Apr 15, 2019
Since Nipsey Hussle, the 33-year-old Los Angeles rapper, was murdered in front of his clothing store on March 31, there have been countless vigils in Hussle’s neighborhood in South L.A., as well as several memorials and marches. Hundreds of thousands of people have participated in them. These tributes are one indication of just how much the 33-year-old musician had touched people’s lives, especially young people from the most oppressed layers of the population.
The music of Nipsey Hussle, whose legal name was Ermias Joseph Asghedom, was filled with direct, unromanticized lyrics about navigating life on the streets of Los Angeles for black youth – that is, of trying to survive and overcome the racism and violence of this society. But Hussle’s activities took him beyond hip-hop. Once a success, he rejected the luxury fantasy life of superstardom. Instead, Hussle remained in Crenshaw, and did what he could to help those around him.
In many ways, Hussle’s early life was typical of so many of his generation. As a teenager in South LA in the 1990s, Hussle dropped out of high school and became involved in street life. For a while he joined a gang, the notorious Rollin’ 60s Crips. “It was like living in a war zone, where people die on these blocks and everybody is a little immune to it. I guess they call it post-traumatic stress,” Hussle told the L.A. Times in 2018.
Hussle began releasing music in the mid-2000s. In 2004, when he was 19 years old, Hussle spent three months with his father’s family in the small African country of Eritrea, which was only just emerging from 30 years of brutal war, a war that his father, along with hundreds of thousands of others, had fled. But as Hussle explained in a 2010 interview with Complex magazine, in Eritrea for the first time in his life, he lived in a place where people like himself did not suffer from racism. That was the turning point of his life. It allowed him to see that something else was possible.
Once back home, Hussle tried to do something about it. As Hussle’s music began to make more money, he plowed the money back into South Los Angeles. He opened a few local businesses, like a clothing store and a fast food restaurant, and made it a point to employ those, like ex-felons, who couldn’t get a job anywhere else. He reopened the local roller skating rink. And last year he opened a neighborhood center to encourage young people to study math and science, as well as to help them get jobs with technology companies.
Of course, those actions, set firmly within the capitalist system, could not truly address the causes of the poverty created by it. But they helped buoy a neighborhood, and the people there appreciated him for it.
Hussle often discussed with friends the risks that he was taking by remaining in his old neighborhood. He understood that he put himself in the line of fire in a place where disputes are sometimes settled violently. And since he was considered a wealthy and influential person, these risks were magnified. But he refused to do things that would separate himself from others, like surround himself with bodyguards.
When someone shot Hussle for what the police called a “personal dispute,” Hussle’s violent death was only one of many. That same week, 11 people were murdered in Los Angeles. About half the killings occurred in South L.A.
South L.A. remains a war zone.
“When I was growing up as a kid, I was looking for somebody – not to give me anything – but somebody that cared.... Someone who had an agenda outside their own self interests,” said Hussle. That’s how Hussle lived his life.