It’s game six of the 2011 NBA Finals. LeBron James is locked in; his back turned to the trove of reporters clamoring behind him in the Miami Heat locker room. When he takes off his headphones, the music is loud enough to make out the words:
“I’m from Westside, California, they run up on ya / Ask you where you from and check your tats under your clothin’”
These are the opening lines to the Nipsey Hussle song, “Blue Laces.” The late rapper’s aggressive delivery cuts through and overpowers the soulful instrumental, an effect only exacerbated by the roughly-mixed aesthetic. Even in the chorus, Nipsey’s voice sounds like it’s laced with venom, hissing at the end of certain words: “Blue laces, shell cases, we catch bodies, we don’t leave no traces.”
Midway through the song’s first verse, Nipsey expresses an eerily prophetic sentiment about betrayal: “Same n***a that shot you was the one you used to smoke with.” This brief moment of clarity quickly gives way to the callousness of the following lines:
“Cold shit, my whole clique notorious / You heard of us, six owes is murderous”
The ease with which his introspection bleeds into cold, criminal bravado creates a subtle yet jarring tension. At one point, his reckless abandon is palpable. “Shootout with no aim, so they know yo name,” Nipsey raps with a strained tone, forcing every last bit of breath from his lungs.
In the final two lines, Nipsey humanizes “the streets” with an endearing reverence, implying an obligation to reciprocate with his undying loyalty:
“Pops was gone, moms was never home / But the streets was right there so they took you as they own”
“Blue Laces” is a singular, defining track that encapsulates the foundation of Nipsey’s backbone. The record exudes the same raw energy—both sonically and thematically—that is present throughout his extensive discography.
As Nipsey was finishing his GRAMMY-nominated debut Victory Lap in early 2017, he reached out to the song’s original producer to compose a part two. Using the same sample, Mr. Lee made the instrumental for “Blue Laces 2” in two days.
“It normally take [Nipsey] a little while to record some records, man. He don’t just get in the lab and be done with a record in a day. He like to take his time and really, you know, get his thoughts together,” Mr. Lee said in an interview. “He sent me the damn record back in like a day, man. I was shocked.”
While a young, hungry Nipsey raps about his white tee, Dickies, and Chuck Taylors on “Blue Laces,” the sequel finds him sitting courtside, donning a Wilt Chamberlain throwback jersey that matches his Rolex. The floormats of his Ferrari bear the All Money In logo. From a third-generation South Central gangbanger to a mogul, Nipsey “lived long enough to see it changing.” He earned his right to boast, musing on city council meetings and billion-dollar investments with steely poise.
“We done took a dream and turned it to a zenith / Anything I want and everything I needed / Gotta pace yourself, it’s all about your breathin’ / You can have it all, it’s all about your reason / I done took my name and carved it in the cement” —Nipsey Hussle, “Blue Laces 2”
Big Reese, a managing partner of the production duo Mike & Keys, was in the studio when Nipsey recorded the first verse for “Blue Laces 2.” Just as Nip was about to leave, Reese told him to lay down a second verse. Immediately after, he encouraged him to complete the record. “Finish the song right now, Nip. You’ve got a certain spirit right now. Don’t leave,” Reese told him.
“I went and I did the third verse and the third verse blew me away; it was hard for me to get it out. I was overwhelmed because of how truthful it was and how real it was to him. I was in the booth having a moment. I got out the booth and I'm like, ‘Damn, bro. You was utilized by some higher power today.’ Cause I would have left and the verse wouldn’t have been the same. I know it.” —Nipsey Hussle, NPR Interview
You can call it divine intervention if you’d like, but the narrative of “Blue Laces 2” was always meant to come back full circle to the streets. Some people find strength in their scars, and as the drums fade out, Nipsey gave us a harrowing, intimate glimpse into the gravity of what he’d overcome. The shootout on the beach is the most vivid recollection he ever laid on wax, a masterclass in storytelling and artistry, and arguably his greatest verse.
“Blue Laces” and “Blue Laces 2”—eight years between them—are markers of the sheer distance Nipsey covered on his marathon; a timeless sequel created by a generational talent and spiritual successors to the man himself. The energy I feel when I listen to either is just different.
Long live Neighborhood Nip.