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When Nipsey Hussle’s Crenshaw mixtape dropped in 2013, I was in the penitentiary serving a two- to five-year sentence. I had been following his music since 2008 when I first heard the song “Bullets Ain’t Got No Name,” and because I am a Socal native, it gave me pride to see him coming up. While in the joint, I found a way to purchase a smuggled bootleg compilation of Nipsey’s music and would bang the lyrics in my Discman on my prison rack while teaching myself to code with textbooks, or when I was getting tattooed.
On March 31, 2019, Nipsey was attacked by an envious gunman, and tragically passed away. His untimely demise has shocked his childhood community of Crenshaw and the world at large. Nipsey was more than a rapper. He was an entrepreneur, visionary and leader. He provided hope to so many people, including myself, who have had crazy pasts. He showed us it didn’t matter where we came from or what happened to us, we could still accomplish anything. He taught us that by betting on ourselves and keeping it real we can still make it to the top.
In 2018, before he dropped his Grammy-nominated and arguably the best album of the decade, Victory Lap, I sat with him to chop up life, music and his legacy. We met at his latest investment, Vector90, a coworking space in the heart of his hometown in Crenshaw. As a tribute to his legacy, my show Action & Ambition (hosted on the Entrepreneur Network) will be replaying the episode we did in 2018. You can catch it on our Facebook Watch Page.
Nip was a business savvy musical genius who gave back to his community in big ways. The world will no doubt feel his loss. In his honor, here are seven lessons we can take from his life and his legacy.
1. Never stop learning.
Nipsey was never one to stop learning. Maybe he built his business from a natural sense of savvy, but he also built it by listening and learning. He read a lot of books. In fact, his idea for his $100 mixtape, where he made only 1,000 copies, was born from the book Contagious by Jonah Berger. Anyone that knew him will tell you he was relentlessly focused on getting better in every way, and made a habit of personal development and growth.
“Told my mama I’mma gang bang graduate/ Pioneered the transition from this Crippin’ wasn’t easy n—a, but I mastered it/ That’s why I still deliver raps so passionate/ Built my own lane, ain’t no n—a ever hand me shit/ Slauson Ave., do you understand the averages?/ The fact I’m still standing speaks volumes to my savages.” (“Love?”)
2. Be prepared to do all the work.
Nipsey saw success because he was willing to do any work, no matter how menial it may have seemed at the time. Even as he soared further and further toward the top, he still maintained a willingness to do the tasks that others might consider to be below them. “Most people want to skip the process,” he said, “not knowing that when you skip steps, you miss the lessons.”
He took out the trash and swept the floors of his own studio. Starting out, he built his own basement recording studio to make sure that he could engineer and record his own music. Without this willingness to put in all types of work, he would not have learned what it would take to achieve the goals he set.
“My thing is that I don’t give no person that much power over my path that I’m walking. Not one person can make or break what I’m doing, except me or God.”
3. Make genuine connections.
Entrepreneurs know the importance of networking and making connections. For some, it’s a tedious process of trying to get in with important figures of a particular industry. It’s a game of kiss-ass. But for Nipsey, he focused on making genuine connections based on true talent. Relationships he formed with musicians such as Kendrick Lamar and Puffy were lasting and real. They were collaborations that meant something. But he also knew how to create genuine connections to the people who consumed his music. He’s always been the people’s king and it’s because he not only shared the good but his struggles too, which made him that much more relatable.
“If you sharing your success and not your struggle, you’s a fool.” (“U Don’t Got a Clue”)
4. Build your brand.
Nipsey understood his brand and what it represented. He was the one who built it and promoted it. He knew what he wanted to represent. His brand-based goals were clear. Nobody understands his brand like he did, and that’s part of the reason he was so successful.
“I never wanted to alienate my brand for business.” Nipsey said, “I always wanted to keep it authentic and keep it as pure as I could.”
5. It’s a marathon.
Some people want success to happen overnight. It doesn’t work like that. Nipsey, and artists like him, all knew that the road to success would be paved with long-ass hours and year after year of struggle. Talent wouldn’t cut it. A true desire to achieve success, whether as an artist or as an entrepreneur, means never approaching your work halfheartedly. Nipsey didn’t focus on immediate wealth. He didn’t want to churn out one hit single after another. He wanted to build and develop his own label. He focused on long-term wealth and a lasting reputation as an artist.
“I’m about seeing the long-term, seeing a vision, understanding nothing worthwhile happens overnight, and just sticking to your script long enough to make something real happen.”
6. Focus on what makes you passionate.
It’s easy for people to lose themselves in their desire for success in any industry, including both business and music. Fortunately, Nipsey knew himself and stayed true to that image and to his own story. He found fans that loved and related to him. He didn’t create a character or pursue something that just wasn’t him.
Like he said in Victory Lap, “Find your purpose or you wastin’ air.”
7. Remember the community that built you.
There is no doubt that Nipsey loved the community he came from. His childhood neighborhood is known for being violent and rough, one of the places where its residents try to leave and outsiders tend to avoid. Nipsey found success, but he never left that neighborhood behind. He invested in it, building playgrounds, helping children learn and offering residents opportunities for economic success.
Some of the most powerful words Nipsey sang were from the song “Dedication”: “These songs just the spirituals I swam against them waves with/ Ended up on shore to their amazement.”
He not only kept history in mind, but he also worked with the history of U.S. racism and acknowledged its impact on his music. He doesn’t forget the factors impacting his community and all the structural inequality they need to fight against.
Nipsey Hussle’s death is tragic. He was no doubt a brilliant self-made artist and visionary. He was smart and charitable, and he believed in his roots. He never wanted to take his achievements for granted and he wanted to give people the building blocks to create achievements of their own. Had he not seen such an early and tragic end, he would have certainly seen further successes. But he achieved what he wanted, saying in “Killer,” “And when I visualize success it look like right now/What was once gray skies is now white clouds.”
Yes, his life was cut too damn short. The loss is being felt around the world. Prayers to his family, real friends and all fans. But, as he would tell us all, the marathon continues. And, his legacy will live forever through his words, and the people he inspired on a regular through his lyrics and actions. Long live Nipsey and his hustle.
“Try to have more faith and less fear, try to express it to your peers, I’m talking about dreams / Better to do it and let it be seen, cause then it’s so clear.” (“Am I Gonna Make It”)