Hussle and Motivate: In Memory of Nipsey Hussle (1985-2019)

Max Bell writes a tribute to the fallen South Los Angeles great.
By    April 1, 2019

Art by Thomas Hawk

Son. Brother. Friend. Proud Eritrean and black man. Gang affiliate. Rapper. 2010 XXL Freshman. Local business owner. Entrepreneur. Philanthropist. Mentor. Partner. Father. Grammy nominee.

Ermias Davidson Ashgedom, better known to rap fans in Los Angeles and around the world as Nipsey Hussle, was all of these things and more. Around 3:20 PM on March 31st, Hussle and two other men were shot at close range by a lone gunman in the parking lot at 3420 West Slauson Ave in the Hyde Park neighborhood of South Los Angeles. Hussle, who was reportedly shot six times, and one of the other victims were transported to the hospital. Shortly after the ambulance arrived at the hospital, Hussle was pronounced dead. He was only 33 years old.

Each of the reports announcing Hussle’s death that I read noted that the above-mentioned parking lot was just outside the storefront for his clothing company, The Marathon Clothing (TMC). But real time reports seldom capture the true impact of a musician’s death or the nuances of the life and circumstances leading up to their final exhale. While many touched on Hussle’s ties to Hyde Park and South Los Angeles, none conveyed the depth or importance of his connection to the neighborhood/area.

None illuminated just how tragic it is that he died outside of TMC. The store represented all he had overcome, all of the changes he’d made in his life, and all of the change he hoped to inspire in the lives of South LA residents. His death just feet from that store is a tragedy so gut-wrenchingly ironic that it feels more like it was scripted by Sophocles or John Singleton than something that happened to a real human being.

TMC was more than Hussle’s business. It was declaration, his beacon. Instead of fleeing the neighborhood where he’d survived poverty, gang violence, and countless adversities, he invested in it. He opened TMC and hired locals, creating jobs in a community sorely lacking opportunities for employment. Moreover, TMC was a place where employees and customers likely didn’t face the discrimination they might encounter in clothing stores outside of South LA. TMC  is more than a cool logo or status symbol. The clothes signify black entrepreneurship, the act of investing in black businesses, black success, and the power of community. They point to that beacon at 3420 West Slauson Ave. They are a piece of it.

When I lived in Inglewood from 2016 to 2018, I saw TMC shirts that read “Crenshaw” and “Slauson” on the backs of patrons at black-owned businesses like Woody’s BBQ (just up the block from TMC), The Serving Spoon, and Simply Wholesome. When I worked as a teaching assistant at Los Angeles Southwest College in West Athens, I saw students studying and working in hopes of making it out of their own crime-ridden and economically neglected blocks of South LA while wearing the TMC logo. If ever I talked to students about their favorite musicians, someone was sure to mention Hussle. The clothes, the music—both were motivation.

TMC was only the beginning of Hussle’s attempts to change and inspire change in South LA, to keep the money in the pockets of longtime residents and out of the hands of opportunistic and soulless real estate developers. Hussle and his business partner Dave Gross had recently purchased the plaza where TMC is located. According to February article in Forbes, Hussle and Gross planned to tear everything down and build a six-story residential building with a revamped shopping plaza beneath it. Hussle also helped finance the refurbishment of famed World on Wheels skating rink in Mid-City. And last year, he co-founded Vector 90, a combination co-working space and youth-focused STEM center located just a few blocks from TMC.

I could list more of Hussle’s entrepreneurial endeavors or some of his philanthropic efforts (e.g., refurbishing the basketball court at 59th Street Elementary School), but I think I’ve made my point. He loved his neighborhood so much that he decided to stand in front of Slauson Donuts for his GQ photo shoot. I’ll never be able to talk to him about that decision, but I’m sure he made it so young people from South LA would feel represented and empowered. A Crip on the cover of GQ? Hussle did that.

Right now, any appraisal of Hussle’s music feels false and too fraught with the possibility of coming off as hagiography. Sadly, there will be much time to discuss the hardened candor and wisdom of his lyrics, the arresting and soft raspiness of his voice, or the many other merits of his work. The facts, though, speak to his work ethic, the widespread resonance of his music, and his politics. Hussle dropped 12 independent mixtapes before he released his debut album. Before Billboard and the RIAA kept track of his sales, he was platinum in DatPiff downloads.

When virtually every other rapper and musician seemed unwilling to make a song railing against Donald Trump’s run for president, Hussle teamed up with YG for the anthemic “FDT.” Practically every major rapper has a song with Hussle, who was one of a select few with enough credibility to bestow the West Coast seal of approval. Victory Lap, which was released via Atlantic and Hussle’s label All Money In, didn’t win the Grammy for which it was nominated; but the number of times I heard it playing from cars in LA reaffirmed that he never needed one.

Yesterday, dozens and dozens of Hussle’s collaborators and entertainment industry friends, as well as fellow musicians and celebrities offered their condolences on social media. At the same time, hundreds gathered along Slauson and in front of the TMC store to pay their respects to one of their own, to the one who could’ve “made it out” but gladly and purposefully chose to stay.

There will likely be vigils and memorials up and down Slauson and all over South LA for years to come. Ideally, these will remind everyone of Hussle’s journey and the change he affected in his neighborhood during his brutally and unjustly truncated victory lap. And, hopefully, they will remind everyone that giving back to your community is not a futile enterprise. If the marathon continues in Hussle’s name, maybe it won’t have to be a fatal one either.


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