By: Lauren Whiteman | @itsmewhiteman
Last Saturday Nipsey Hussle made a notable show of support in the stands as Texas Tech progressed to the NCAA tournament’s Elite 8. Last night they played in the championship game. But Nipsey couldn’t be there this time.
To say that the last week and a half has been devastating would be an enormous understatement. His murder is still as shocking as the day the news broke.
I could write about how tracks like “Blue Laces” one and two, “Don’t Take Days Off”, “Closer Than Close”, “If You Were Mine”, and “Ocean Views” have connected with me over the years. I could write about how Victory Lap was more than worth the wait. I could write about the day I found out that he and I both have a surprising love for the song “Iris” by The Goo Goo Dolls. I could write about how there will always be a space in music where Nipsey could and should still be. But I was a bigger fan of the things he did outside of the studio. His business acumen. His commitment to the city and the neighborhood that made him.
I stepped back from activist circles a few years ago. I saw the progress groups were making, and the value of the work and determination, but I also saw some circles engaging in the same elitism they said they were working to disrupt. What was supposed to be a coalition sometimes became a food chain, where vocabulary sometimes meant more than message, and people forgot that none of us were born with any real understanding of oppressive systems. They forgot that we all had to do some growing in order to develop critical analyses, and that being conscious or “woke” was a journey to a destination none of us will ever quite reach. That the goal is just to get as close as possible.
So I started looking for other ways and methods to do work that mattered, and to have conversations that had an impact without needing a vocabulary lesson. And in that process, I found Nip. His musical talent was undeniable, but he was also an avid reader, dedicated to learning and examining the world around him, with or without formal education. He was determined to share the knowledge he learned about life and the world in any way he could. He attempted to make amends for his mistakes, and kept pushing forward to become what he felt to be the best possible version of himself: one that loved his lady, children, community, and the culture with reckless abandon.
Nipsey built The Marathon Store in the shopping center where he and his brother Sam learned to hustle. One that had services his neighborhood needed, but where one business discriminated against black teenagers. Years later, he bought the whole shopping center, building more businesses, hiring community members that could use second chances and stable incomes, and teaching them and local artists how to build and run businesses as well. He took note of the limited access for women and black entrepreneurs and built Vector 90, a co-working space, cultural hub, and incubator in Los Angeles that provides development, mentorship and resources to the community. He believed that black inner-city kids were among the brightest in the nation, and knew that opportunities in science, technology, engineering, and math would play a role in elevating the culture, but also that children in the area lacked access to them. So he created a STEM center to cultivate their talents and create a pipeline to connect them to Silicon Valley. Not just for his neighborhood, but as models to expand in different cities and markets.
He flipped rap money to support local and national causes, especially those geared toward children. He repaired parks and basketball courts in Crenshaw, and made sure every elementary school student there had new shoes for the year. He was known for treating everyone he came across like they mattered and reminded them that they did, even when they didn’t have the look or the knowledge some still tend to require. He remembered the things he wanted and needed as a child and became those things as a man, all while helping others do the same, so that young people and Crenshaw as a whole would know someone cared about them.
He walked with kings, but never lost the common touch. Money and industry attention didn’t change him.
He wasn’t perfect, but he also wasn’t done growing. But that is the kind of activist I believe in. The kind we need more of.
Grammy nominated, in the sauna shedding tears
All this money, power, fame and I can’t make you reappear
But I don’t wipe ‘em though.
We just embrace the only life we know
If it was me I’d tell you, “Nigga, live your life and grow.”
I’d tell you, “Finish what we started, reach them heights, you know? And gas the V12 till the piping smoke.”
Every now and then we get blessed with an artist who transcends geographical constructs, industry norms, and affiliations. We had that with Nipsey Hussle. Now there’s a vacancy where he once stood, and everything around it feels . . . off. There’s a heaviness that somehow feels . . . hollow. His death ushered in an energy shift none of us were prepared for. We feel it even here in Dallas—though maybe it’s because Nipsey was just here in February, showing love and support to local businesses and the For Oak Cliff community center. Maybe it’s because he always showed respect to southern and Texas rappers. Or maybe it’s just because his spirit was larger than California state lines could contain.
Nipsey’s demeanor and delivery was gruff and no-holds-barred. No frills and no regrets. And as much as I’m inspired by him, I'd be lying if I said I didn’t have some. I regret not going to the Marathon Store during the last time I was in LA. I regret the times I haven’t made the most of my gifts because I was discouraged about my timeline, even as Nipsey was showing us that the marathon is more important than the sprint.
But I feel a new energy shift beginning. I see it moving as people make sure their loved ones know they love them, and especially as we rededicate ourselves to our missions, thinking of new and better ways we can play our roles in this work of building better communities and opportunities for our people.
With a trajectory like Nipsey's, no one could have imagined that we’d be paying tribute and figuring out what a world without him looks like so soon. But he gave us the blueprint. Nipsey Hussle was a larger-than-life reminder that hands that serve are holier than lips that pray. His life was a demonstration of the holiest kind of worship. One that loved our people fiercely, not just in word, but in deed. A constant reminder of where our priorities should be, evidenced by loving and empowering our people and the neighborhoods that made us.
It seems like he’s gone too soon, but if this brief time on earth was his assignment, it was nothing less than a job well done. This hurts the way it does because we believed in him and everything he loved and planned to do—his family, his music, and all of his dreams. It’s painful because we’ve constantly been thinking about the potential and opportunity that existed within him. But his potential and opportunity still exist within us. And while none of this is fair, the reality is, saying goodbye is hard because we feel so blessed to have had him. So we’ll push forward through our mourning so that we can pick up the mantle and take our places in his work—this marathon—paying homage to a titan, and a spirit that will never fade.
We’re going to make you proud, Nip. We promise you this.
Rest in Power to Nipsey Hussle the Great. The Marathon Continues.
Lauren Whiteman is from Dallas, she eats Rudy’s, it’s been a while since she’s been to Big T though. She has a couple of degrees from the University of Oklahoma and is now an educator in the Dallas area. Lauren’s work focuses on advocacy, student development, and the miseducation of Black and African American students in higher education. She’s a TEDx presenter, and hopes future generations never forget what to do for the 99 and the 2000. For her twitter shenanigans, visit @itsmewhiteman.