While sitting inside Staples Center’s Suite A28 with other media representatives at the emotional celebration of life for Nipsey Hussle on Thursday (April 11), an insight shared by his mother Angelique Smith shook me to the core.
“He had an aura,” she said. “If you sat with him, he gave you energy and filled your spiritual tank.”
That pinpoints exactly how I felt while interviewing him in late 2017. The occasion was an impending story about his label, All Money In LLC, entering into a strategic deal with Atlantic Records. The deal’s first release was Hussle’s 2018 debut album Victory Lap.
What was supposed to be a 45-minute interview turned into a nearly two-hour discussion encompassing his musical, entrepreneurial and community activist visions. As Hussle noshed on salad that late afternoon, the intoxicating 360-degree view from the Waldorf Astoria Beverly Hills’ rooftop restaurant provided the perfect backdrop: as both a symbol of how far Crenshaw and Slauson’s native son had come and the sky’s-the-limit heights he was still hustling to climb.
Explaining his decision to team with Atlantic, Hussle said then, “The choice came down to what I’m trying to say, the message I’m trying to get across. It’s not about a fame ambition or getting a radio record. I wanted to give that message the best chance to be heard and consumed on the highest level. That was my goal from the jump.”
As a divorced mom who raised two kids further south from Slauson in the now gentrifying neighborhood located at 30th and Crenshaw, I was particularly interested in Hussle’s vision for fortifying black ownership and culture. The self-described radical thinker spoke humbly yet passionately about wanting to expand his Marathon Clothing store into an “urban Sanrio [Hello Kitty] with an ecosystem of content, retail and experience.” He also spoke about creating “a world like Walt Disney in the hip-hop space.”
Paying homage to entrepreneurial role models like Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg, Hussle noted, “I’m from gang culture and not ever going to apologize for that. But I want people to understand what that culture is doing to their geniuses, businessmen and artists. I want to represent the intelligence, potential and opportunity of our culture in L.A. and challenge kids in these areas. Jay-Z and Snoop did it and that challenged me.”
And of music, which kicked open the door to Hussle’s multi-faceted dream? He said what excited him most was the fact that “it’s the only thing that I feel like you can’t master. Music has such a deep bottom and high ceiling that the most fearless people pursue it because you try to find something you won’t get bored with. I’m inspired by trying to outdo myself.”
Sitting inside Suite A28 yesterday, I kept replaying that day in late 2017. Hussle was a rare breed of artist bridge-builder with a fan base extending from the young to the seasoned — including former President Barack Obama, who sent along a moving, personal letter that was read at the funeral. That was personified by the thousands who filled the Staples Center to the rafters and then waited patiently outside to pay their respects as his funeral procession began its 25.5-mile long route.
When I asked a 23-year-old black man at the celebration what Hussle meant to him, he said, “Nipsey was a man of empowerment, honor and loyalty. He genuinely wanted people to stay the course and not fold because one day success will come. He was truly one of one.”
Learning of Hussle’s death while on vacation, I was devastated that another bright light had been extinguished too soon. In the short victory lap he was given, however, Hussle was able to launch a marathon of hope as well as an enduring legacy. Which brings to mind another comment from our interview that resonates louder now. “Greatness is not age specific,” he said. “I believe in what I’m trying to do. It’s critical to who I am as Nipsey Hussle.”
So here’s to Ermias Joseph Asghedom, whose hard-won achievements and determined pursuit of black excellence shouldn’t be extinguished because he’s no longer here or tarnished by mindless violence. “Nipsey showed us how to [run] that marathon,” said Pastor Shep Crawford in his eulogy. “My hope is that we don’t let this wear off.”