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How Nipsey Hussle's Community Is Keeping His Activism Going

'Before Nipsey, many of us believed a myth that you have to be rich before you give back.'

By Michell C. Clark

“If you’re in a position where the streets will listen to you and respect you, and the boardroom will also listen and respect you — you’ve got a job to do. You have an obligation to your position. After spending time reflecting, meditating, and being honest with myself — I realized it was an obligation for me. I have a responsibility to bridge that gap in all of the ways I know how.” — Nipsey Hussle

Ermias Joseph Asghedom, better known to the world as Nipsey Hussle, was born on August 15, 1985 in the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. He was fatally shot on March 31 outside of his Marathon Clothing Store on Crenshaw and Slauson, while reportedly picking up clothing for an old friend who had just finished serving a 20-year sentence in prison. The same parking lot he used to hustle in — the parking lot that he subsequently gained ownership of, in the neighborhood that he grew up in — was also the location for the abrupt end to the 33 years that he spent on this earth.

As news of the Grammy-nominated artist’s murder reverberated around the world, fans worldwide held vigils in their communities to mourn his death and honor his legacy. Hussle had planned to meet with Roc Nation and the LAPD on April 1 to discuss combating gang violence, and his passing sparked a gang unity meeting and march including several prominent Los Angeles gangs, 27 years after the historic Watts Peace Treaty following the verdict of the Rodney King trial.

Nipsey’s public memorial took place at the Staples Center on Thursday, April 11. All 21,000 tickets were claimed within 30 minutes of their release. Performances from the likes of Stevie Wonder, Jhene Aiko, Marsha Ambrosius, and Anthony Hamilton coupled with eulogies from Nipsey’s family, friends, and peers to provide a nostalgic, occasionally humorous, frequently tear-jerking celebration of his life and legacy. Nipsey’s girlfriend, the actress Lauren London, concluded her remarks with a call to action from Nipsey himself: “The game is going to test you. Never fold.” She added, “What’s in you, they can’t take away, and he’s in all of us.”

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“Y'all ain't got nothin' like this over there / bunch of front-line millionaires. / Bunch of self-made / out-the-trunk paid, against-the-odds / really took it there” — Nipsey Hussle, “Keyz 2 The City 2”

Nipsey was known through Crenshaw as Neighborhood Nip because of his commitment to the neighborhood that raised him. He was aware of the risks that came with choosing to stay in Crenshaw as a high-profile figure. Statistics show that the overall crime rate in Crenshaw is 66 percent higher than the national average, and the odds of being a victim of a violent crime in Crenshaw are just under four times the national average.

Instead of “getting out,” Nipsey chose to invest his resources in schools, organizations, and most importantly, the people who also called Crenshaw home. He used his music to deliver raw narratives about how he took control of his career while inspiring others to move strategically and take control of their own creations. He used the star power, leverage, and notoriety that his music career afforded him to build systems and forge partnerships that continue to serve Crenshaw after his passing.

Anthony Orozco, also known as DJ VIP, began touring with Nipsey in 2013. “I’ve seen people pour their hearts out to him about how they were down and out and homeless, and have since gotten their masters degree or started own business,” he told MTV News in a recent interview. “I’ve seen people walk up to Nip with lyrics tatted on their arms that they live by. I don’t think that’s coincidental or common. If you listen to his music, there’s a road map of him talking about stuff over the past ten years. It’s the perfect story of his life. It’s not fabricated. He’s done everything that he’s rapped about. He’s the same person, no matter what room he’s in.”

Los Angeles native DJ Chubb E Swagg, who has worked with Nipsey, told MTV News, “Nipsey is from the set. From the hood. From this violence — and was able to make it. When people saw him die, it felt like their hope died with him.”

Nipsey’s love for Crenshaw was not solely relegated to press runs or lyrics in his music. He demonstrated love for his community through a series of business ventures that opened up new doors for children, entrepreneurs, and all residents of the Los Angeles neighborhood.

“Before Nipsey, many of us believed a myth that you have to be rich before you give back. It doesn’t really have to be that way,” Rosecrans Vic, who runs an independent media syndicate in Los Angeles called Rosecrans Ave, told MTV News. “There are so many little ways to do your part. If people continue to give back to their community and empower people around them, they can keep his legacy going.”

