As the hip-hop community reels at the shooting death of Nipsey Hussle in Los Angeles on Sunday, police are continuing to look for clues and a suspect in the killing of the rapper who was known not only for his lyrical skills, but also for his acute business acumen.
Hussle, 33, was known as a visionary who mixed his actual hustle with ambition for what his community could be, and had as much of a reputation for his giving as he did his music. He was nominated for a Grammy Award for his first studio album Victory Lap.
“Hussle had a vision of a neighborhood built for and by the sons and daughters of South L.A. During his life, he moved from shadows into the bright hope of freedom and community revitalization,” said Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson in a statement to the Los Angeles Times.
While hip-hop mourns, here are five things you should know about Hussle.
Prolific Grass Roots Entrepreneur
His store, Marathon Clothing, sat in the middle of South L.A. on Crenshaw and Slauson, not far from where he grew up. The venture was what he called a “smartstore” where consumers could purchase his items and at the same time access exclusive content with each item, according to Billboard.
But he had ambitions that stretched farther than just retail. According to an interview he did with Forbes, he had teamed up with business partner Dave Gross to take advantage of “Opportunity Zones” in Los Angeles and develop a 100-unit commercial and residential property in the area where the store sits in the Crenshaw district.
This would have been the culmination of efforts he started in 2013 when he offered 1,000 copies of his mixtape “Crenshaw” for $100 each. Admiring his moxy, fellow rapper Jay-Z brought 100 copies, boosting Hussle’s profits and giving him broader hip-hop clout and ultimately netting him $100,000.
Hussle’s given name was Ermias Davidson Asghedom. His father came to America after fleeing war in the East African nation, but always kept the his son immersed in Eritrean culture and informed about the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia.
“More than anything I am proud of being Eritrean,” he said in an interview with the nation’s ministry of information during his last visit in 2018. “The history of our country, our struggle and the underdog story, the resilience of the people and our integrity is something that I feel pride in being attached to.”
Eritrea’s Minister of Information Yemane Meskel tweeted his condolences to Hussle’s family.
Extremely saddened to hear the news of the tragic and untimely death of iconic recording artist/entrepreneur Ermias Asgedom (Nipsey Hussle). RIP & condolences to his family. (Nipsey visited his home country in April last year; Profile interview attached) https://t.co/AM87gfgRPu pic.twitter.com/EPaHJGCzm8
— Yemane G. Meskel (@hawelti) April 1, 2019
Gang-Related and Evolving
When Hussle was about 14, looking for ways to earn money, he fell in with the Rollin’ 60s Neighorhood Crips, one of the largest sets of the gang in Los Angeles. But he said in an interview with VladTV, he was not necessarily an active gangbanger, but the focus of his peers in the group was more entrepreneurial.
“Our generation was kinda responsible for like putting it on the map in terms of like hustling and business,” he said. “Making moves outside of the streets. And taking it to a corporate level. Not necessarily gangbanging, but taking the legacy of our area to like the corporate level.”
But Crenshaw culture was what influenced him and made him who he was and he was determined to give back to it. In 2017, he helped open a combination co-working space and STEM center in the Crenshaw District called Vector 90 intended to address technology gaps for underrepresented communities.
“Growing up as a kid, I was looking for somebody — not to give me anything — but somebody that cared,” he told the Los Angeles Times when the center opened. “Someone that was creating the potential for change and that had an agenda outside of their own self interests.”
‘Tupac of My Generation’
In the song “Dedication” on the Grammy-nominated album, Victory Lap, which featured Kendrick Lamar, one of Hussle’s bars flowed: “Tupac of my generation, blue pill in the fuckin’ Matrix/ Red rose in the gray pavement…”
He explained in a 2018 interview with Billboard that he, like Tupac and many others felt he was the metaphoric “rose that grew from concrete.”
“…I follow the red roses in the grey pavements. The rose that grew from the concrete. I know what Pac was trying to do. Pac was like, “I know if I tell y’all the sh*t I know, y’all will call me smart. In our culture, smart is weak.
“God bless ‘Pac and his spirit,” he continued. “I’m not Tupac, I’m Nipsey Hussle. That’s why I said Tupac of my generation. It’s my intention.”
Hussle’s death is being compared to other high-profile killings of hip-hop fame.
In September 1996, Tupac Shakur was fatally wounded in an eerily similar situation in Las Vegas while leaving a Mike Tyson fight. His killer was never found. Several months later, rival rapper Biggie Smalls was shot to death in Los Angeles while leaving an event at the Petersen Automotive Museum.
Hussle had two children, Emani, from his relationship with Tanisha Asghedom, 7, and Kross Asghedom, 3, from his relationship with actress Lauren London.
Hussle did not post photos of his kids very often on social media but a widely circulated image has surfaced of him and Emani at the 2019 Grammy Awards.
He also posted a photo of himself celebrating his son Kross’s first birthday.
Madison J. Gray is a Contributing Editor for TheGrio.com. Follow him on Twitter @mjgraymedia.