#TheUnknownHustle: Nipsey Hussle

Nipsey Hussle might be gone, but his heroic efforts to improve South Central LA will be felt for generations

Getty Images / Jerritt Clark

The outpouring of sorrow that continues to follow Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom’s senseless murder is an important reminder: Even though death comes all the time, nothing can prepare anyone for the messiness of grief. Gunned down in front of his strip mall, his demise is particularly hard to process given how untimely and tragic it is.

March 31 marks the death of a man who was not only a rap legend but also an activist, entrepreneur and community leader who dedicated his life to cultivating the spiritual and economic wealth of his L.A. neighborhood, Crenshaw. As hundreds gathered in front of his store, The Marathon Clothing, for a vigil—a sea of novena candles, graffiti tributes and makeshift altars—the city of Los Angeles mourned deeply. Thousands more attended his memorial service at the Staples Center, reminding us once again that Hussle wouldn’t just be missed. He’d be celebrated for the hero he is. 

Getty Images / David McNew
Getty Images / David McNew

Most knew Hussle for his music. Forceful and vivid, his Grammy-nominated album, Victory Lap, does important work, retracing gangland narratives into empowering tales. When Hussle raps about his dogged journey from gang life to entrepreneurial prosperity, he isn’t just flexing his success. Hussle never wanted praise. He always had a larger plan, and part of it was to inspire his listeners to pursue their own dreams against all odds. But Hussle’s ambitions extend further than the sum of his mixtapes and inspiring stories. Observing the stark, shocking transitions of historically black and Latino neighborhoods like Inglewood and Echo Park from afar, Hussle wasn’t about to let South Central L.A. suffer a similar fate.

Improving his community’s accessibility to resources absent in most South Central neighborhoods was always a hallmark of Hussle’s vision. Injecting much of his wealth back into Crenshaw, he founded several businesses dedicated to fostering black entrepreneurship and creating educational opportunities like Vector90, described as “a ’hood version of WeWork...with an emphasis in STEM for young people of color.” According to Complex, his other ventures, estimated to support more than 40,000 jobs, included a Fatburger partnership, Steve’s Barber Shop, Elite Human Hair and the World on Wheels skating rink. 

The corner of Crenshaw and Slauson, now renamed Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom Square in his honor, is complicated because it represents opposite spectrums of South Central, its future and present: a glimmering solution to decades of poverty and longstanding cycles of street brutality. Some have tried to use his death as rhetorical octane against gang violence, but this essentializing crusade completely misreads his death.

What Hussle aimed to do was teach others how to publicly claim their identity—to feel pride in their roots and use them in legitimate arenas of business. In a bid to lessen the black-white wealth gap, Hussle invested in local businesses, helping to keep the flow of cash in local currents. Keeping this wealth within the black ecosystem was tantamount to his strategy, and it is why his investments were rarely targeted towards business outside of his hometown.

Hussle wasn’t interested in crafting a persona and perceived authenticity to sell records or promote his new businesses. At this core, he was just Ermias, another boy from the neighborhood, wanting to lift his community up. Let us remember Hussle for everything—his music, his hustle, his energy—but perhaps let us remember him most for his endless compassion and sense of duty to others.

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