Nipsey's Hustle as Told by Nipsey Hussle

This is the story of Nipsey Hussle's hustle through his lyrics and interviews.
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“So I’m gon’ take you back then, 32 shots in my MAC-10 / With a dream minus the means, my early teens was fuckin’ tragic / And deep inside my mind is buried crimes you can’t imagine / That I wrestle with at night, demons I fight I can’t get past it” —Nipsey Hussle, “I Don’t Give a Fucc” (2010)

Nipsey Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, grew up in the Crenshaw district of Los Angeles, a treacherous neighborhood rife with gang politics. More often than not, being thrust into gang life is simply a byproduct of your cross streets. When Nipsey was 15 years old, he moved in with his grandmother on W. 59th St. and 5th Ave. and soon joined the Rollin 60’s Neighborhood Crips.

By the time Nipsey was 18 years old, he had established himself as a self-made hustler, and everyone in town knew him for rolling around in a White Lincoln with Alpina rims. He had achieved his “adolescent dream”: draped in jewelry with stacks of cash in his pockets, picking up countless girls with his confidence and charisma, and garnering respect from his peers. But now, he was at a crossroads. 

Nipsey had to choose between his career as a street pharmacist and fully investing in music. So he decided to phone a friend, D-Mac, who had been trying to buy his Lincoln for quite some time. He pulled up with a Ross bag full of cash. Nipsey then called his older brother, Blacc Sam, who met with Nipsey at Sam Ash Music to match D-Mac's $10,000 investment dollar for dollar.

“Look, I was sittin' on my Lincoln, I start thinkin' / n***a, I ain't gon' make a hundred mil' off in these streets and / More than likely I'm gon' end up in somebody's precinct / Even worse, horse and carriage front the church, laid off in a hearse” —Nipsey Hussle, “Loaded Bases” (2018)

Despite Nipsey’s attempt to transition into a legal hustle, according to an interview he gave on The Breakfast Club in 2013, his house was raided by the police and all of their studio equipment was confiscated. “I was devoting my energy to positivity, and I felt like, you know, to no avail,” he said.

Following a separate incident in 2009, during which one of his partners was arrested and locked up, Nipsey was forced to hide out at a friend’s house for three months. He didn’t come out until record executive Jon Shapiro put a deal on the table with Cinematic Music Group and Epic Records. To celebrate the signing, Nipsey took a trip to Jamaica, but upon his return, the police were waiting for him. He spent his label advance on lawyers and fought the case for several months in the county jail while shuttling back and forth to court. After his release, he began recording his next project—in New York.

The music video for Nipsey’s debut single, “Hussle in the House,” was an unapologetic celebration of his lifestyle. He’s surrounded by women and lowriders, throwing up gang signs with fellow affiliates in matching blue Crenshaw crewnecks—but beyond the typical gangster rap bravado, the explosive record was an ode to the streets that paved the way for where he was headed. Nipsey understood that executing a long-term vision would take patience, persistence, and foresight.

“Quote me on this, got a lot more to prove / ‘Member I came in this bitch, fresh out the county with nothin’ to lose” —Nipsey Hussle, “Hussle & Motivate” (2018)

After building a buzz through his Bullets Ain’t Got No Name mixtape trilogy, Nipsey made an appearance on the XXL freshman cover in 2010 alongside J. Cole, Wiz Khalifa, and Big Sean, among others. Later that same year, however, Nipsey would exit Epic Records following a substantial personnel change that stalled his major label debut.

Rather than jump straight into a new deal, Nipsey founded his own label, All Money In Records, and true to his character, he kept it a family affair; his business partners (Blacc Sam, Adam, Fatts) and early signees (J. Stone, Cuzzy Capone, Pacman) all grew up together, and their collective mantra (“All money in, no money out”) embodied the mentality of a true hustler, one that helped them survive their precarious upbringing.

