LOS ANGELES – I keep going back to Nipsey Hussle vigil – Thousands of candles, flowers and handwritten notes – left where the rapper and activist was shot dead outside his clothing store in the Hyde Park neighborhood of the city on March 31. Every time I return, I am surrounded by a sea of blacks and brown faces and the sound of their 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 pm, and I was interviewing Randy Hook, a member of the Compton Cowboys, a group of 10 childhood friends riding on Compton, when he hung up his phone and said: "We lost Nipsey , man". Then I started receiving text messages, 20 to be exact. I went to social networks and my fear was confirmed: we had lost Nipsey.
Part of the reason why his death was so shocking was that I thought he was somehow invincible. He often abducted death, but he believed that Nipsey had discovered a way to overcome the often brutal realities of street life in Los Angeles. That was not the case.
Nipsey Hussle, born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, and I was the same age, 33 years old, and I briefly attended Hamilton High School together. In Hamilton, he was more committed to basketball than to rap, but it's no wonder that the rapper has left that school. Also attending were prominent Los Angeles musicians such as Syd from The Internet and Kamasi Washington, a jazz artist.
Nipsey and I never They met, but we had mutual friends, and it always seemed as if I knew him. Maybe it was the the sound of his voice, a mixture of southern accent and the tranquility of the popular west coast here, or his style of clothing that felt like home. Maybe it was because we both grew up at the same time, we both went to Fox Hills Mall on weekends and we both bought at Slauson Swapmeet. Maybe it was because every time he spoke, I heard the city I grew up in: a community of blacks and dark-skinned people who try to fight daily combats with difficulties and losses with an unbreakable joy and love.
The city of Los Angeles appreciated Nipsey for many reasons: he was an activist who supported his community and gave his support, without boasting about it on social networks, in ways that continue to be revealed as the days go by. Nipsey, without apology, believed in Los Angeles and represented it at a time when so many people and points of reference with which we grew up have changed or closed. Every time I rapped on Crenshaw or Slauson Boulevard in a song, it retained our memory, even as the landscape of the city changes and leaves many of us wondering what's next..
Nipsey had his faults. He commented on the masculinity that some said were homophobic. He recognized in "The Breakfast Club, "a popular radio program, in which I still had a lot to do.
But at a time when so many residents of southern Arizona are displaced, Nipsey reinvested some of the money he made from music in the community that raised him. He co-founded a space called Vector90, which was a version of WeWork, accessible to people in the community, with an emphasis on STEM for young people of color. He bought the entire mall, the same one in which he sold music from the trunk of his car, which was the home of his Marathon clothing store, an invested space to foster a positive environment for the community. And he gave 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 rightly noticed their previous involvement with the Rollin '60s Crips, one of the most notorious street gangs in Los Angeles. Allowing him to define his legacy is not only reductive but also lacks the broader point: like many other black and dark youths in his community, Nipsey was shaped by forces that were beyond his control. At some point, however, Nipsey acknowledged that being an active member of a gang was not the only way to live. The 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 that were told through the lens of someone struggling to preserve a memory and redefine the negative image of their life and community. No one could say it better than him; He was the expert in his own story.
His story was also ours.
When "Victory Lap", their first studio album, was nominated for a Grammy in February, my friends and I felt that we had also been nominated for one. We were proud and full of hope, sharing text messages about our favorite songs the week the album was released. It felt like the starting Nipsey's rise to the highest level of overall success, after almost 15 years of publishing some of our favorite mix tapes.
Some people are comparing his death with that of Tupac Shakur,The rapper who was reportedly killed by rival gang violence 23 years ago. The reason for Nipsey's death is still pending. But some similarities are strange: each one died from violence with firearms, loved their community and showed wisdom well beyond their years. Since the death of Nipsey, the city has felt gloomy, deflated, even.
In the end, it was Nipsey's unwavering commitment to frequent his community as a common man: To be connected to the "streets", it felt like a double-edged sword. On the one hand, that's why we love him, he was accessible, he was humble and his energy was pure; but it was that connection that, ultimately, led to his murder. And that's what makes the loss of Nipsey so unbearable..