IN REFLECTION OF…
Son, Father, Advocate, Rapper, Businessmen, Activist
“This here is about one ghetto kid, who grows up to show his neighborhood that they can own where they are laying their heads down and wake up from offering their lives for nothing.”
For a bit of our personal background, before we dive into his, I created the content franchise “The Freshman” while Editor-In-Chief of XXL. I left the magazine but they gave him his first national magazine cover on their 2010 “Freshmen 10.” I was drawn to Nip’s name when I first heard of him about 2007 or 2008. His mixtapes were cool, but his similar vocal tone and striking resemblance to SNOOP DOG (also a Crip from California) was an attention getter. The annual gathering of the year’s hottest up and coming rappers had Nip front in center on the 2010 edition, all blued out. His star was on the rise, but label issues slowed his flow and he was in a rut for a few years. I reached out to put him on his second big magazine cover, RESPECT., in early 2015 with then fellow independent label owner/artist in Memphis’ YO GOTTI. While doing the interview which showcased black entrepreneurship, I mention I just started a hat company. Nipsey asked to see one, put it on took a picture in one. True support. Super cool and always available to chop it up on site, Nipsey was a dream interview and natural quote machine that could spit a historical fact about the Industrial Revolution as easy as spewing tech world updates and change gears to hood politics. Beyond rap, Nip was a talented people person. Meaning, you felt that he felt you. Which when we would see each other, an easy welcome was the vibe. I was invested in his success in the industry and watching his personal growth was inspiring.
Datwon Thomas, Editor-In-Chief/VP, Cultural Media VIBE, and ICON MANN Family
On a recent flight to L.A., I was beyond restless and finally succumbed to pressing play on the documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, about the one and only, legendary children’s television host, Mr. Fred Rogers, who used the title as the opening greeting to every Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood show (912 of them over 31 years). Marveled by the way Mr. Rogers’ developed his soft-spoken persona into a safe space for kids to learn about the world in all of its complexities, I saw a different multi-dimensional side of the man who built his legend on the word Neighbor. The hardships of doing a daily show that he hosted, wrote the themes, wrote and sang the songs, operated and did the voices for the puppets, plus handled the business side, all aimed at spreading peace and knowledge to the youth. While times were increasingly changing to a more openly violent and politically incorrect era, Rogers' determined soul was draining. It was like the world was growing against his old school values of respect for one another, acceptance of various cultures and shared the responsibility of living in harmony with those closest to you...your neighbors. With his Emmy winning production starting officially in 1968 and ending in 2001, the many years of fighting the machine from the outside finally wore him down, and the show's Public Broadcast System network run was over. Essentially putting a cap on an era of innocence we haven't seen since. A short two years after the demise of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, Rogers passed away amid some mini-controversies that made chinks in his armor of love. Showing that even in doing the deeds of what you deem righteous will have you dragged a bit.
My takeaway from the doc enlightened me to the fact that your heart can be as full of love and light as it can hold, and your efforts towards sharing that feeling can be met with unsuspecting and undeserving hate. The quote, “No good deed goes unpunished” came to mind while watching. Yet, he pressed on, and his product of quality programming for youngsters remains until this day. A hallmark to the energy he put forth to spread love to all.
Which brings my man ERMIAS “NIPSEY HUSSLE” ASGHEDOM to mind in the wake of his tragic death by the hands of a very sick individual. He comes to mind because of the word he shares with Mr. Rogers, and that is Neighbor. The same term that propelled Rogers elevated Nipsey. See, to be a respected rapper, as Nipsey was aiming to become in the early part of his career, where you are from means everything. And being from a certain hood means even more. When the great rapping machine, The Notorious B.I.G, asked so vigorously, "Where's Brooklyn at?!!" he was shouting out his rough and tumble New York City hood. The one that is infamous for violence, vengeance, and vitriol, but is beloved for making the toughest individuals even tougher to deal with the rest of the world. Nipsey wasn’t from NYC, he was a homegrown South Central Los Angeles native. A proud one at that. He was also a gang member, one to the Crips, albeit one of the Rolling 60s, a well-known high-level intensity group that took street justice into their own hands.