Following the release of The Marathon and The Marathon Continues, Nipsey took a nearly two-year hiatus. In 2013, Complex included him in their list of “10 Underachieving Rappers.” In an interview on The Breakfast Club, Nipsey was asked about his placement in the article by show co-host Charlamagne Tha God, to which he replied, “How much [the writer] get paid? I pay them type of salaries to my employees at my business that got felonies and that can’t get jobs. No disrespect.” 

He elaborated further to Angel Diaz for Complex: “Those editors don’t live this life. They don’t go through the struggle. I’m from the Rollin 60’s, my n***a. They don’t understand what putting an album out is to me. It ain’t the same as one of them backpack n***as, or one of them college-rapping types. That ain’t the shit I do. I got enemies. I went to war for real in between albums. My life is real.”

“Then you start to look like food, the game don't even chew / Eat you up and shit you out, and them critics say you through / But look, they don't got a clue what you was tryna do” —Nipsey Hussle, “U Don’t Got a Clue” (2010)

Although Nipsey was an aspiring rapper, the odds he had to overcome and his plans for the future were always bigger than music. And by placing him on that list, the author, Al Shipley, failed to recognize that success isn’t always gauged by visibility or output or numbers. Nipsey had created his own imprint and brand after his major label deal fell through, and by going the independent route, he put himself in a position to provide opportunities for his loved ones. Most importantly, though, Nipsey retained all of his intellectual property, maximizing the back-end of his mailbox money. He was in it for the long run.

During the hiatus, Nipsey read “Contagious: Why Things Catch On,” a book by Jonah Berger that was recommended by one of his mentors. The second chapter discussed a restaurant owner who sold Philly cheesesteaks for $100, a lucrative price point which sparked curiosity and conversation throughout the country, even gaining the support of high-profile celebrities like Oprah and David Letterman. He immediately put the book down and began brainstorming.

“They tellin' me they believe and I got style for days / And when I drop an album they'll be proud to pay” —Nipsey Hussle, “Outro” (2011)

In October 2013, Nipsey hosted a pop-up shop in Los Angeles for a limited release of Crenshaw, offering only 1,000 CDs priced at $100 each. At the same time, a version of the project with DJ drops was made available on mixtape hosting site DatPiff for free download. The duality of his “#Proud2Pay” campaign was a powerful statement on the role of reciprocity in the relationship between artists and consumers in the burgeoning streaming era.

Nipsey explained his thought process in a memorandum issued on Rap Radar, which eventually reached the eyes of JAY-Z, resulting in the mogul reportedly scooping up 100 copies of the mixtape. By circumventing traditional retail models, Nipsey banked $100,000 in gross profit in less than 24 hours with his direct-to-consumer approach. His massive success was a testament to the power and influence of the brand he had built.

One day, while on the way to the movies, Nipsey’s daughter Emani was craving a Unicorn Frappuccino from Starbucks. This detour led to an impromptu exchange with a 20-year-old engineer named Iddris Sandu. The pair spoke about Nipsey’s plan to create a retail network that offered a unique experience rooted in technology. In 2017, Nipsey would open The Marathon Clothing “smart store” on Crenshaw Blvd. and Slauson Ave. in Los Angeles. Sandu, who built their application in just under three weeks, was hired as the chief technology officer (CTO).

“And I’m from where homicide boost the economy / Pay taxes to these corners and put in work, it’s a policy” —Nipsey Hussle, ”Hussle in the House” (2008)

Nipsey and his crew had spent the lion’s share of their formative years—fights, shootouts, hand-to-hand exchanges, even mixtape sales—in the parking lot of the same strip mall that would now house his own store. As of 2019, his plan to “pay taxes to these corners” came full circle—Nipsey currently owns half of the businesses in this lot

In February, Nipsey announced plans to rebuild the entire plaza and create a six-story residential building with his flagship store as the anchor. By investing in infrastructure in his community, Nipsey made the decision to create opportunities for generational wealth that could potentially last beyond his lifetime–truly a man of the people.

