Nipsey Hussle's life was a feel-good success story: a former gang member who became an acclaimed rapper—releasing acclaimed mixtapes for a decade before his Grammy-nominated first studio album—and philanthropist. He gave back to his community, including buying and redeveloping businesses in his old neighborhood.
Nipsey Hussle’s death, unfortunately, affirmed the perception that hip-hop promotes a culture of drugs and violence.
Hussle (Keys 2 the City, Hussle and Motivate, Racks in the Middle) was gunned down on March 31, 2019, following an altercation outside an LA clothing store he owned. The suspect, 29-year-old Eric Holder, was later arrested and pleaded not guilty to the murder charge.
Reportedly, the two were members of rival gangs. Hussle was a member of the Rollin 60s Neighborhood Crips while Holder was a Bloods member. However, gang war has been ruled out by the LAPD as the motive of the killing. Instead, the two seemed to have a long-standing grudge that came to a head on that fateful day.
Doing his Bit to Inspiring the Next Generation of Hustlers
Whatever his past or the reason for his death, you can’t deny Hussle's influence on the Los Angeles scene.
The rapper was very self-aware of his sphere of influence, so he tried to send a message of positiveness with his later songs. He also knew what he was talking about. Having grown up in the projects and gang culture, young African-Americans could relate to him. They listened.
Outside of his music, he was also very active in his community. For instance, in March 2018, he launched Vector90, "an inner city coworking community and incubator" for artists and entrepreneurs and a STEM center where kids could learn in a safe environment.
He also dipped his hands in many little investments with only one requirement: the investment should be put in the inner city to help give back to the community.
Hussle was very passionate about getting the right message across to the young, poor blacks in the community who listened to his songs. If someone argued that Hussle's music glorified gang culture and violence, they got a passionate lecture in return.
**A Musical Chair of Bad Decisions **
People tend to canonize the dead, to memorialize the good and ignore the bad, and Hussle is no exception. He was not without flaw. Of course, he made some bad decisions. For example, in 2016, Hussle spent five days in jail for codeine possession.
However, he’s not the only rapper whose wrong decisions have put a blot on their records:
Last year, rapper 6ix9ine was arrested and faced the possibility of spending life in prison before cutting a deal. The American rapper was reportedly a member of Bloods, a violent gang that was a hated rival of Crips. Among the charges against him were robbery, racketeering, and conspiracy to commit murder.
In November 2018, Young Thug was back in jail again after violating his probation and submitting a tainted drug test.
Rapper DMX is actually a poster child of how a pure talent’s life can spiral downwards from 0 to 60 real quick. A good chunk of the rapper’s life has been spent in jail over a string of charges such as drug and gun possession, animal cruelty, tax evasion, criminal mischief, driving without a driver’s license, DUI, robbery, and failure to pay child support.
Jail isn't the only possible consequence of rappers' poor decisions. Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller died last year of an overdose of cocaine and fentanyl. He was only 26.
What type of drug is fentanyl that an experienced drug user like Miller—who hated the idea of overdosing and looking pathetic—would miscalculate the dosage so badly?
Fentanyl is a powerful opioid—legally used as a last resort when other painkillers are no longer effective, such as with cancer patients—50 times more powerful than heroin, and 100 times more potent than morphine. Mixed with cocaine, the odds of overdose death increase.
Worse, users may not know they are taking fentanyl. Dealers lace fentanyl with or sell it as other drugs such as heroin because it is less expensive. If they miscalculate or misjudge the potency even a little, deaths may result. In 2016, there were more than 18,000 drug users who died from fentanyl overdose.
Alcohol and drug overdose deaths involving musicians are not limited to rappers, of course. The obvious examples are Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Sid Vicious (Sex Pistols), Hillel Slovak (Red-Hot Chilli Peppers), Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), and more recently, Amy Winehouse, Whitney Houston, Tom Petty, Chris Cornell, and Prince.
Substance abuse and violence seem to be a staple in the music scene, regardless of genre.
Music as a Form of Protest
One reason for this is because, in the black community, music has always been a form of protest. Slaves hummed and drummed during and after backbreaking labor the whole day long. During the Civil Rights movement, gospel songs fueled tired legs though very long protest marches.
In fact, you can look at the ebb and flow of the themes carried by hip-hop artists and you will find emerging trends of their time. In the 1980s, for instance, it was all drugs, which was a reflection of Ronald Reagan’s war on drugs. Now, the emerging trend has been to reclaim the identity of Black personhood because of all the perceived injustice committed against the African-American community.
Some of the themes in hip-hop music today are about pushing back. Nipsey Hussle and other black rappers are accused of glorifying gangs and violence, but many are actually trying to get America to listen and think about difficult questions that people would rather bury in their unconscious.
Hip-hop and rap have sizable gang subcultures in which and how people have to prove their manhood in the way they hustle in the streets. If you don't know the life and the language, you have no street cred and no one listens.
Even as popular an artist as Drake is criticized because the themes don’t revolve around the guns and violence. His songs are not tough enough.
Whenever somebody of Hussle’s caliber dies, it shines a light on the whole hip-hop culture. In life, Hussle tried to make a difference. His death could become a teachable moment.
Unfortunately, the pervading perception remains that rap and hip-hop glorify violence, objectification of women, money, and gang culture.
The bad decisions committed by some rappers, threatening words that permeate in rap songs, and beefs between rappers that escalate to violence only serve to bolster the narrative.
While Nipsey Hussle is no more, there are rappers out there who will carry on the torch to spread positivity and black empowerment through their songs. You have Andy Mineo, for instance, or Propaganda, Shad, and Lecrae. For star power, you have Kendrick Lamar, Common, and Chance the Rapper.
However, changing the narrative is an uphill climb. One soldier has fallen in battle, but the war is not over.