DEMARCUS COUSINS: I was with the Golden State Warriors at the time. I remember getting dressed — on the way to the game. I put on “Blue Laces 2.” Put it on repeat. Nothing in mind, I just threw on Nip on the way to the game. That’s one of my favorite songs by Nip, “Blue Laces 2.” So, I’m on the way to the game.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: It was March 31, 2019 and DeMarcus Cousins was on his way to Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. His team, the Golden State Warriors, was taking on the Charlotte Hornets.
DEMARCUS COUSINS: I pull up to the arena. I get a phone call from one of my best friends who actually grew up with Nip. So he called me. He like, “they killed him.” I’m like, “what?” Like, “what are you talking about? Killed who?”As I’m trying to, like, understand what my homie is saying on the phone, Andre Iguodala runs up to me like, “Man, they done killed Nip!” And I’m just like, “Whoa,” like, “Whoa, what?”
JUSTIN TINSELY: Two-time All Star Isaiah Thomas was in Colorado warming up for the Denver Nuggets
ISAIAH THOMAS: I remember just getting down with my little pre-game workout. I get back to the locker room … then dudes is like, “Man, did you hear about Nip?” I’m like, “What are you talking about?” So, I checked my phone and that’s when I got a lot of messages. I’m looking on social media, I’m tryna, you know, see what’s really going on.
LAPD Officer: At 3:25pm this afternoon, LAPD officers responded to a shooting call at a local clothing retail store here at the 3400 block of West Slauson Avenue.]
News Anchor: Gun violence has taken the life of Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle.]
Reporter: The 33-year-old rapper who earned a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album this year was shot outside the clothing store he owned, called The Marathon.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: The Marathon store sits on the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue in South LA — right where Nipsey Hussle grew up. Nipsey was well into making that superstar turn in rap, but he was still focused on helping people in the neighborhood.
That afternoon, Nipsey was at his store giving out clothes to an OG who had just been released from prison.
He also stopped to take pictures in the parking lot. In one of the photos, Nipsey is crouched down next to a little girl in a red Crenshaw t-shirt. And in another, he’s smiling with a woman, who posted the image on Facebook with the caption: “Look at me, I’m with Nipsey Hussle.”
Moments before, witnesses say Nipsey spoke calmly to a man named Eric Holder. Holder was shirtless with a large “Sixties” tattoo inked across his stomach — Sixties referring to the gang both Holder and Nipsey were members of: the Rollin’ 60s Crips. According to court documents, Nipsey advised Holder to “address” the rumors that he was gaining reputation as a “snitch.”
A few minutes later, Holder allegedly returned with a gun and shot Nipsey multiple times.
Vox: Oh my god, they killed Nipsey Hussle. Are you serious? Are you serious? Oh my goodness!]
Reporter: You can see the very large crowd of mourners who are gathered here at the scene tonight. They’ve been here since this afternoon.]
Vox: Why him? Why somebody that cared?]
Vox: People thought that our community was just about violence. Um, and Nipsey put a change to that and he let them know that even though we’re from underprivileged communities of poverty that we can still become something.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: In the hours and days after Nipsey’s death, tributes poured in from across the world. One community in particular was visibly shaken — the NBA, where Nipsey had several close friendships.
Show Host: Last night, a number of people from all over the NBA community paid their respects. Russell Westbrook tweeted “You’re one-of-one, bro. Rest up, King.” And Steph Curry Instagram: “Just got to know you. Rest in paradise.”]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: The Los Angeles Clippers paid homage to their fallen hometown hero before their game against the Memphis Grizzlies. But the most recognizable NBA tribute came from one of Nipsey’s closest homeboys — Russell Westbrook.
Commentator: One more rebounds. Bonga in the game … misses and gets the rebound! [inaudible] [00:15]
Commentator: He said Nipsey, that’s for Nipsey, people at home he said that’s for his guy Nipsey Hussle.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Not only did Westbrook, the 2017 NBA MVP, do something that had only been done once before in NBA history. The 20-20-20 stat line was an intentional and emotional tribute to his fallen friend, a longtime member of the Rollin’ 60s Crips.
Russell Westbrook: That wasn’t for me man, that
was for my, my bro. That was for Nipsey, man. 20 plus 20 plus 20. They
know what that means, man. That’s for my bro.]
Commentator: This is a guy within the NBA circles, a lot of these guys are fans of his music, but they’re fans of him as a person. What he stood for and what he was about. And that’s the thing that hurts a lot.]
Lebron James: It’s so unfortunate when you look at a guy who believed in what he believed in. Actually gave back to his community and actually stayed in his community. It’s not many who’ve done that. And to see his life taken away from him by someone that come from his community, it’s one of the most unfortunate events that’s happened in American history.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Players like LeBron James and Kyrie Irving spoke about the impact of Nipsey’s death
Kyrie Irving: It’s just hard because especially men of color — um, losing their lives like that — you know, in their communities. For us, we’re all very connected.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: LA native James Harden and Nipsey were homies.
[NBA Press Conference
Reporter: James, why is it important for you to continue to have people remember Nipsey and, kind of, what he meant to you?
James Harden: People, he…I mean, that name will never die. Like people remember him. I’m just here because he’s one of my close friends and like this journey that I’m on is for him. That name “Nip”, everybody knows that name now. I’m just another person that’s just, you know, helping that name live on.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: NBA players spoke openly about losing a close friend and an inspiration. Nipsey’s death was hard to accept — and they knew their grieving process was just beginning. Here’s Isaiah Thomas again:
ISAIAH THOMAS: It just don’t seem real. Like how somebody can just be taken away. I don’t know, it just doesn’t always seem like it could really happen. Like how somebody could be here and then just not be here no more.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Have you cried over Nipsey?
