“Came up, you can't hate that/Self-made, you can't take that/Yeah, self-made, you can't make that/Some say I need a record deal/I need a cosign, I need a Dre track/But all the time I had a mean flow/I had a cold grind and that's a great match…” —Nipsey Hussle, “Hold Up” (with Marion Band$)

The great and powerful Dr. Dre may have hailed from the same city, but as Nipsey Hussle would describe during one of his final in-depth interviews, with The Breakfast Club on Power 105.1 FM, it always felt to him that Dre was off on an island. Jimmy Iovine was on that same crop of Aftermath/Interscope land, too, with the 50 Cents and Eminems and Snoop Doggs. Established heavy hitters all. Heck, Nipsey even drew a few imperfect comparisons to rags-to-riches Snoop, what with his lanky frame, brand-expanding knack, identifiable braids and penchant for the color blue.

One route Nipsey could’ve exploited for fame and fortune was to seek a stamp of approval and/or a record deal from the Old West gatekeepers—those who ran the 1990s and early 2000s as artists and continued to spawn protégés—but he repeatedly rebuked the idea of a cosign. He’d rather cannonball into the water and learn to swim by himself than catch a PJ to the island. “That's why I dove off the deep end, nigga/Without a life jacket,” Hussle spat on “Dedication.”

Fiercely independent, Hussle refused to make it big off the next man’s hard work and took great pride in fashioning himself into a self-made leader of the New West. The man born Ermias Asghedom died of gunshot wounds on March 31 outside his Marathon Clothing store, near the same parking lot he’d sold his own mix CDs out of the trunk of his car as an unsigned artist. He was 33. Tragically, horrifically, maddeningly young, of course. Yet old enough to have made an impact weightier than a stack of 1,000 $100 self-produced CDs.

Nipsey Hussle will be remembered as many things: a member of the Rollin’ 60s Crips; a fierce entrepreneur; a Grammy-nominated artist (for 2018’s Victory Lap, the only studio LP released during his life); the son of an immigrant who railed against the president alongside YG in the protest rap “FDT”; an actor; an investor; a mentor and activist; an aspiring documentary filmmaker; and a father. His role as a leader of the New West movement must be respected.

Outspoken and unafraid of risk, ominously saying he’d rather die than get locked up in jail, Nipsey stands at the forefront of a collection of unique L.A. hip-hop voices who most certainly were influenced and inspired by the classic G-Funk of The Chronic and gangsta tales of N.W.A but were determined to blaze their own path.

Vivien Killilea, Getty Images
Vivien Killilea, Getty Images

From his debut mixtape, 2005’s Slauson Boy Volume 1, through 2013’s Crenshaw—100 copies of which Jay-Z famously purchased for Nipsey’s asking price of $100 a pop—and beyond, it was paramount to Neighborhood Nip that he own all the rights to all of his raps and represent his block while doing so.

This isn’t to say Nipsey didn’t respect his elders, who steered their lowriders down the traditional demo-label-royalties route. Certainly, he did. He collaborated with Kokane and Snoop Dogg, and cited Tupac Shakur as embodying the hip-hop principles he was trying to usher forward.

Hussle studied James Prince’s Rap-A-Lot Records, E-40’s Sick Wid It Records, Master P’s No Limit Records and Jay-Z and Dame Dash’s Roc-A-Fella Records as the blueprints for his master plan. He learned to create his own buzz, snowball his own leverage before joining forces with a major. That way he’d scoop a larger percentage, then use those funds to invest in himself and his community.

When Nipsey posed with J. Cole, Big Sean, Jay Rock and Freddie Gibbs for XXL’s stacked 2010 Freshman Class cover shoot, he also shared his perspective entering the game. “Snoop ain’t never cosigned me, but I know everybody is like, ‘That’s the next Snoop,’” he said at the time. “Nah, I’m Nipsey, and I got to work to define myself.” That he did, placing an emphasis on establishing where he was from, then becoming a living, authentic, accessible example of success.

Vivien Killilea, Getty Images
Vivien Killilea, Getty Images

“I wanted my message to impact gang culture,” Nipsey said during that aforementioned sitdown in The Breakfast Club’s radio studio. “Wherever I take it, I’m not different. I’m one of you.”

No wonder Dontae Coleman, a 28-year-old resident of that same South Los Angeles neighborhood where Asghedom was given and taken, dropped to his knees this week and cried, calling Nipsey "a legend" and commending him for trying to uplift Crenshaw instead of using it as springboard. “A lot of people who get rich don't come back here," Coleman told The Associated Press. “He's rare. A lot of people like him don't come around often.”

Nipsey straddled that line between the real and the regal, appearing courtside and touching the King—but wearing Chucks and Dickies under the bright lights.

It was with a clear vision and sharp purpose that Hussle accelerated his impact as a West Coast force. Alongside contemporaries and collaborators like Kendrick Lamar and TDE, Dom Kennedy, DJ Mustard, Mozzy, Buddy and TeeFlii, Hussle helped re-establish the West as a creative wellspring, a prideful place bustling with viewpoints and ideas and unique angles. Ian McQuaid of The Guardian once wrote that Hussle “effortlessly claims his place as crown prince of G-Funk’s new school.”

The self-crowned “Streets’ voice out West,” Nipsey buzz-whipping mixtapes dropped around the same time as Kendrick’s good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012) and YG’s My Krazy Life (2014) and could be lumped in as the next wave authoring their own origin story. If N.W.A was the boom that put South Central on the map, they’d be the echo generation.

Even more influential was Hussle’s tight allegiances on wax and off with YG and Jay Rock—each of whom wear their Blood ties on their sleeve. No matter, Nipsey wanted to be a beacon for growth and non-violence. He and Jay Rock were plotting a joint mixtape titled Red and Blue Make Green.

Way back on “Mr. Untouchable,” the first track to leak off his 2010 Marathon mixtape, Nipsey spits a throwaway line—“High till we die, so it's motherfuck a detox”—that some interpreted as a disrespectful a shot at Dre and his infamously shelved Detox album. Hussle maintained in an interview with Vibe that he wasn’t throwing jabs.

“I ain’t never really reached out to Dre, or Dre ain’t never really reached out to me, so it ain’t a shot against him,” Nipsey said. “It’s just, my focus is on what I’m doing now.”

That focus never relented. —Luke Fox

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