On June 17, 2017, Nipsey opened up the doors to his one of a kind smartstore, The Marathon Clothing, as a way to give his most loyal fans an exclusive, immersive, geographically dependent shopping experience. The store utilizes a concept called “geo-fencing” which was engineered by a Ghanian engineer named Iddris Sandu, whom Nipsey met through a random conversation at a Starbucks. According to Sandu, Nipsey was “the most advanced, prolific person [he’d] ever met.”

“We want hip-hop to be able to create, produce, consume, and efficiently manage its own ecosystem,” Sandu told MTV News. “Hip-hop as a culture produces, creates, and consumes, but does not receive the majority of the benefits that it manifests. We want the architects of hip-hop culture to be the main beneficiaries of what they’ve created.”

In February 2019, Nipsey and David Gross, a real estate developer and fellow Los Angeles native, invested several million dollars into the plaza that houses Marathon Clothing. According to USA Today, their plan was to knock everything down and rebuild the complex as a six-story residential building on top of a commercial plaza with Marathon Clothing serving as the centerpiece. Both Los Angeles natives sought to support local entrepreneurs, protect longtime Crenshaw residents, and combat gentrification in the area.

“The vision is to launch franchises,” he told Forbes. “There’s such a narrative to this parking lot — that’s part of my story as an artist.”

Nipsey did not limit his contributions to direct financial investment; he also utilized his star power to help the children of Crenshaw. As part of his partnership with Puma, he linked up with the sneaker company to invest in his childhood neighborhood. As he explained to The Player’s Tribune in 2018, “I just built a brand new basketball court at my old elementary school, right across from my granny’s house.”

For Nipsey, it wasn’t only about paying it forward to his community, but doing so with the right company. “Puma is my partner on the basketball court project, and they’re a good partner,” he added. “They understand their obligation to the communities that support their products. I went to them and was like, listen, we need to be present in the community. These kids’ court is dilapidated. These kids deserve better.”

Nipsey continued his history of impactful community contributions into 2019 by teaming up with Gross to launch Vector 90, a unique coworking space that doubles as an incubator for STEM education. The operation opened on February 15, and serves as a coworking space and cultural hub in the heart of South Central Los Angeles, a neighborhood that has been in need of resources to facilitate economic empowerment for decades.

The top floor of the 4,700 square foot space offers inclusive pricing for its private offices, with the most expensive monthly membership remaining at $199. Local entrepreneurs are especially encouraged to network and take advantage of the space. The bottom floor of the workspace is set aside to provide resources and development for kids from the community with respect to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (colloquially known as STEM). Nipsey and Goss had plans to open STEM schools in Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and underserved neighborhoods around the world.

“I think that with me being influential as an artist and young and coming from the inner city, it makes sense for me to be one of the people that’s waving that flag,” Nipsey said at the opening.

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“We have an obligation to pass it on, in music and how we live our lives. Crenshaw made me. So I’ll always be in Crenshaw. Always fighting. The work ain’t done yet. The marathon continues.” — Nipsey Hussle

A marathon is one of the most grueling tests of physical and mental endurance known to man. The race itself requires exceptional endurance, and preparation requires equally exceptional discipline. Nipsey chose to run his race for the entirety of his life. He served as an inspiration to millions, while leaving his friends and associates with a game plan to carry the torch.

The day before Nipsey’s memorial service, Councilmember Marqueece Harris-Dawson told MTV News, “When the cameras leave, the energy stays. That’s what I’m really counting on in this situation. One of Nipsey’s most memorable quotes is, ‘The highest human act is to inspire.’ In religion, it’s called spirit. In science, it’s energy. In the streets and in the barbershop, it’s called vibes. He left a lot of that here with us.”

“I think what you’ll see is people bringing that energy and inspiration into reality,” he added.

Vic noted that he’s already seen local artists like Savii Third and Big Swift prompted to think more intentionally about doing their part to build up the communities they’re from. “A lot of people are figuring out how they can contribute and give back to the community, because they see the lasting impact that is taking place now,” he explained.

Sandu asserted that the whole world can carry on with Nipsey’s mission, explaining to MTV News that “[Nipsey] gave all of us the baton. It’s about claiming yours. To claim yours, you need to understand how much can be done. Listen to what he says in his music about building infrastructure, owning your masters, vertical integration, owning your community, diversifying your community, and learning your roots.”

“There are so many different ways to tap into what Nipsey was preaching,” Sandu added, punctuating his remarks with the refrain that echoed throughout Nipsey’s memorial: #TheMarathonContinues.