I was sitting in a restaurant, eating a lobster roll and watching Game of Thrones on my computer when alerts came through that Nipsey Hussle was hospitalized from being shot. My Facebook and Twitter feeds quickly moved from posts about dumb shit like how many times Ghost from Power kissed Beyoncé on the cheek, to up-to-the-moment updates on Nipsey’s status, prayers, well-wishes for his recovery, then to RIPs from the moment his death was confirmed.
Hours later, the vast majority of Black folks on my feeds are still posting about Nipsey, especially with love to his partner, actress Lauren London, and their young son Kross. Folks I’ll wager don’t have Nipsey’s music on any of their playlists are showing love and remorse. Because it doesn’t matter if they like his music – he’s one of ours.
Despite being nominated for a Grammy for his only major studio album, 2018’s Victory Lap, Nipsey was not a Kanye West or a Drake. That means mainstream publications were last to report on his death. CNN, HuffPost, and Entertainment Weekly -– the latter of which sends news alerts to my phone when Kylie Jenner eats a f—ing hamburger –- sent their updates out about his death well after Black digital media was on the case. I envision loads of white copy editors who didn’t know how to spell his name, or even know that his name was borrowed from the legendary actor/comedian Nipsey Russell.
Nipsey’s death seems to be hitting us viscerally, in a way that’s reminiscent of how we responded to the shooting deaths of Tupac and Biggie when I was in high school, or Aaliyah’s death in a plane crash when I was in college. We were years away from modern social media, but we manifested how crestfallen we were in a manner appropriate with the era: Murals popped up everywhere, songs in memoriam did huge sales numbers, and any time a Black entertainer was interviewed about anything, the topic came up.
With very few exceptions, we show love to rappers who lose their lives too soon, for whatever reason. But I think we’re especially devastated about Nipsey for a few reasons.
First, he was a grown man who, at least publicly, showed the world that he adored London and their blended family (she has a son with Lil’ Wayne and he has a daughter from a previous relationship). Their GQ video is cute as shit, and not something that a lot of posturing-ass rappers would submit to. I challenge you to not chuckle while watching it.
We also love a great made-good story. Nipsey’s childhood mirrors that of many South Central L.A. rappers: drugs, gangbanging, and general indiscretions abound. Not only did he flip that into a successful rap career, but he ultimately focused his attention toward positivity, giving back to his historically-troubled neighborhood by establishing legitimate businesses. He was shot outside one of his own clothing stores.
Watching Nipsey inspired me to invest and own in our communities. He was a solid man who loved his woman, his family and his community. This hurts.
— Issa Rae (@IssaRae) April 1, 2019
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that his music is dope. Nipsey was an anachronism -– a delightful throwback to the 1990s G-funk sound popularized and immortalized by the likes of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, and their peers. Fellow South Central native Kendrick Lamar has more mainstream popularity, but Nipsey’s music sounds more West Coast. Victory Lap, was nominated for a Best Rap Album Grammy in February for good reason: it was one of the best bodies of hip-hop music in 2018.
Because the Internet will always reliably be the Internet, conspiracy theorists are suggesting Nipsey was killed by the U.S. government because he was working on a documentary on the late Dr. Sebi, a holistic doctor who claimed that major diseases can be healed with herbs and diet and whose own death is shrouded in controversy.
Folks are also using his death to focus on his now-deleted homophobic Instagram post from early 2018, which, while inexcusable, is a patently absurd thing to bring up on the very day that the man lost his life, leaving his son and daughter fatherless.
Because twitter people work the way they work: I know Nipsey Hussle engaged in homophobia. That doesn’t mean he deserved to die or that he had no positive impact on the community. What happened means that now he won’t have time to be better and model that for others.
— Chanda Prescod-Weinstein ??♀️ ??? (@IBJIYONGI) April 1, 2019
Despite that noise, Nipsey will become immortalized in a way that he might not have, had his life not been cut tragically short at age 33. More people will discover his music; people will likely approach his legacy with a degree of hyperbole, as they are wont to do following an untimely death. Whatever happens, I hope that his son Kross ultimately derives some positive effect from Nipsey’s legacy, considering that he is barely old enough to remember his father.
I left the restaurant, hopped in my truck and played “Real Big” and “Double Up,” the latter of which is one of my favorite tracks from any artist in 2018. Even as I write this, I’m finally doing what I planned to do months ago: creating a Nipsey playlist consisting of the best music from his studio album and mixtapes. I’ll spend all of Monday listening to it.
Because Nipsey was one of ours. And this is how we show love.
Dustin J. Seibert is a native Detroiter living in Chicago. Miraculously, people have paid him to be aggressively light-skinned via a computer keyboard for nearly two decades. He loves his own mama slightly more than he loves music and exercises every day only so his French fry intake doesn’t catch up to him. Find him at his own site, wafflecolored.com.