'We Lost A Real One': Why The Shooting Death of Nipsey Hussle Is Felt So Deeply
The rapper's death drives home the fact that beyond the stellar hip-hop music being made, real lives are being lost in the war on the streets.
Australian music fans have always been enamoured with West Coast hip-hop.
There's a synergy between our warm weather, perfect blue skies, and the California street funk tailor-made for summer BBQs and smoking sessions.
But that's where the similarities end.
The city of Los Angeles, where many of the West Coast's best rappers hail from, is afflicted with pain from gun violence our locals will never understand.
Los Angeles is where Nipsey Hussle was born and raised, and it's where he tragically died from a six bullet spray by an unknown assailant on Monday.
Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, was gunned down in front of a clothing store he owned, inside a neighbourhood he'd dedicated his life's work to.
The city's mayor, Eric Garcetti, tweeted that "LA is hurt deeply each time a young life is lost to senseless gun violence" following the news.
With a combined membership of over 45,000 individuals, there are more than 450 active gangs in Los Angeles, according to the LAPD.
These are heavy statistics, staggering numbers that rap aficionados in other parts of the world can only attempt to wrap their heads around.
I met Nipsey Hussle in 2009 when he was an artist on the rise, promoting volume three of his Bullets Ain't Got No Name mixtape series.
When he agreed to model in an annual campaign I managed for a fashion retailer (alongside another future rap star, Nicki Minaj), I was stoked.
There was something about this young man from Crenshaw, who'd already assumed a leadership role by signing more acts just like him to his record label.
He was quietly confident about his ultimate success. He was crystal clear with his musical vision, but even more lucid about his bold entrepreneurial plans.
I was especially struck by Nipsey's commitment to not only pay homage to the infamy of his Crenshaw stomping grounds, but contribute to its rejuvenation.
And contribute he did. He invested locally, made strides in the tech world, was innovative in the often stagnant music industry and had recently reached out to law enforcement to stop the violence in his beloved community.
Hussle once described his time as a gang member with the Rollin 60s Crips as "like living in a war zone".
"I guess they call it post-traumatic stress, when you have people that have been at war for such a long time. I think LA suffers from that because it’s not normal yet we embrace it like it is after a while," he told the LA Times in 2008.
There's a famous quote from poet T.S. Eliot that goes, "We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time."
Nipsey's sweeping exploration always brought him home. And despite intimately knowing the place and its potential dangers, he kept coming back.
A good friend of mine, who lived in Sydney for a long period of time before heading home to south LA five years ago, told me the city is now "eerily calm".
"Make no mistake, this is not a game. International fans of the music need to understand that. These men are telling real-life stories: the way they grew up, the things they saw, the things they had to do," this friend told me.
"Nipsey opened stores in his 'hood, did things for the kids, provided resources he never had. When you’re on the rise like he was, there’s always somebody lurking behind, trying to bring you down. We lost a real one."
When Tupac Shakur was gunned down in 1996, the prime suspect was also an LA-based gang member. Almost a quarter of a century later, another gifted Black man attempting to lift up his community has met the same tragic fate.
For fans of the music, it's a horrific reminder -- in the words of Nipsey himself, may he rest in peace -- that the marathon continues.
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