My grandfather passed away last week at the age of 90. He barely spoke any English and my Greek was too poor to have a conversation any deeper than the usual family banter. Unfortunately, I never got to know him as well as I would have liked to.
My parents asked my sister and me to look for old pictures of him in our archives. As my dad flipped through the photos, he told us stories about his father and how he had a joie-de-vivre that I never understood as a child.
Now that I’m older, I’m finally beginning to understand the type of impact he had on both my dad and the community he settled into after immigrating from Greece in the late ‘50s.
For 45 years, my grandfather was a barber at Roxy Dor in Montreal, Québec, Canada. At his funeral, I met many of his past clients, several of whom told me how much they loved to get their hair cut at his barbershop. My uncle told me he was so popular, he even cut the hair of Kostas Hatzichristos, a famous Greek actor in the ‘60s.
I wish I would have known all of these details while my grandfather was alive, and I wish I could have spoken to him about his experiences, but learning about him now only makes me appreciate him more.
Though vastly different in scale, the time I've spent listening to Nipsey Hussle’s discography following his tragic passing earlier this month has helped teach me how to honor the memory of someone I didn’t know very well while they were alive.
For most people, and contrary to what Twitter will tell you, listening to an artist after they die isn’t done with the specific intention of becoming a bandwagon fan. Rather, it’s about learning who they were as an artist, and coming to appreciate their body of work.
The first time I heard Nipsey's GRAMMY-nominated album Victory Lap, I was largely indifferent towards it. While traveling home from my grandfather's funeral I revisited the album, but this time it hit differently; this time the lyrics felt more powerful.
The truth is, I didn’t know much about Nipsey or his music before he passed. I was unaware of his massive mixtape catalog and all the good he was doing for his community. Following his passing, though, I learned of his charitable heart and philanthropic work, my Daily Mixes on Spotify instantly became filled with his music, and my Google Home would (intrusively) play his records without me even having to ask.
By listening to songs like the eponymous “Victory Lap,” “Million While You Young,” and “Status Symbol 3,” I learned of what Nipsey had built and how successful he’d become in his 33 years on Earth. But I knew I needed to dig deeper than Victory Lap. I wanted to have a more complete understanding of the path Nipsey traveled to get to where he was before being gunned down in cold blood.
For a man who did so much, I knew so little. So to correct this, I spent the past four weeks listening to every song and project Nipsey made available on Spotify.
This decision left me with lingering anxiety; I couldn’t shake the feeling I was only listening because he died. I knew I wanted to indulge my whim for all the reasons I wrote above, but I was paranoid that none of it would matter. I also figured everything that needed to be said about Nipsey would be said—what more could I offer?
As should be obvious by now, I managed to drown out my paranoia, and I began a deep dive into his catalog—14 projects, 61 singles. I wasn’t keeping a log of my time spent listening to Nipsey, but I’d imagine the number of hours is roughly the same as someone trying to catch up on seven seasons of Game of Thrones two weeks before the premiere of the eighth season.
Now, one week removed from finishing my latest run through Victory Lap, Nipsey’s final full-length project, I can say with confidence Nipsey’s music developed and matured just as he did. I witnessed the rise of an artist and the evolution of a man. As I listened to every song, I followed along on Genius, taking in every last word he uttered. My goal wasn’t just to listen; it was to learn, experience, and understand Nipsey Hussle.
The best part of my extended listening session came at the very beginning while taking in Nipsey’s early mixtapes; listening reminded me of why I first fell in love with hip-hop. It was 2010, around the time Drake dropped Thank Me Later, and I began scouring Datpiff for every mixtape available. Songs like “Roll the Windows Up” and “Hussla Hoodsta” brought me back to when my biggest worry was bringing home a “C” grade. These sparks of nostalgia came in quick succession as I then remembered Nipsey’s feature work on Childish Gambino’s excellent “Black Faces” and Drake’s non-album song “Killer.”
Despite thoroughly enjoying my run through his catalog on Spotify, I was nevertheless plagued by the devil on my shoulder who was tantalizing me for finally paying attention to Nipsey only after he was no longer among the living. To counteract these emotions, the competing angel on the other shoulder (read: in my head) put the decision into proper context: no one, I hope, would criticize me for being a “fake grandson” because I learned about my grandfather's life after his death, so why should I call myself a "fake fan" after Nipsey’s death?
All told, this was more than just a listening experience—it was a history lesson. Nipsey’s sound didn’t drastically change from one project to the next, but his charisma became more noticeable, and his heart got stronger with each release. He transitioned from manufacturing “come up” music to authentically fabricating “we made it” music. This evolution of character is what impacted me the most.
Nipsey could have easily made his money, left Crenshaw, and relocated to a safer neighborhood where he could exist with fewer worries. But he didn’t. He stayed at home, and through his music, he tried to give back to a community that needed him.
I know—I believe—I can now call myself a fan. And yet still I felt weird. But why?
Becoming a fan of an artist following their death isn’t an unprecedented occurrence. One of my closest friends did a deep dive into Mac Miller’s music after he passed; he now listens to Swimming and The Divine Feminine religiously. Lord knows how many new Biggie and Pac fans continue to sprout every year.
There’s no right time to become a fan; anyone can become a fan of an artist at any point. The only difference is in how you serve their memory.
Earlier this month, my family celebrated Easter without my grandfather for the first time. A Greek Easter typically involves a lamb being cooked on a spit. With a Labatt 50 in one hand and silver tongs in the other, my grandfather would be the one to make the food. Now that he’s gone, I feel obligated to pick up where he left off. My cooking skills are not great, but I want to help keep our countless memories of him alive.
I plan to do the same with Nipsey. I will keep his memory alive by listening to his music; I’ve already added tens of his songs to my favorite playlists and I’m currently hunting for a copy of Victory Lap on vinyl. I’ve taken it upon myself to continue to find new and original ideas to keep his legacy going strong. I’m also open to suggestions.
Nipsey Hussle’s music is a clear reflection of the man who authored it. It is authentic, raw, powerful, and thought-provoking. I regret not being a part of the original ride, but I’m here to help ensure his legacy is eternal. You’re welcome to join me.