On a gorgeous April Fool’s Day, sitting at a window seat in a local coffee shop, sunlight resting on my face like a new born against their father’s chest, I stare upon a busy city block, searching for words that evade me in the same manner a top running back would avoid a linebacker ready to crush him. The previous day had started off great. I woke up and did a quick run around my neighborhood park before heading to brunch with a friend. The brunch was fantastic and I left with a healthy buzz, to say the least, after consuming mimosas for the better portion of 4 hours, as if they were waters and I was an athlete following a brutal training session. I was riding high, a bad night nowhere in sight. My co-hosts and I had convened on the southeast side of Chicago to begin recording as we do every Sunday evening. We were all in a celebratory mood when I received two text messages that made the good vibes come to a screeching halt.
My eyes scurried over the words in the texts several times, waiting for the letters and words to hopefully rearrange themselves; I couldn’t be reading this correctly I thought. The first text read, “They are reporting Nipsey Hussle got shot”. The second text had my stomach dropping to the wood panelling of the floor, which read “And he could be dead”. Those two texts entirely changed the trajectory of my mood and practically ruined my night in the face of having to record an entertaining podcast. Immediately I called a close friend before going to Twitter to get updates of the situation. Videos online showed images of a man whose head was covered by a bloody cloth of some sort. Assuming it was Nipsey, I went scrambling for the latest news report, praying that I wouldn’t run into reports of him passing away. Soon after though, the tragic news came that Nipsey was pronounced deceased at the hospital. Looking for a way to process what was being reported, I poured whiskey into a glass and took a gulp, face not even flinching as the spirit went down. Nipsey Hussle, the rapper, father, son, brother, husband, entrepreneur and community leader (among many other fitting titles) had been gunned down in his native neighnorhood.
I first caught wind of Nipsey in 2008/2009, during my middle years of high school. His Bullets Aint Got No Name mixtape series was catching steam across the country and he was garnering co-signs from some of West Coast rap’s elite. But it wasn’t until 2010, when he released The Marathon, that I became the fan of Nipsey that I am today. My first semester of college was coming to a close. I was a Chicago city kid adjusting to the vastly different society of Wichita, Kansas. School was kicking my ass and I was in a state of depression. My dreams of becoming a success in music seemed to be fading away, as I withered in middle America, too distant from everything familiar. The Marathon was a body of work that brought inspiration into my life and tamed my fears in many ways. Nipsey projected his confidence and self belief onto an 18 year old Keiph. The grit in his voice and heaviness of his words dealt a stifling blow to my ideas of failure. Refusing to see himself as finished, he had doubled down on his intent in music and life. I tried my best to embody those characteristics. To forge ahead in the face of foreign adversity. Though Nipsey had solidified himself as a rapper, I was more so sold on his qualities beyond his artistry.
Nipsey released three more critically acclaimed mixtapes and had injected the music industry with a new way of marketing and distributing music, while laying the foundation for a lucrative business infrastructure. Then after almost a decade, Nipsey was rewarded for his persistence, signing a major deal with Atlantic Records. Leverage proved to be crucial, allowing Nipsey to retain his master recordings and creative control. I celebrated this moment as if I was celebrating my own fortune. In Nipsey I saw myself. Him reaching that pinnacle was reassurance that I could also reach such heights. Victory Lap, his debut major label release, hit platforms in 2018 and immediately raised Nipsey’s profile, placing him among the top tier figures in rap currently.
Themes of excellence, self belief, entrepreneurship, community and brotherhood could be spotted all over Victory Lap. It was Nipsey’s magnum opus. The mainstream attention was long overdue, and he received a Grammy nomination for the album. But this was only the beginning. Fans and peers alike anticipated what was to come from a man so young yet so wise. The ideas he put forth and the manner in which he carried himself transcended music, which makes his death that much more difficult to accept.
Role models like Nipsey don’t come around too often. He was a direct reflection of young men in this country from urban neighborhoods all over, which is why his message resonated so well. He was a man from circumstance similar to so many of us, and we watched him become triumphant despite those initial circumstances. And he did so with a level of integrity that anyone would hope to emulate. This loss hurt us all, even those not so familiar with his music. That’s because his purpose was much more than rap. So as I write this, saddened by the reality of his physical absence, I rejoice in the presence of his eternal message and spirit. His advocacy for humanity and community should live on through us all. Nipsey is loved as a king is loved. A King now with a halo and pair of wings. May we continue to pray for his family. May god restore some sense of normalcy and peace for those who he held closest. May his wife discover the strength to raise their beautiful children. I know her pain is unmatched. Nipsey, may you rest like a pharaoh and guide us from above.
Forever In Our Hearts.
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