Goodbye to the Hussle

I couldn’t afford one of Nipsey Hussle’s limited edition recordings.

I couldn’t afford most items from his brick and mortar.

But I felt like a family member died on the day he was murdered. I wasn’t close to him, never met him, but his face and the arc of his life was so familiar to me. I don’t defend the way he used words. I don’t defend the choices he made in life. But he felt close to me. When there are so few things in media that feel like you, it shakes you when one dies so fast and so young.

For context, the storefront where he was murdered is on Crenshaw and Slauson along the blurred border between Los Angeles and Inglewood, my childhood home. I walked to 54th Street Elementary school and lived on 60th street, where the now popular gang, The Rolling 60’s, got their namesake. I walked to Woody’s BBQ on Slauson weekly for their rib tips sandwich for my dad, the pastor of a church on 67th Street and West Boulevard. We moved a few miles down Crenshaw, near Imperial Ave by the time I was in high school, but I still to this day drive through those neighborhoods when I’m in in town to see how things have progressed. Nipsey was a big part of that progress.

Those streets were drenched with the blood of dead young men during the 80’s and 90’s. Weekly, a name connected to some friend, schoolmate, or fellow church goer would make it’s way through the hood social media, not by a post to Instagram, but in whispers and cries that would echo through Inglewood. Weekend house parties would routinely be cut short by gun shots. Trips to the movies, sitting in the McDonald’s drive thru, playing basketball at the park, all seemingly innocuous activities, were endured with the anxiety of knowing it could all go bad fast.

Which is why Nipsey’s death had such impact - Inglewood is supposed to be different now.

He was different now. His affiliation with the Rolling 60’s is well documented. But gang affiliation is a difficult thing to comprehend if you’re not gang affiliated. Affiliation looks like complicity from the outside. And often times, it is. Other times, it looks like family. It looks like networking. It looks like protection in a city which offers none. It looks like a fraternity to those with no brotherhood. It looks like the only friends one could make when friendship is in short supply. I’m gang affiliated - I’ve lost friends, close personal friends, who were gang members. I was given a “hood pass” as a pastor’s son who was the best wingman Inglewood has ever seen. I (I made more intros and hook ups than Tinder.) I’ve always figured out how to make friends with the bad guys and I hope I offered as much value to their lives as they have to mine. I’ve learned more lessons from them than I taught and I knew when to go in the house. (Before the streets got too hot is the right time.)

Nipsey was different. He had transitioned from Crip to capitalist, from gang banger to hood investor. He was meeting with leaders to try and quell gang violence. He was creating STEM based maker spaces to give young people an opportunity to compete in today’s marketplace. IF he hadn’t made a complete 180 degree turn from crook to citizen, he had to be in the high 160’s. Considering where he’s from, that’s a life worth celebrating.

I won’t get into the details of gang life, or hood politics or why the inner city hasn’t solved the cyclical problems associated with systemic poverty, racism and the injustices of the legal system. I won’t try to explain why the drug epidemic in Inglewood was met with a “war on drugs” and why the scourge of opiate addiction in other areas of America… isn’t. That’s a worthwhile conversation for a different day.

I will say that it stings when, based on a limited view of these cyclical problems, a person’s life is reduced, by some, to “live by the sword, die by the sword.” Is there a place for redemption? Is there a place for penance? If someone has worked as hard as Nipsey did to redeem the same street corner he used to hustle on, doesn’t that count for something? I’m not talking in the eternal sense, but in terms of simple human empathy. A wife lost a husband and children lost a father, the planet lost a productive human creating art, jobs and opportunities for others. That has to count for something, right?

Our experiences, families and environments collectively help to develop the social and psychological keys we reach for to unlock the various complexities of life. How we see the future, what we consider to be options available for advancement and how we value life and are just a few of the challenges that require nuance and experimentation to get right. Ideally, we would all be prepared to face these issues with the wholeness of character that comes with having options - more keys on the keyring. Inglewood doesn’t offer keys. It offers stones. I get frustrated when people who have a ring full of keys look down on how people use stones to break barriers they have no keys for.

I have had the opportunity to raise a family, develop a business and have deeply meaningful relationships in a completely different context after leaving Inglewood. I’ve been grateful to be able to answer questions for many well intending but insulated friends who get woke when something like this happens. I’ve been blown away by a friend who had no concept of Nipsey Hussle before today, but is next to me playing his music saying, “The least I can do is help with residuals so his kids can go to college.” I’ve loved having the opportunity today to draw my street so a friend could see how many drug houses and gang landing spots I walked through to get to the bus. That level of humanity is a beautiful thing on days like today because I’ve been a little off center and I finally realized why. It hurts when these moments happen because it reminds me that although things are different for me, they are still the same on Crenshaw and Slauson in Inglewood. Still the same in Flint, Michigan. Still the same in the South Side of Chicago. Still the same in South Dallas. Still the same in the South Bronx. Nipsey was doing something about it that even I haven’t. He was working to change it.

So what now? I’m going to go home and hold my children tight. I’m going to thank God for the path He’s given me to walk. I’m going to pray for a family, and a city, mourning the loss of someone who’s path ended before redemption was fully realized. And I’m going to tell the stories of Inglewood with the hopes of showing that death there is like death anywhere - tragic, shocking and all to close to each of us.