I’ve heard the phrase “I’m a product of my environment” my entire life. Sometimes it’s used as an excuse or justification for nonsense. Other times it’s used as an explanation for why people from “rough neighborhoods” are wildly successful. A more fitting way to look at the phrase is that often the same things that can make you wildly successful can bring about your undoing. This seems to be the case in the life of entrepreneur, philanthropist, and rapper Nipsey Hussle.
I know a few Nipsey bops but I don’t give him nearly enough spins to say I was a fan of his music. I knew him as a wise and informed voice long before he was Lauren’s beau or invited to the Roc Nation brunch. Nipsey was one of my twitter favorites and I loved his interviews. I discovered him one night via a retweet and got caught in a rabbit hole of interviews. I was hooked on how thoughtfully he chose his words. He was always working, always respectful and smiling. Never one to mince words or bite his tongue, there was no doubt the type of environment Nipsey Hussle was born and bred in. He was from a place where respect is placed above all other things. The brand of dude Nipsey embodied was very familiar to many in the community who had moved beyond street corner hustling and other destructive assaults on our own neighborhoods. He was a real one, I’m guessing this is why his death has had an impact so far beyond South Central Los Angeles.
During an interview with The Breakfast Club, Nipsey very carefully and eloquently explained the nuances in gang culture. I’m from New Orleans, we don’t have gangs – I understand the laws of the street – but gang law is an entirely different way of life. So hearing someone explain these codes and laws so carefully and with so much clarity was an eye-opening experience. It made me look at gang affiliation from a different perspective. Not saying that I agree with making your own neighborhood unsafe or not giving a shit about the quality of life for yourself or others – it just gave me a greater understanding about a system of beliefs in a way that I never would have considered. It made me view Nipsey as an elder statesman for gang culture. Someone who could put on a suit and maintain his authenticity without appearing uncomfortable in his own skin. It didn’t seem cartoonish nor did it seem as if he was performing. During that interview, he conveyed the mentality without excusing the behavior. You could detect sadness in his voice about the outcomes of senseless misunderstandings based on geography and blocks of concrete that the inhabitants don’t own but claim ownership of. He was someone who could understand those who felt hopeless; help them see that their possibilities are endless. He was a product of his environment, and his movement must not end.
There is time to debate the hip hop facts like cultural impact, rap technical skills, and lyrical content. What isn’t up for debate is Nipsey Hussle’s community, educational and entrepreneurial impact and the message in his passing to all of us – do something. We can’t get caught up in not having wealth; instead, we should begin with our own circles and access and grow from there. Partner with like-minded individuals and invest your time doing things that matter to you. I have time to become a fan of Nipsey Hussle’s music.
I know through another interview that what he wants is to be known and appreciated as an artist so I’ll get into it. However, we first met with him tweeting and teaching me through the screen. His example of community ownership and revitalization ignited a fire in me to invest my time and resources in ways that will reap sustainability.
We should all follow Nipsey’s hustle.