Nipsey Hussle, a favorite rapper of hip-hop insiders, died Sunday when a gunman shot him outside the clothing store he owned in South Los Angeles. He was 33.
Hussle, whose real name was Ermias Asghedom, grew up in LA’s Crenshaw neighborhood. He joined a gang as a teen and earned his nickname, a play on the name of the 1960s and 70s standup comic Nipsey Russell, because of his strong work ethic. He ascended to stardom slowly and deliberately, building not just a rap following but a business plan aimed at improving the neighborhood in which he grew up. He and a partner bought the shopping center in Crenshaw where his store, Marathon Clothing, was located. They planned to build a residential and commercial development on the property.
“In our culture, there’s a narrative that says, ‘Follow the athletes, follow the entertainers,’” he said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times last year. “And that’s cool, but there should be something that says, ‘Follow Elon Musk, follow [Mark] Zuckerberg.’”
Hussle built his music audience through a series of independently released mixtapes, one of which he made only 1,000 copies priced at $100 each. Rapper Jay-Z famously bought 100 of them and sent Hussle a check for $10,000. Victory Lap, his debut album with Atlantic Records last year, released at No. 4 on Billboard’s top 200 albums chart and earned a Grammy nomination for best rap album. The album is filled with obscenity-laced laments of the poverty and crime in Hussle’s home neighborhood, along with tracks celebrating his success and promoting the rewards of hard work.
Police have arrested Eric Holder, a 29-year-old gang member, for fatally shooting Hussle and wounding two other men outside Marathon Clothing on Sunday. Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said Hussle and Holder had a personal dispute earlier in the day, and Holder returned later with a gun and opened fire. Moore did not say how Holder and Hussle knew each other or what they fought about except that it was not gang-related.
Hussle’s death shook fellow rappers and fans because of its seeming unfairness.
“This brother was JUST getting started,” TV commentator Van Jones tweeted. “He’d finally figured out how to use celebrity to build real wealth and opportunity in the hood. AND HE WAS DOING IT — FOR ALL OF US!!!”
Hussle is survived by a son, daughter, and his fiancée and longtime girlfriend Lauren London, who, like Hussle, was of Eritrean descent. —Lynde Langdon