Los Angeles Is Mourning Nipsey Hussle. So Am I.


LOS ANGELES — I keep coming back to Nipsey Hussle’s vigil — the thousands of candles, flowers and handwritten notes — left where the rapper and activist was shot and killed outside his clothing store in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood on March 31. Every time I come back, I’m surrounded by a sea of black and brown faces and the sound of his music, which has now become the unofficial soundtrack of the city. The City of Los Angeles is in mourning.

The news came as a shock. It was Sunday around 4 p.m., and I was interviewing Randy Hook, a member of the Compton Cowboys — a group of 10 childhood friends who ride horses through Compton — when he put his phone down and said, “We lost Nipsey, man.” Then I began to receive text messages, 20 to be exact. I went on social media, and my fear was confirmed: We had, in fact, lost Nipsey.

Part of the reason his death was so shocking was that I believed that, in some ways, he was invincible. He often rapped about death, but I believed that Nipsey had figured out a way to overcome the often brutal realities of Los Angeles street life. That was not the case.

But at a time when so many residents of South L.A. are displaced, Nipsey reinvested a part of the money he made from music into the community that raised him. He was a co-founder of a space called Vector90, which was a ’hood version of WeWork, accessible to people in the community, with an emphasis in STEM for young people of color. He bought up the entire strip mall — the same one where he first sold music from the trunk of his car — that was home to his Marathon clothing store, a space invested in fostering a positive environment for the community. And he gave back generously to the 59th Street elementary school he attended as a child.

We saw ourselves in Nipsey, because, in many ways, he was part of us.

Some people have rightfully noted his past involvement with the Rollin’ 60s Crips, one of Los Angeles’s most notorious street gangs. Allowing that to define his legacy is not only reductive but is also missing the larger point: Like so many other black and brown youth from his community, Nipsey was shaped by forces far beyond his control. At some point, though, Nipsey recognized that being an active member of a gang wasn’t the only way to live. Music became an outlet for his thoughts and ideas about the world.

In many ways, Nipsey was a journalist like me. He wrote and documented the things he experienced and used vivid descriptions and rich metaphors. Songs like “Dedication,” “Blue Laces 2” and “Keys 2 the City” were autobiographical testimonies told through the lens of someone fighting both to preserve a memory and redefine the negative image of his life and community. Nobody could tell it better than he could; he was the expert in his own story.



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