Nipsey Hussle’s raps boasted of his exploits as a young man in South Central Los Angeles and the perils of becoming a gang member. But his music was also a path to a more legitimate life for him and an inspiration and exhortation to others in his situation.
Hussle, who was 33 when he was shot and killed in Los Angeles on Sunday in what police said appeared to be a personal dispute, was born Ermias Joseph Asghedom in Los Angeles on Aug. 15, 1985, to Dawit Asghedom and Angelique Smith. His father is Eritrean, and Hussle had said that his name means “God will rise.”
Hussle said in a 2018 interview with the Dallas radio station KBFB that he had visited Eritrea and met his relatives there in recent years and considered his African heritage an important part of his identity.
“As much as I’m a black person from America, I’m a black person from Africa, too,” he said.
He said he dropped out of high school after the 10th grade to focus on music. He rapped about his background, and his hope for the future, on “Blue Laces 2”:
Third generation, South Central gang banging
Had lived long enough to see it changing
Think it’s time we make arrangements
Finally wiggle out they mazes
Find me out in different places
But he never entirely left the streets behind, and he said he had never entirely meant to. He was 33.
Hussle was a member of the Rollin’ 60s Crips gang, and in the Dallas radio interview he said: “You don’t get out of a gang, truthfully. You just redirect your energy.”
At the time of the interview, he was on a promotional tour after the release of his debut album, the Grammy-nominated “Victory Lap,” that February. The album was his first major-label release after he had spent years as a recognizable mixtape rapper who had not quite broken into the mainstream. He sold one mixtape for $100 to gin up publicity; Jay-Z was reported to have bought 100 copies.
While he worked to come up as a rapper, he pursued other ventures that kept him tied to his neighborhood and allowed him to give back to it, like a shared work space and the Marathon Clothing, his store off Crenshaw Boulevard, where he was shot. Entrepreneurship and self-actualization were a part of his message, along with swagger and braggadocio.
“I ain’t in cars going on missions no more, I ain’t in the spot,” he said in 2018. “I’m on a radio run, dropping my album, you know what I mean, building businesses, employing my homeboys, you know what I mean, and paying taxes.”
His death prompted widespread mourning in South Los Angeles, as well as calls to address the violent crime that still plagues the community.
“I think young people that’s really identified themselves as gang members, when you look at yourself outside of the gang, you don’t really got an identity,” Hussle said, adding that he had decided to focus on music after several of what he described as “wake-up calls.”
In addition to his father and mother, his survivors include his partner, Lauren London, an actress and model; their son, Kross; a daughter from a previous relationship, Emani Asghedom; a brother, Semiel; and a sister, Samantha Smith.