During his 33 years of life, Nipsey Hussle, the beloved artist and entrepreneur born Ermias Asghedom in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw neighborhood, made it his mission to stand up for his community. Across independent mixtapes and a Grammy-nominated major-label studio album, he rapped about where he came from, telling genuine stories about its realities and how they shaped him into a man of integrity.
But Nipsey’s influence went beyond the traditional. He opened his Marathon brand clothing store at the corner of Slauson and Crenshaw — an intersection that now bears his name — and owned the strip mall around it, with plans to build housing there. He created a coworking space called Vector90 in South Central that focused on teaching STEM skills to the people he grew up around. He was involved in an investment fund, Our Opportunity, that sought to use tax incentives to further develop communities of color. He dreamed, and planned, bigger than himself.
Nipsey’s untimely death — he was shot outside his Marathon store on March 31 — was mourned by millions, including JAY-Z, Rihanna and Barack Obama; his funeral filled the Staples Center. His life may have ended, but his mission remains. Billboard spoke with his business partners Dave Gross and Steve-O Carless, who are continuing his work, about Nipsey’s impact.
What are you most proud to have accomplished with Nipsey?
Dave Gross, co-founder, Our Opportunity/Vector90: He dedicated himself to investing and believing in his own people. He stayed on Slauson and Crenshaw and hired from that neighborhood. I don’t know if we’ll ever be able to calculate the direct and indirect impact of everything Nipsey did.
Steve-O Carless, co-founder, Marathon Agency: I’m most proud of how he did it. He sacrificed major opportunities just to give someone like me a space to live out my fullest value for him, with the utmost integrity. When he and I talked, we used a phrase: “We’re going to tune ourselves to a higher frequency.” He learned to build this inner wisdom that allowed him to project what we got from him when we saw him or spoke to him. It’s ingrained in him. It was something spiritual.
What did people fail to understand about Nipsey?
Gross: It was hard for institutions of any stripe to appreciate everything about him, because he was such a soulful, genuine person. As an iconoclast, you don’t typically fit in institutional boxes. He didn’t do anything contrived. That soulfulness, that genuine authenticity — those things are hard to scale to an institutional level.
Carless: Nipsey was a futurist. He paid attention to the marketplace and trends. He wanted to understand the evolution of business. And he didn’t look at failures as failures, but as experiences that taught him.
How did Nipsey make an impact?
Gross: Nip is a symbol of radical entrepreneurship and ownership. As much, or more than, anyone in my lifetime, he inspired black Americans to focus on cooperative economics and owning our own. He used his platform to create economic opportunities for others at the grassroots level. He met people where they were and never condescended or patronized. Despite his strength, he led with communication and love. And most importantly, he led by consistent action that reflected exactly what he stood for. I view him as a giant of our culture, whose shoulders future leaders in our community will stand on.
Carless: It is radical entrepreneurship; the idea of sole control of your own brand, your own platform and your own legacy. Now he represents a global idea of love and self-awareness, an idea that spans across business, culture, entertainment, community and, more importantly, humanity. The effects of his contributions are just starting to blossom. Authenticity and truth of self no matter your origins now are the bold sentiments of his work.
Nipsey And Mac: The Lessons Of Loss
Ibrahim “IB” Hamad, Dreamville: “The losses of Nipsey Hussle and Mac Miller have shown the importance of giving artists their flowers early. We go so crazy about them after they leave, and that’s not fair to them.”
Quincy “QP” Acheampong, Highbridge The Label: “Ownership is important. Nipsey Hussle preached about that a lot, and it’s very [crucial] to moving around in the industry. You’ll make a lot of money, but if you don’t own anything in the long term, it doesn’t really mean anything.”
Tim Glover, Interscope Geffen A&M: “[Their losses] teach us the importance of family, helping our communities and surrounding ourselves with people that we should uplift — not degrade or bully.”
Katina Bynum, Universal Music Group: “Their [deaths] gave us an in-depth look into artists and how what we see is not always what is. People elevate artists as if they have no problems because of their lifestyles. But when it comes down to it, with all the success in the world, if you have personal demons that you don’t explore, it can hurt you. It’s important for the consumer to know that. They have the same problems the average kids have — just magnified.”
Marleny Dominguez-Reyes, Republic Records: “I worked with Nipsey Hussle when he was first signed, so I knew him personally. And I also had a very close death this year: my brother. Live in the moment because tomorrow might not come. I wish I had had another time to see Nipsey and say, ‘Wow, I’m proud of you and how much you’ve done for your community.’ To have that one more time to say ‘I love you’ to my brother would have been amazing. We need to really honor our heroes [instead of] spending so much time trying to knock them all down.”