As hip-hop continues to mourn the passing of Nipsey Hussle, many of his peers have come forward and paid tribute to the rapper/entrepreneur. One person who has been by his side since the beginning of his career is Cinematic Music Group’s CEO Jonny Shipes.
Shipes first signed Hussle to his first contract in 2009 and forged not only a working relationship with the Crenshaw star but also a brotherly bond. Below, Shipes recalls first meeting Nip, traveling to Los Angeles to sign him and helping him release his first project Bullets Ain’t Got No Name Vol. 1.
The early years with Nip Hussle Tha Great were unlike any other time in my life spent with an artist. I never experienced such raw talent, such genius and vision, in someone not only so young but so inexperienced in the music biz. Looking back I understand it so clearly: Nipsey was bigger than the music industry; his vision was so much more meaningful than putting out music and getting money. Nipsey was a visionary with an appetite to rule and lead. He used to sit in my crib watching The Godfather on repeat; in between cracking jokes (he was one of the funniest people I ever met) and writing raps, he was mapping out his marathon.
The first time I ever heard of Nipsey was via DJ Felly Fel, who I managed at the time. I remember vividly asking Felly, “Who got next in L.A.? There has to be someone young who’s crushing the streets.” Back then you didn’t have social media, so if you weren’t in the streets of a certain city, it wasn’t easy to identify up-and-coming talent. Felly looked at me and without hesitation said, “There is this kid named Nipsey Hussle who is hard, but he is deep in the streets.” I took note and flew back home to NYC with the name Nipsey Hussle stuck in the back of my mind.
When I got on Myspace and searched the name Nipsey Hussle, he had two songs, “Bullets Ain’t Got No Names” and “I Don’t Give a Fucc.” I instantly fell in love with the rawness of the tracks, the message and his hard deliveries with sing-song hooks about the life he was living. He was painting pictures with every single word he spoke. Listening to him I felt like I was on the corner of 60th & Crenshaw. His words were cinematic; they took you right into his real life. Every single bar was powerful, leaving me wanting to hear more. I looked a little closer into his page and saw that my guy Steve Lobel and Big U were managing him. I hit Steve immediately and told him I had to meet Nipsey, had to work with him, it was the rawest shit I had heard in years. Within 24 hours I was back on the plane to L.A. to meet Nip, Steve and Big U.
We sat in a trailer on set of the Bone Thugs movie they were shooting and chopped it up. I told them I had a label and a new deal in place at Epic, and I wanted Nipsey to be the first artist signed to the new venture. After a few weeks of negotiations we were in business and started recording Bullets Ain’t Got No Names Vol. 1. Nip and I spent countless hours in studios in New York and L.A. working on what would become that first mixtape. We shot videos for “R$C For Life” and “Strapped.” As soon as those videos came out and people heard the mixtape, the streets were sold — there was a new voice coming out of the west coast. The buzz quickly grew and cosigns started coming, shows started getting booked and the Marathon was in full effect. I have a million memories I could speak on, music-wise, but that isn’t what I remember most vividly about Nip back then.
Nipsey Hussle was a natural born leader, a king remembered in time, a legend in the making. He knew what he came to do — he had it mapped out from the very first day we met. He used to sit and write in his notepad every single thing he had on his agenda, and would finish it up like it was mandatory school work. He was disciplined even back before the success. On many occasions I found myself looking to him for advice, looking to him for guidance on my own business moves. As recently as a month ago, I was picking his brain on how he ran his operations over at the shop for something [Smoke] DZA and I were working on back in NYC.
Nipsey will be missed not only for the music he made but for the incredible human he was, the incredible friend he was, the incredible father, the incredible mentor he was to the kids in the community, and the incredible motivator he was to the entire world. Hu$$le music was motivation for all of us. The marathon will continue on in your name, bro.