T.I.’s voice doesn’t require a microphone, but he’s holding one. As he speaks, the more than 100 guests in the room stand at attention. Cameras of varying sizes rest in the hands of every person in attendance. Everyone present is gathered to celebrate the late Nipsey Hussle, but no one knows how he will be honored.
The room isn’t in Los Angeles, Nipsey’s hometown; it’s in a building located at 630 Travis St. NW, in downtown Atlanta, Georgia. The now-famous location is the address of Atlanta’s Trap Music Museum. This October marks one year since T.I. and a passionate team of curators opened the installment experience to honor the Southern-born genre, the artists who helped to make trap music a phenomenon, and the street culture that birthed it.
Nipsey Hussle, born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, was not present in the museum upon its initial launch. No pictures from his childhood were displayed, no paintings to represent his marathon of motivation. This curatorial decision wasn’t an oversight, but rather a circumstance of geography. If the Crenshaw rapper were from Bankhead or Bowen Homes, Little Rock or Liberty City, his profile or bust would have undoubtedly been displayed alongside the likes of Juicy J and Lil Boosie, 21 Savage and Rick Ross. Which is why immortalizing a son of the West in a southern-based exhibit is a special gesture.
Nipsey’s music soundtracked an hour of small talk, finger foods, and complementary blue mixed drinks before the grand unveiling. Following T.I.’s brief introduction and a few words from B.K. the Artist, a renowned Baltimore-born painter who created the art tribute, a sheet was pulled back to unveil a majestic portrait of Nipsey, a red and blue multi-colored Crenshaw baseball jersey, and a perfectly carved bench that replicates the Victory Lap album cover.
Shutters immediately began to click and hands collided in applause. Some people did nothing, staring in awe. Nipsey looked so alive—a face untouched by death.
When T.I. spoke again moments later, there was a tenderness to his tone. The moment was bittersweet. There’s no pleasure in honoring a fallen soldier, but it is the duty of the living. Homage isn’t paid with money, but a currency that’s far more valuable—spirit. Without having to explain himself, everyone knew this was a gesture from the heart.
Along the walls of The Trap Museum are portraits of the late Lil Snupe, Shawty Lo, Doe B, and more. There’s far more life than death in the building, but when you consider the environments that turned these men and women of the trap into rap stars, their presence is a miracle. And that’s the beauty of the exhibit; The Trap Museum is a space that celebrates the living while they’re alive. By embodying a trap, you can leave and honoring all those who escaped, a significant period of hip-hop enters a time capsule to be cherished by the people.
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With Nipsey’s inclusion, the Atlanta-based museum solidifies itself as an outlet for hustlers who become heroes. The legends of the trap can entrust the respected building—a place where fans can touch art made in their image, and hear the music that explains their environment—to house and acknowledge their history. Nothing is perfect, but The Trap Museum aims for sincerity over sensationalism.
How the living reacts to death is naturally sensational. What is rational when someone who was just here suddenly isn’t? What’s stopping us from also not being here? Nothing. So who will be there to honor us? Who will talk about our lives? Of our legacies? Will anyone speak up? And what will they say? No one knows what will happen on the day they leave and all the days that follow.
Outsiders readily view the hustlers acknowledged by hip-hop as champions to be ugly and vile. In death, it’s easy to paint these individuals as thugs and gangbangers, drug dealers and misogynists, more monsters than men. The demons a person wrestles with shouldn’t define them, but that won’t stop anyone from turning those demons into commerce.
Seeing the three painted portraits of rap genius Pusha-T in The Trap Museum reminded me of his 2018 GRAMMY-nominated album DAYTONA and the tasteless photo of Whitney Houston’s bathroom that Kanye selected and licensed as the album’s cover. The image magnifies a problematic, sensational period in Houston’s life with no regard for the human who walked or the angel that sung.
West’s decision to employ Whitney’s bathroom as the face of a commercial product showcases the ugly reality of what happens when you are no longer here to say no. Dishonor is an option the living have over the dead. Immortality has a dark side. It doesn’t have to be dark, though. There’s a light to death, the celebratory aspect, and the world hasn’t stopped celebrating the life of Ermias Asghedom.
To know Nipsey Hussle is to know a universe of a man. There isn’t one way to paint him. As a human being, he wasn’t perfect. No man is. The beauty of his death—if there’s any beauty to be found—is in how hip-hip culture continues to elevate the best of him; how people carry his name, spread his message, and uplift the morals he preached. In life, he was an example of being upstanding for your community, thoughtful with your business, and unrelenting with your hustle.
In death, Nipsey Hussle is an example of how to honor those we’ve lost—treated with the tenderness of a family member and the respect of a war hero. As a tribe, hip-hop should aim to build statues; to uphold our heroes higher than the odds they overcame. Preserve our artists in settings that acknowledge who they were and what they meant to the world.
T.I. got it right. Artists should be artwork; they should be in galleries. There is no better place for an immortal than a public museum.
By Yoh aka Yoh Hussle aka Yoh31