On Nipsey Hussle

The public mourning for the death of 33-year-old American entrepreneur and musician Nipsey Hussle seems familiar. Tributes from public figures on a life cut short. Candlelight vigils, memorials, and gatherings mobilized by fans. It could be mistaken for any other loss of a high profile artist in recent memory, a recognizable arrangement of internet virality and increased record sales; a symphony of sympathy. But for many, the death of Nipsey Hussle (born Ermias Asghedom) is different— a rare, deeply painful reminder on the arbitrariness of human life, how easy it is to be apathetic, and how amazing it can be when you are not.

If you are familiar with his life, music, or business acumen this will make the most sense. And if you are interested in understanding, here's a short and incomplete introduction to his legacy.

Nipsey Hussle was born and raised in Crenshaw, a historically underinvested neighborhood in Los Angeles, CA. He was an Eritrean American who publicly recognized both his Black and East African identities. Nipsey Hussle grew up navigating Crenshaw, found a craft, and built a business that not only enabled him to leave, but to flourish in any new environment that he chose. He released music independently and freely, upending the traditional mixtape by employing a scarcity model that redefined his work as a collector’s item for those who saw its value (the first 1,000 copies of his 2013 release Crenshaw retailed at $100 each, quickly selling out to fans including fellow musician Jay-Z, who purchased 100 copies). Nipsey Hussle chose not to relocate, but to stay in his hometown and build systems that he natively understood were necessary and beneficial to his community. He invested in VECTOR90, a 4,700 sq. foot co-working space and incubator. He opened Marathon, the first smart store in Crenshaw, and he hired locally. And at the age of 33, Nipsey Hussle was killed in front of the business that he built in the neighborhood that he was born in. He was shot six times in broad daylight on a Sunday.

The untimely death of Nipsey Hussle reminds us that many people in this world are unable to reach their full potential in the places they might have the most impact— where they are from. For many, going back is the motive. Having the power to contribute is the dream. Nipsey Hussle was the rare example of an individual that did, and his death is devastating to those inspired by this feat.

As an artist I find his death profoundly demoralizing. What is the point of starting anything when your life can abruptly end before you finish? As an Eritrean American, it’s paralyzing. If there was ever an honest and complete diaspora success story, it was Nipsey Hussle's. His mastery of self understanding in both cultures represented so many people, and when he visited Eritrea it was a gift to watch our ideals become reality.    

But as a person who knew about Nipsey Hussle, I feel motivation. To finish what I’ve started and to start what I haven’t. To support the people in my world who are doing the same. And for all of us to take ourselves as seriously as we took Nipsey Hussle. For his legacy. And for our own good.

Sephora Woldu // April 5 2019