Nipsey Hussle (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Times)
California School of the Arts

Rapper Nipsey Hussle’s life journey: Crip to community activist

Nipsey Hussle, an American rapper, songwriter, entrepreneur and community activist, was fatally shot outside of his store, Marathon Clothing in South Los Angeles on March 31, according to NBC news. Hussle, real name Ermias Joseph Asghedom, grew up in the Crenshaw neighborhood of South Los Angeles.

Crenshaw High School stands out in the mornings with a constant flow of cars and students, but once school is out, many of them walk to Dorset Village, also known as the Ville. In an interview with Complex, Asghedom recounts the frequent violence in the area, a large influence in his music.

At the age of 14, Asghedom joined a sub-group of the Crips, a primary gang based in Southern California. However, his view on the world expanded after a three-month trip to his father’s country, Eritrea, East Africa in 2004. He credits the trip as inspiration to become a community activist. From the beginning, Asghedom had his goals to change his community in mind.

“He was raised in a neighborhood constantly being taught to hate the opposite gang as him, but still managed to grow out of those ways and try to teach the people that we are all the same and we are stronger unified. He didn’t just talk about it, he lived it everyday in his life,” said Julia Vasquez, a fan and admirer of Asghedom’s music. “Even in his death, thousands of people who would normally go against each other, came together to celebrate him and his legacy. It is up to us to keep on with his teachings, and love one another always.”

He began his career as a teenage prodigy, releasing his first mixtape “Slauson Boy Volume 1,” gathering local success as well as the record labels Cinematic Music Group and Epic Records. From there the series mixtape “Bullets Ain’t Got No Name” exposed him to a much larger audience, collaborating with Drake, Snoop Dogg, and Problem on other songs and albums.

However, his music stirred up controversy with songs such as “Hussle in the House” in 2008, which lacked plays on the radio because of its gang-related content. Many mainstream audiences related the talk of drugs and gang-life with its promotion, but in reality, Asghedom simply wanted to speak on the subject and expose its reality.

If the problems in our nation and our neighborhoods aren’t addressed or even recognized, how could they ever be solved?

soundtrack beat battle judging panel march2011 cropped Rapper Nipsey Hussles life journey: Crip to community activist
By Soundtrack Beat Battle – supplied by copyright holder upon request File:Soundtrack Beat Battle Judging Panel March2011.jpg, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55024011

“I hope that the people that were working with him keep on the same spirit in trying to better their own community by being humble while encouraging excellence. He gave back to the men and women around him that needed his help without being asked,” Vasquez said.

In 2010, he became an XXL Freshman, along with other rap legends such as J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, Jay Rock, and Big Sean, named as the “Most Determined” of his class. Through his constant flow of music, with limited edition mixtapes like “Crenshaw,” which, according to The Guardian, sold for $100 for each of the 1,000 copies made, or “Mailbox Money,” which sold for $1,000 for each of the 60 copies sold, Asghedom grew in popularity throughout the nation. Eventually, he got the deal he had been looking for: a partnership with Atlantic.

Asghedom’s motive was later explained in Billboard.

“It’s not about a fame ambition or getting a radio record,” said Hussle. “The decision really came down to the message I’m trying to get across. I wanted to give that message the best chance to be heard and consumed on the highest level. That was my goal from the jump as All Money In took time to build its position in the hip-hop lane.”

Along with his rap career, his interests in politically and socially changing the world grew. He released “FDT” (“Fuck Donald Trump”) with YG, commentating on the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Underneath the vulgarity of his lyrics lie Asghedom’s story and his experiences with others, such as his positive interactions with Mexican immigrants in the US.

Additionally, he began making changes in his community, establishing several businesses in the neighborhood, creating public art projects, opening Vector90, a shared working space, and partnering with Puma to renovate the local elementary school. All his actions led to one goal — improving his community.

While some people disagree with his actions, saying that he should have brought his talents to a bigger world to help more people, Asghedom grew up amidst violence and pain; he wanted to change that lifestyle for others.

One of the businesses included “Marathon Clothing” the store on the corner where he used to sell mixtapes and also where he was fatally shot. He purposely set up shop within his community to make sure the flow of money would go into improving Crenshaw.

Even more so, he was in the process of creating a documentary about Dr. Sebi, a doctor who went to trial against New York because he claimed he could cure AIDS.

The correlation between his death and the belief that the cure for AIDS exists created a mass speculation amongst many skeptics that somehow, Asghedom’s death was a way to silence the work of Dr. Sebi. The rumors are still up in the air, although Nick Cannon has pledged to complete the documentary.

Asghedom left behind a legacy of activism and change. Audiences hope that his actions in his community can be reflected all throughout America and the world. Former President Barack Obama, summarized Asghedom’s perspective on community and his motives behind his actions in a letter read aloud at his memorial.

“While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and see only gangs, bullets, and despair, Nipsey saw potential,” Obama wrote in a letter that was read in Hussle’s memorial, according to the New York Times. “He saw hope. He saw a community that even through its flaws, taught him to always keep going.”

For many people unfamiliar to the rap scene, Nipsey Hussle was just another rapper full of vulgarity and gang violence. However, I hope that the legacy he leaves behind reflects his true actions, his true intent, and his true self. His dedication to change his community and even the world, deserves the right respect.

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