Public Media Arts Hub

How rapper Nipsey Hussle gave back to the community that raised him


Notice: Transcripts are machine and human generated and lightly edited for accuracy. They may contain errors.

John Yang: Nipsey Hussle, a Grammy-nominated rapper, was shot to death over the weekend in Los Angeles.

His death is being mourned, not just because the loss of a promising talent. It was also a blow to the African-American community in South L.A., where he had turned his life around dramatically, and was working to improve opportunity for others.

He's the focus of our arts and culture segment tonight, Canvas.

Nipsey Hussle was riding a career high. Born Ermias Asghedom, the West Coast rapper's debut album, "Victory Lap," won widespread praise and a Grammy nomination last year for best rap album. As a teen, he belonged to a gang called the Rollin' 60s. His music drew on that past and how he turned his life around.

Even as his star rose, Nipsey Hussle became an entrepreneur, working to revitalize the Crenshaw neighborhood of Los Angeles where he was born and raised.

Nipsey Hussle: Right now, we on 59th and 3rd Avenue. I grew up a couple blocks from here.

John Yang: Last year, he partnered with the brand Puma to renovate a local elementary school's playground and basketball courts. Hussle was deeply involved in Destination Crenshaw, an open air public art project in the neighborhood that begins construction this spring.

Last year, the rapper opened a shared working space called Vector90. It's designed to connect young talent in impoverished communities with opportunities in Silicon Valley. Hussle also owned several businesses in the neighborhood, where residents mourned his death overnight.

Joseph Octaviani: What he meant to the community? If you want to look around right now, every single person that is out here, spending their time here, they're here because he spoke to them in some way, he inspired them in some way.

John Yang: Hussle was shot in broad daylight outside a clothing store he owned. The shooter is still at large.

Lt. Chris Ramirez: We do understand that we have one male black suspect, no further description at this time. That suspect is not in custody. And, currently, we are going to start canvassing the area, talk to any witnesses. And, also, we're going to canvass all the local area for any video.

John Yang: Condolences and a sense of shock reverberated on social media. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said: "Our hearts are with the loved ones of Nipsey Hussle and everyone touched by this awful tragedy. L.A. is hurt deeply each time a young life is lost to senseless gun violence."

Hussle's death was also mourned in the sports world.

Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors:

Stephen Curry: I got to know him last year and had a great conversation about who he was as a person, what he stood for, what his message, how he tried to inspire people, considering where he grew up.

You know, senseless crimes that don't need to happen, especially with a guy who was doing what he was doing.

John Yang: Hussle was to have met today with the Los Angeles police chief and police commissioner to talk about ways to stop gang violence.

David Dennis Jr. Joins us to discuss Hussle's life and legacy. He's a writer for the pop culture Web site The Undefeated.

David, thank you so much for joining us.

Help us. Explain to us Hussle's place in the music industry.

David Dennis Jr.: He is an icon. He revolutionized the industry probably over the last 10 years.

In 2013, while everybody was releasing free music on the Internet, he released albums for $100 apiece, betting on himself, banking on himself. A lot of people thought he was crazy for doing that. Jay-Z bought in. He bought $10,000 worth of copies of the album, and it really launched him into a new stratosphere.

And he became as known for his business acumen, his community service, as he did for his music.

John Yang: And talk about that, his community service.

As we heard in the tape piece, he really did a lot to try to revitalize his home neighborhood in Los Angeles.

David Dennis Jr.: Yes, he was really the dream of what you would want from any celebrity really, but especially a black celebrity in America who is able to transcend the environment and the neighborhood that he was raised in.

He banked on himself. He made a ton of money. And it seemed like every dollar he made, he put back into the community that raised him. He built Vector90, which was a workspace in the area. He invested in real estate. The place where he was shot was outside of a store that he built an owned in that Crenshaw area.

He was always doing what he could to pour money and resources back into that community, which is really what you would -- you would want from anybody who rises to that level.

John Yang: And, also, he rose to that level, but he was sort of against his own fame. He talked about how people shouldn't be following celebrities, they should be following Elon Musk, they should be following Mark Zuckerberg, they should be looking at other ways of success.

David Dennis Jr.: Yes, so he sort of went against the idea that -- there's a stereotype that you're -- if you're from -- quote -- "the hood," you need to be a basketball player or an athlete or an entertainer.

And he felt as though, if he could raise the mind-set of people to go beyond that, that they can maybe be inventors, be businesspeople. And he did that with a lot of what he was trying to build within that community.

John Yang: And, at the same time, he didn't shy away from his past, his gang life in the past.

David Dennis Jr.: Yes, he was a inspirational tale, and I guess now a cautionary tale.

I mean, he talked about his gang lifestyle that he came up from. But in his latest album, he spoke about that, but did a lot of speaking about, you know, how a lot of the things he did were not something to aspire to.

What he felt you could aspire to is be the businessperson, be the community activist that he was. So he used his story to be an inspiration to anybody listening.

John Yang: What do you think is going to happen to the many projects he started in his neighborhood?

David Dennis Jr.: I would like to think that they're going to keep going.

I think that, through tragedy, you can find some rays of hope and rays of light. And I think that he inspired everybody. I think that we can follow his path. And I think more people will see what he did has brought a lot of light to his endeavors. And I think maybe he can inspire some other celebrities and just common folk, just regular people, like you and me, to go out there and try to invest in our own communities and do what we can.

I think that this can be a real galvanizing moment across the country.

John Yang: What do you think is going to be the bigger legacy that he leaves, his music or his work in the community?

David Dennis Jr.: I think they go hand in hand, actually.

I think that you can't talk about the work he did in the community without talking about the music that got him into that place to be so beneficial to the people around him.

I think that the overall man that Nipsey Hussle was and what he represented will really be his legacy. And I think it will really carry us to perpetuating the things that he did.

John Yang: David Dennis Jr. of The Undefeated, remembering the life and legacy of Nipsey Hussle, thanks so much.

David Dennis Jr.: Thank you.

Support Canvas

Sustain our coverage of culture, arts and literature.

Send Us Your Ideas
Let us know what you'd like to see on ArtsCanvas. Your thoughts and opinions matter.