Nipsey was sitting courtside at a Los Angeles Lakers game when he struck up a tequila-fueled conversation with the man seated beside him. That man turned out to be real estate developer David Gross, who Nipsey—in partnership with the District 8 Los Angeles City Council—later partnered with to launch Vector90, a two-story incubator located in Crenshaw. The bottom floor of the workspace is dedicated to developing underrepresented kids in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, mathematics), while the top floor offers month-to-month private offices and coworking space for local entrepreneurs to build and network.

The necessity of a space like Vector90 in Crenshaw speaks to a ubiquitous issue that plagues inner cities all over the country. The lack of opportunity in poverty-stricken neighborhoods often leads young and impressionable youth to only pursue careers in music or athletics. Instead of encouraging them to go down a similar path—one that Nipsey himself has conquered—the 33-year-old is providing local youth with a tangible platform to tap into unrealized potential. Dreaming of a life outside the projects doesn’t have to involve flashy music videos or SportsCenter highlights on ESPN. Sometimes, it’s a corner office in Silicon Valley.

“Turned down deals, they gon’ try again / We need a partnership, it ain’t no signing him” —Nipsey Hussle, ”Don’t Forget Us” (2013)

In 2017, after nearly a decade on the mixtape circuit, Nipsey Hussle announced a partnership with Atlantic Records for his debut studio album Victory Lap. The success of All Money In gave Nipsey the proper amount of leverage to enter into a business relationship with the Warner-owned label strictly on his own terms, tapping into a larger resource pool to finally present his music on a global platform. The rich, triumphant sound of Victory Lap reflects his own journey, and 13 years after his first project, it’s the crown jewel of his extensive catalog. Victory Lap was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 61st GRAMMY Awards.

“Damn, I wish my n***a Fatts was here / How you die thirty-something after bangin’ all them years / Grammy-nominated, in the sauna sheddin’ tears / All this money, power, fame and I can’t make you reappear” —Nipsey Hussle, ”Racks In The Middle” (2019)

Before his partnership with Atlantic was finalized, Nipsey would mourn the loss of Stephen “Fatts” Donelson, a childhood friend turned founding partner with All Money In, who was shot and killed in 2017. He was 30. While Nipsey and his team were far removed from their former lifestyle, Fatts’ death was a tragic reminder that, when you're from the Rollin 60's neighborhood, bullets ain't got no name.

“See it’s a couple n***as every generation / That wasn’t supposed to make it out but decode the Matrix / And when they get to speak, it’s like a coded language / Reminds n***as of they strength and all the stolen greatness” —Nipsey Hussle, “Loaded Bases” (2018)

Over the past decade, Nipsey Hussle has operated with unwavering authenticity. His trials and tribulations as a gangbanger are so deeply embedded into the fabric of his being that he’ll likely be throwing up a thumb and two fingers until his dying breath. By fully embracing his identity and refusing to compromise on his way to the top, he’s become a beacon of hope and inspiration for kids from the inner city that look just like he does.

Beyond the music, Nipsey Hussle leads by example through his business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit, consistently preaching the importance of equity, ownership, and fiscal responsibility. He has followed the blueprint of legendary moguls from past generations, reclaiming power as an artist and building a self-sustaining enterprise from the ground up. Nipsey’s journey is a powerful reminder that life is indeed a marathon, not a race.

In 2018, Julian Mitchell, a writer for Forbes, asked Nipsey to describe his mission: 

“There was a level of ignorance and self-destructiveness in the narrative that was pushed on us through music in our generation. I see how damaging that was, for myself included, and we’re all subject to the social pressure. I wasn’t above it. Each of us are impacted by what’s going on around us. For me, understanding the platform I have and who it speaks to, it’s about being strategic. We can’t stand on the corner with the bull horn and preach, that isn’t going to work. We have to be strategic and make an impact through influence. I wanted to redefine the lifestyle and what we view as important.”

Mission accomplished.

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