Days prior to the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s assassination, thousands gathered and collectively mourned another prominent figure in the African American community. Hip hop artist and community activist Nipsey Hussle, born Ermias Davidson Asghedom, was shot and killed just as his influence was beginning to alter the landscape of the hip hop industry for the better. Like MLK, when Nipsey was murdered, it was not just the rapper who died, but also the opportunities that died with him. His unique vision to use hip hop as a means to educate, employ, and financially support historically disenfranchised people, beginning with his neighborhood, coupled with his global influence is hard to replicate in a generation. These reasons—and many more—are just a few of the reasons many are continuing to mourn the famed rapper.
It is not particularly joyful to write about anyone’s passing. The added burden of choosing the correct words to properly convey to an audience that may not be familiar with that person is heavy. I contemplated writing anything for about a week, since many inspiring and insightful write-ups have since been published. But I also thought it important for the Christ and Pop Culture audience (the magazine company I write for), who may not be familiar with the multi-faceted hip hop mogul, to understand the cultural impact Nipsey Hussle had on black and brown communities worldwide.
Hailed from the streets of Crenshaw in Los Angeles, California, some might quickly tag the heavily tattooed, long hair-braided Hussle with stereotypical labels. But whatever some might imagine the prototypical “gangster rapper” is, Hussle’s philanthropy, entrepreneurial ambitions, selfless service to his community, and dedication to his family will quickly reshape assumptions. “I’m prolific, so gifted,” he accurately raps about himself on the opening title track of his Grammy-nominated album Victory Lap. “I’m the type that’s gon’ go get it, no kidding.”
And get it is what Nipsey did. He used his influence to encourage black-owned businesses in his low-income neighborhood. He modeled his philosophy, which he also branded “All Money In, No Money Out”—the name of the record label he founded—to foster economic stability for neighborhoods that have been financially ravaged due to years of inequitable financial practices by big banks and local, state, and federal governments. So his ambition to “get it” was never exclusively for himself. He invested his time and money to building a co-working space, a STEM program for low-income students, a fish shop, a barbershop, and a clothing store called The Marathon—also the name of his 2010 mixtape.
Like the title of his mixtape and clothing store, Nipsey’s music was but an extension—a cultural expression—of who he was. He had an authentic desire to see his people do and be better. He knew that reinvestment into his neighborhood was the way to help his community thrive and prosper. For Nipsey, building wealth in a way that honors and celebrates people is not a “get rich quick” sprint, but a marathon that requires energy, patience, perseverance, and unity for long-term economic growth and independence for communities.
Hussle’s ambition was rooted in his value for human dignity. From stories shared since his passing, it seems he understood the imago dei better than some famed theologians. This isn’t to suggest he was flawless nor maintained a moral high ground. But the beneficiaries of Nipsey’s selflessness —from streetlight workers to homeless citizens—testify that he acted on the inherent value he saw in people, even at the expense of his own life. When Nipsey found out an old friend had just been released from prison, he quickly left without notifying his security detail. It’s reported that he was about to help that friend find a job, but first wanted to give him new clothes from his Marathon clothing store, the place where he was eventually murdered.
“Put my right hand to Jesus…Fight with these demons, shine light on my people,” he raps on “Right Hand 2 God,” the last track on his last album Victory Lap. In a world of darkness, he desired to bring elements of hope and light to a people who’ve experienced generational inequities.
When asked what things he enjoyed most about his newfound success, Nipsey wisely responded with an intense and esoteric retort: “We look at life like it’s about what you can get from life. I read something, and I was like, that’s not what it is, you’ll always be unfulfilled if you look at life like that. It’s about knowing you’re going to leave one day…And you know when you leave, the only way you’re going to be fulfilled is if you know you gave everything you had. You emptied yourself here, you left it all here, because it’s temporary and you’ve got a moment.”
Nipsey Hussle brought life and authenticity to his lyrics and activism in ways that should challenge us to match our works with our faith. In this way, as it pertains to music and service, Nipsey represented what hip hop was and could be. As it relates to faith, hope, and love, Hussle embodied the inseparability of these divine elements.