This is the rock-hard area that Nipsey grew up in. Regardless of his Dad’s east African roots in Eritrea, Nipsey was a product of a color blocked, police infested, poverty-stricken 80s and 90s. But this was Nip's Neighborhood. So much so that when he started his music career, he started shouting "Nayborhood Nip!” You’ll see in some of the rest in peace hashtags that it’s spelled in the way they would phonetically say it. This notion of community, even in the face of constant struggle, was always on his mind. He’s mentioned in interviews how he started thinking about music as early as 1999, going to the studio was all he thought of doing, eventually dropping out of high school to pursue his dreams of superstardom. But to get there he had to do exactly what Rogers did, write his songs, record himself, learn new programs to do so, edit and mix, burn his CDs, sell them on the street, shoot his own videos, network from the corner store to the corner office...all from a place that doesn't give you the tools to succeed. Going off pure internal passion, until the hard work starts to pay off. And it did, Nip met some people from the hood, one in particular, a high ranking Rolling 60s general named BIG U. Together they formed a bond and connected with music industry vet, STEVE LOBELL. Nip was well on his way to grinding and shining. But this is all while the hood saw his steady climb. He would come back around his way and drop game on those that would absorb it.
The dreams for more became roars of movement as Nip slowly took over his own career, to truly become the boss that he’s now known as. We can run down his music accolades, but they pale in comparison to the personal stories that are being shared about his generosity, willingness to teach and learn, and the way he was like the hood version of the celebrity entrepreneur GARY VEE. Grammy nominations and sales of $100 to $1000 albums aside. I heard he was still sending significant amounts of money to the homies locked behind bars, just cus he cared. There are videos of him helping to feed children in extreme poverty across seas. Even testimonies of him taking trips just to support fellow artists and business folks and letting his presence be the currency for inspiration.
There is so much to lay out about this wonder of a person, and we didn’t even touch on the greatness of him being a husband, father, son, brother and close friend to many. This here is about one ghetto kid, who grows up to show his neighborhood that they can own where they are laying their heads down and wake up from offering their lives for nothing. His inner work was all about progress, practice, preparation, persistence, power, politics...which lead to real estate, tech companies, workspaces, cannabis brands, sneaker endorsements, being a community leader on the front lines for police brutality protests and working to calm tensions between gang on gang violence with officers on neighborhood injustices.
The fact that we live among wayward souls that can’t deal with life’s cruel hand and makes them do heinous things to heavenly people shouldn’t stop our wants of a better society for us all. Hate killed Nipsey, but love keeps his mission alive. The untimely aspect of death will be played up, but when is death timely? Even in poor health and impending passing, people pray against death. Yet, when it happens, a release is transacted, and newness abounds. Having Nip transition in the very place of his work’s passion is symbolic and soothing, as it cements his purpose of place and time.
His murder scene, the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue is also where his brand, The Marathon Clothing, retail store resides in the strip mall that he also owned is now a shrine to his life and will be renamed “NIPSEY HUSSLE SQUARE,” by the Councilman MARQUEECE HARRIS-DAWSON and the City of Los Angeles. Fitting that the young man who fought his way to put on for his hood is now forever part of the neighborhood, he no doubt enriched with his spirit.
His light is everlasting now though. The streams of people from all over the world making their way to the same hood he was trying to made it out of, but committed his life to improving the condition of, is a testament to the power of his being. And while we say the hood will take us under and why celebs or people of note can't help the more downtrodden places they grew from, that is the very notion that we need to dispel. Nip’s life showed us different, the spark of personal duty he has given all who tout his efforts as a humanitarian, thought leader, businessman and quality person gives definition to term: man of the people...similar to the black leaders of yesterday that didn’t get to do the things on other fronts like Nip did.
Now Mr. Rogers has some neighborly flavor from Hussle Tha Great up in them friendly skies, cus we all know there is a heaven for a gangsta. The Marathon Continues...