greets kids at the Nipsey Hussle x PUMA Hoops Basketball Court Refurbishment Reveal Event on Oct. 22, 2018, in Los Angeles.

Photo by Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for PUMA

The feeling is mutual around Los Angeles. Countless celebrities have died there – The Notorious B.I.G., Whitney Houston, Marvin Gaye. But Hussle was South Central L.A.’s own. He took his last breath on the grounds that he owned in the neighborhood he had tattooed on his back.

“Once Nipsey passed it felt like everyone wrote the rest of [2019] off,” said Iesha Irene, a Los Angeles-based DJ. “Our drive was inconsistent because of the grief.”

“This [past] year has really been a time of disbelief and readjusting [for Los Angeles],” said Bryan Robinson, a Windsor Hills native who grew up five minutes from Hussle’s Marathon store. “Losing Kobe [Bryant] right after Nip seems like a very bad, dark dream that we’re all waking up every morning wishing to be false.”

“His music comes on and it’s like a punch to the gut. I always think to myself, ‘… I wish Nipsey was here. This is bulls—!’ ” Cruz said. “What happened to Nip wasn’t supposed to happen.”

Rapper Nipsey Hussle (left) and Lauren London (right) attend an NBA game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves at Staples Center on Dec. 25, 2017, in Los Angeles.

Photo by Allen Berezovsky/Getty Images

Erratic is the word to use when describing the first year of grief. Emotions ebb and flow, oftentimes widely. Birthdays and holidays are experienced without a loved one for the first time. The first year, according to clinical psychologist Justin S. Hopkins, can offer a preview into the journey ahead.

“Absence can be incredibly profound, especially for someone with the amount of influence as Nipsey. It’s so important that Nipsey’s family and the surrounding community allow it to be felt,” Hopkins said. “The only way to really get through grief is to be with it — however it may manifest.” He continued, “Yet, there is something about loss that teaches us how to cherish and honor what once was. Even in death, Nipsey’s influence will continue to grow, as people remember him for all that he represented.”

Hussle is still very much a part of the cultural fabric. His presence is visible on streaming services. His face is visible on social media platforms, where an army of tribute accounts surfaced to keep his face and voice alive.

The second season’s debut of the CW and Netflix series All Americanlargely based in the same Crenshaw district where Hussle grew up — was, in essence, a tribute to the slain rapper titled Hussle & Motivate. The episode featured several shots of murals painted throughout Los Angeles and a community gathering scene that memorialized Hussle’s multigenerational impact.

“Nipsey’s mentality was so accepted around the world. Just being from that ’hood and that place, we had no choice but to pay homage to him,” said actor Da’Vinchi Juste, who plays Darnell Hayes, the starting quarterback at Crenshaw High School, in the series. “People are inspired [by his actions]. And that’s the good thing about doing stuff like that. Because you never die.”

A woman cries as the hearse carrying the remains of Nipsey Hussle arrives at the Angelus Funeral Home on April 11, 2019, in Los Angeles.

ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images

Every loss has a meaning. But finding that meaning proves profoundly difficult. It brings to the forefront one’s own mortality.

“[Nipsey] felt like, ‘I ain’t leaving my ’hood. I’ma lift my s— up.’ That was his calling. That’s why he’s a legend. Just [off] that alone,” Meek Mill told Charlamagne tha God. “He let me know I could die.” Mill would later reference the same sentiment on the ode, “Letter to Nipsey.”

“Honestly, I lost some of my courage [when Nipsey died]. I’m more fearful now than I have been,” said Martinez. “I now have a palpable fear that the balance of my time on earth is more limited than I’ve ever realized before.”

One of the most respected and applied quotes of Hussle’s life revolved around his marathon mantra. Like anyone else, he encountered setbacks. He encountered moments of self-doubt. But what separated him and others who stepped out on faith is that he never quit. Hussle said he was willing to take the stance of dying behind what he believed in.

The clip, quoted on Mustard’s “Perfect Ten,” largely represented who Hussle was as a person and, to the community who followed him, a ’hood demigod. “When Nipsey died,” Irene said, “L.A. lost hope.”

One year later, does the world really know the man who walked Slauson Avenue?

Maybe it does now more than it did a year ago. They know he was a beacon of black fatherhood. When he spoke to Golden State Warriors superstar Stephen Curry, he revealed that’s what he wanted to be most known for. In hip-hop, he reinvented what community investment resembled. To a larger audience, he gave credence to what it means to find one’s purpose despite the environment that birthed them. That success didn’t mean turning a blind eye to the circumstances opportunities and wealth could allow. “I like to think I gave the ’hood a different purpose,” he said on 2017’s “Skurr,” “Cause I ain’t never seen these type of n—as this encouraged.”

“It’s somewhat like when black kids first saw Black Panther. They didn’t need to wear a Spider-Man costume anymore. They felt closer to the superhero because they were the same color,” said Juste. “I kinda feel like Nipsey was a superhero from the ’hood.”

Hussle’s legacy will continue. To future generations, he’ll take on a Tupac and Notorious B.I.G.-like aura, a larger-than-life figure who, at the time of his death, wasn’t yet the black deity his spirit would eventually become. But the question persists: How does the trauma translate into something greater? The answer doesn’t fully exist yet. It’s natural to think the inspiration Hussle symbolizes will keep the marathon going. And, in time, it will. But there’s still personal grief that must be addressed. Trying to continue the marathon is ideal, but doing so in the midst of grieving the original visionary isn’t easy. Black Panther Fred Hampton said a revolutionary can be killed, but not the revolution. Maybe not, but how many movements throughout history were slowed when its leader was lost?

The sun goes down and heroes on Earth eventually become angels in heaven. Hussle died in the most violent of manners. A reality that was always in the cards for the life that he lived. But an unfair reminder of where life could have ultimately headed. How he lived is how he wanted to be remembered — as an imperfect man of character and principle. And a man who died knowing the beauty of his people could never be overpowered by the grief they inevitably faced.

“Define who you are and what you are, and be clear on that. Meditate on that, and then live and die by it. … You can’t break the rules, the fundamental rules,” Hussle pledged. “Be a man of your word. Do what you say you’re gonna do. Respect people the way you would like to be respected.”

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.