Nipsey Hussle: [Ermias Asghedom] a hip-hop samaritan who lifted up Los Angeles
His introspective, unhurried flows were taking him into rap’s elite, but it was his activism and community engagement that truly marked out the murdered rapper Ermias Asghedom, the rapper better known as Nipsey Hussle, knew his
His introspective, unhurried flows were taking him into rap’s elite, but it was his activism and community engagement that truly marked out the murdered rapper
Ermias Asghedom, the rapper better known as Nipsey Hussle, knew his worth and implored his community to know theirs. Raised in Los Angeles, where he also died on Sunday afternoon in a shooting outside his Marathon Clothing store, Asghedom’s unshakable belief in his own rap and business excellence regularly spilled over into outlandish expressions of that confidence: in 2013 he famously set a $100 price tag for physical copies of his cult acclaimed Crenshaw mixtape (Jay-Z bought 100).
Five years later, when his debut album finally materialised, having refused industry attempts to prise an album out of him more quickly or not on his terms, he billed it not as an introduction, but as a celebration of his already established greatness. Victory Lap dropped in February 2018 to rave reviews.
He was well within his rights to give his debut full-length such a bold title. His thrilling brand of hip-hop – a gleaming crucible of LA rap styles past and present – across 12 street-acclaimed mixtapes in the run-up to Victory Lap had brought him a place in the hearts of rap A-listers, and increasingly on their hits, too. Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Dogg, Childish Gambino and YG were collaborators, with Rihanna and J Cole among his burgeoning brigade of fans. But Nipsey’s success wasn’t limited to music.
Growing parallel to his success was an impressive business empire, operated out of his native Slauson Avenue, offering opportunities to local youths and aiming to take his community with him on the route to riches. A barbershop, learning centre for kids, fish store and cryptocurrency company are just some of the ventures he leaves behind, in addition to the clothing store where he was gunned down in an act of violence that’s sent shock waves through the rap world.
His mercurial force in both the booth and the boardroom were intertwined, with the black politics surging through anthems such as Dedication (“This ain’t entertainment, it’s for niggas on the slave ship / These songs just spirituals I swam against them waves with,” he spat on that Kendrick-assisted behemoth) mirrored in his work in the community. The day after he died, Asghedom was due to meet with LAPD officials to discuss programmes that could be put in place to curb gang violence. “Artist. Activist. Angeleno,” read the tribute from the LA Lakers basketball team. His death is a loss not just for rap, but for LA at large, and especially the neglected neighbourhood he parlayed so much of success into trying to enrich.
It wasn’t all bright: homophobic comments posted to Instagram in October were a blot on his altruism and incredible magnetism on the mic. However, the dominant picture of Hussle emerging today as hip-hop mourns is of a gentle, polite soul and doting boyfriend. (In a February 2019 profile in GQ, his partner Lauren London boasted of Asghedom’s excellent bed-making abilities.) What can’t be questioned is his talent for sumptuous, G-funk-flecked rap. Introspective tracks such as Hussle and Motivate – a homily to financial independence built on a chopped and screwed sample of Hard Knock Life – and recent single Racks in the Middle exhibit unhurried, riveting flows that had Asghedom on course for a place in rap’s elite.
That is, if he had wanted it. Asghedom gave the impression in interviews that he may have been about to leave hip-hop behind and focus his efforts on the business empire blossoming in Slauson Avenue. “I got an album concept called Exit Strategy, that might be one of my last ones,” he told Complex after Victory Lap’s release. Whatever his next move was to be, rap has been robbed of a limitlessly talented rap samaritan whose story was just beginning – but whose impact will continue to reverberate.