Nipsey Hussle's Business Moves Were Ahead of His Time
From selling a mixtape for $100 each to creating a technology hub in Crenshaw, here are five times Hussle merged the worlds of music and commerce.
The death of Nipsey Hussle outside of his clothing store in Los Angeles on Sunday at the age of 33 has left fans, friends, community members and those in the music industry shocked and saddened. For many, Hussle was more than a rapper. In addition to leaving behind two children, girlfriend Lauren London, and family and friends, there is an undeniable void left in the rap world and in his South L.A. community now that Hussle is gone.
In recent years, Hussle, whose real name was Ermias Asghedom, had made it his mission to create jobs and educational opportunities in his hometown that would provide a pipeline for others to beat the odds and work towards creating generational wealth. Learning that the rapper was shot outside of one of his business ventures, the place where he also met London for the first time, only heightens the tragedy.
In the wake of Hussle's death, fans are reflecting on his business accomplishments, from selling a mixtape for $100 each to creating a technology hub in Crenshaw. Here are five times Hussle merged the worlds of music and business.
He sold 1,000 copies of his Crenshaw mixtape for $100 each.
In October of 2013, Hussle was getting ready to drop his eighth mixtape, Crenshaw, for free, when he decided to flip the script on the traditional model and charge for his work. “We were just like, ‘Let's print it up like a limited edition novelty game, kind of like with video games when you got the extra package that comes with the headset,’” he told XXL at the time, before elaborating on where he got the concept.
“I had been reading a book about what makes people talk about things, what makes things go viral and what makes things contagious,” he continued. “There was an example in this book about a restaurant owner who made a $100 cheesesteak... It made some people curious, it made other people upset, but more than anything it created conversation. And he ended up on the Oprah show, and he ended up on David Letterman talking about this $100 cheesesteak.”
Hussle sold out of the physical copies of Crenshaw in 24 hours, netting himself $100,000. Among those who bought the mixtape were Jay-Z, who purchased 100 copies to show his support to the young entrepreneur, and Rick Ross, who also endorsed Hussle.
In a 2013 article about the marketing effort, Billboard wrote the following about the campaign that Hussle dubbed Proud2Pay: “While the pricey physical copies were numbered, autographed and included a ticket to a future performance by the 28-year-old rapper, Crenshaw billed itself as more than merely a boldly-priced deluxe edition. Rather, Hussle called the tape the first step in a new patron model, where a few superfans shoulder the burden that artists usually spread across as broad an audience as they can muster.”
He purchased the strip mall in Crenshaw that housed his Marathon Clothing store.
Nipsey Hussle was killed in an area he was working hard to rebuild. Earlier this year, Forbes reported the rapper and his business partner, Dave Gross, had paid “a couple million” to purchase the plaza, which he hoped to rebuild as a six-story mixed-use residential and commercial complex. In November, Hussle told Fox 11’s Leah Uko the property would include a barbershop, a Creole seafood restaurant and a store where locals could purchase prepaid cell phones, fragrances and more.
In 2017, Hussle opened Marathon Clothing, a “smartstore” that allowed fans to purchase merch and use an app to access exclusive content from him. Back then, Hussle told Billboard his plan was to open additional stores in the “top 10 markets of the United States.”
“This is us trying to disrupt retail, create a theme park for the brand. This is us trying to create a retail network to become vertically integrated,” he said. “This is us trying to super-serve the core with an upgraded experience. This is us trying to fuse hip-hop, fashion and tech... We believe that's what the Marathon store is. It's an immature concept. It hasn't evolved to its fullest form yet. But I think we're in the process of seeing technology integrated with everything, become apart of the world. So I think that we're just putting our chips on experience. We think this is where retail is going. So we want to be one of the leaders.”
Hussle also launched a co-working space and STEM program in his hometown.
Last year, Nipsey Hussle created Vector 90 to create links between young talent from impoverished neighborhoods and opportunies in Silicon Valley. Hussle also created the space in partnership with Gross, offering “flexible short term leases, daily passes, monthly memberships, private offices and custom build-outs,” according to a Los Angeles Times report at the time. On another floor in the building is a STEM program open to local children through an application process.
At the time, Hussle said he hoped Vector 90 would provide an alternative to gang culture for young people in his community. "I remember feeling, like, No. 1, what's the point, and No. 2, maybe I'm tripping. Maybe I'm not even supposed to be ambitious; maybe I'm not even supposed to be thinking this big and thinking outside the box; maybe I should just follow suit,” he said. “That's a dangerous thing. I would like to prevent as many kids from feeling like that as possible. Because what follows is self-destructive."
Outside of the plaza and Vector 90, Hussle was looking to make more real estate investments.
Billboard reached out Gross’ Confluent Group for an update on the bid but did not hear back by press time.
Hussle always advocated for ownership and entrepreneurship among artists, even after partnering with Atlantic Records to release his Grammy-nominated debut album, Victory Lap.
On Victory Lap's Kendrick Lamar collaboration “Dedication,” Hussle raps, “Royalties, publishing, plus I own masters/ I'll be damned if I slave for some white crackers.”
From the beginning of his career, Hussle was wary of major labels; his first major deal, with Epic Records, ended without producing an album and he’d been independent ever since. So when he announced his Atlantic deal in November 2017, it came at first as a surprise -- but the terms, or at least those that were made public, made it make more sense for the typically-entrepreneurial MC. Not only did he retain control over his own work through the partnership with his All Money In company, he retained control over the roster, which remained independent and was not under exclusive license to Atlantic or any other label.
Hussle further elaborated on his business ideology and the importance of creating additional content outside of music during an interview with Mass Appeal, saying, “As an artist, there's a business model that exists in the music industry to prevent you from having ownership, to prevent you from being a partner in the lion's share of the profit. The value is created in content, so when I think of us as hip-hop artists, we create content, but we don't have a wide product line.” With the Marathon Clothing store and Proud2Pay, Hussle was working to change this narrative.