All Money In/Atlantic

Nipsey Hussle has been practicing quality over quantity since he low-rode his way into the game more than a decade ago. The Slauson boy has dropped 12 solo mixtapes and a handful of collab projects that speak to and for the streets. And he really lives the hustler mentality that he weaves into his bars and hooks—just look at the knowledge he drops at music industry summits, his investments in the cryptocurrency space and bossed-up partnership with Atlantic Records.

But a great mixtape run and boundary-pushing business moves can only take a rapper so far. Nipsey's perpetually delayed debut album Victory Lap is finally here, and it's well worth the wait. Everything fans have grown to love about Nipsey is amplified on this album. His street talk here is scripture-worthy—he practically evangelizes the gospel of how to maneuver and escape the trap.

The Kendrick Lamar-featured “Dedication” tells both L.A. artists’ rags-to-riches stories with a damn-near how-to manual from Nipsey: “Couple mil, tour the world, now my life crackin'/Cook the books, bring it back so it's no taxes/Royalties, publishing, plus I own masters/I'll be damned if I slave for some white crackers/I was mappin' this out, I hit the heights backwards.” Similarly, “Hussle & Motivate”—which samples and pitches down Jay-Z's classic 1998 track "Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)"—lives up to its title. He raps: "This is for who walked down that road/Sold everything, but they soul/Straight off the curb, real niggas rich as you nerds/Addressed to whom it may concern/I don't do this for nothing.”

While Victory Lap is heavy on thug motivation, it also has some serious West Coast bounce. Nipsey is no stranger to crafting a twangy single that's perfect for cruising down Slauson Ave in a 1964 Impala, and this album serves them right up. “Last Time That I Checc’d” with YG could be a new SoCal anthem thanks to the elastic bassline and piercing synths laid by Kacey Khaliel, Brody Brown and Larrance Dopson. “Succa Proof,” featuring Konshens and J. Black, pairs that iconic Dr. Dre-esque synth-whistle with pounding 808s that bang.

Victory Lap confirms Nipsey’s competency as a leading figure in the culture but doesn’t push his personal envelope any further. There isn’t one song on the album that sounds distinctly like Nipsey Hussle in 2018. The music is strong and flows together nicely but he still raps with the same articulate cadence he's used for the past 10 years. It begs questions like: Did his previous two "Status Symbol" songs really need a third instalment? And, did it need to be included on this imperative debut offering? If he had bumped up a song’s tempo past 100 BPM or had experimented with a more micro-specific theme other than what comes from the emblematic church of Crenshaw, Victory Lap could have charted new territory while maintaining that classic Neighborhood Nip everyone knows and loves.

There is no denying how pleasantly digestible Victory Lap, despite the minor idleness. The beats bump, the flows follow suit and the messages of humbly hustling are crystal clear. After all, Nipsey has been working more than a decade to get this coveted debut off the ground and sure, there’s a little turbulence along the way but his formidability as a rapper, businessman and human being come across vividly at each turn.

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