ISAIAH THOMAS: Man, I wasn’t crying. I was just like… I don’t know. It’s even hard to explain. I think it’s really harder with him because it’s like, I listen to his music every day. I hear his voice every day. I be listening to interviews. I be watching YouTube interviews. Like, it just don’t seem like he’s not here.
DEMAR DEROZAN: So much go through your mind about that situation.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: DeMar DeRozan, a four-time All Star and South LA native, was good friends with Nipsey.
DEMAR DEROZAN: Sometimes it make you emotional. Sometimes it makes you mad. Sometimes, you know, it’s so many emotions that it puts you through. And, you know, for me, it put me in a real blank space.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: For DeMarcus Cousins, Nipsey was far more than a friend and famous rapper.
DEMARCUS COUSINS: Nip was my superhero. I could say the only guys I’ve really had in my generation was Barack Obama and Nip. So for me, that’s where it hurt me. Like, I can’t accept it. I don’t want to accept it, ‘cause that was my superhero.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Who was Nipsey Hussle? Why did he matter? What accounted for his stature? And why did these NBA players feel such a connection to him? The answers to those questions lie in the history of rap and basketball. The message that ran through Nipsey’s life and music. And the shared experiences of young Black men in America.
From 30 for 30 Podcasts and The Undefeated, this is The King of Crenshaw. I’m Justin Tinsley. Episode one: To Live and Die in LA
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Alright! First and foremost, let me just say this: Thank you for agreeing to be part of this. Looking how far back we go, we could have never imagined, like, this type of moment
BRYAN ROBINSON: Man. Yeah. It’s been a long time!
JUSTIN TINSLEY: That’s Bryan Robinson, one of my closest friends. He’s been my dog for nearly 20 years. Our paths first crossed in James Hall at Hampton University, an historically Black college. You see, I was a kid from Virginia, and Bryan was the first person I’d ever met from LA.
BRYAN ROBINSON: I’m from — it’s a little subsection in LA called Windsor Hills. Windsor Hills is literally two stop lights from Slauson and Crenshaw.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: This intersection is where Nipsey made a name for himself. Back then, everything I knew about the West Coast came from Black popular culture. I’d heard California had really good weed, really good weather, really good basketball — but I knew about the music. My God, the music. When we were growing up in the 90s, West Coast hip hop was at its peak — led by Death Row records. And as an LA kid, Bryan grew up devouring all of it. But when he heard Nipsey for the first time, it just hit different.
BRYAN ROBINSON: Finally someone from around our area that was actually, you know, pretty good. I remember telling you, like, “He’s from around the way. He can rap. He’s really good.”
JUSTIN TINSLEY: It was the summer of 2006. Bryan and I were on break from college. His childhood friend, Stephen Donelson — who went by “Fatts” — had given him a business card. It was for one of his closest friends, a young rapper named Nipsey Hussle. So, Bryan hit me up one day. He was like, “Yo, Justin, I think you should check this dude out.”
BRYAN ROBINSON: You know, you might hear some gang bang references, you know, in there. I’ll walk you through that. That’s all right. But he can rap.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: At that time, the LA rap scene was in need of some energy like Nipsey’s. The N.W.A. and Death Row Records days of the 80s and 90s felt like a lifetime ago. And there weren’t many new rappers from the West Coast who were making noise on a national level — I mean, you had The Game … but not much else.
DEVI BROWN: The East Coast was hating on us. Like, HATING! Did not want to have anything to do with the stories that LA was telling.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Devi Brown was one of the first LA DJs to play Nipsey’s music on air.
DEVI BROWN: Did not appreciate our melody and did not appreciate, you know, the G funk in our music. All the things that make LA music so beautiful and unique. And everybody was saying that LA fell off.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: It was to that backdrop that a new generation of young LA rappers entered the scene. Guys like Kendrick Lamar, YG, Jay Rock, Pac Div, Dom Kennedy, and Nipsey Hussle. And when Nipsey’s mixtape, Bullets Ain’t Got No Names Vol. 2 dropped in 2008, it felt like a game changer. Nipsey’s music was so new, so melodic, so graphic and so transparent. So I wrote an article singing its praises on my blog. Bryan mentioned this to Nipsey one day while hanging out with Fatts in South LA.
BRYAN ROBINSON: I just let him know: “Man, my college buddy, man. Good friends, still. Justin. He’s a, you know, writer. I put him onto you and he’s a fan of your music.”
JUSTIN TINSLEY: And the next thing I knew, my phone rang. It’s Bryan — and he says, “Hold on.” And before I could respond, I heard someone on the other line saying “Yo, what up? It’s Nipsey.”
I won’t sit here and cap like the conversation I had with Nipsey was life-altering.The conversation was, at most, a minute. And the first 20 seconds was Nipsey trying to convince me it was actually him. In this brief interaction, Nipsey really was a nice guy. And he deeply appreciated hearing from a fan far away from his own ‘hood. And I’ll never forget the last thing he said: “Just fuck with me, cuz. I’m gonna figure this shit out.”
Of course, Bryan and I weren’t the only people to get hooked on Nipsey. There were lots of “Bryans” — guys from the hood spreading the word about this new kid from their block who felt like a breath of fresh air for the West Coast rap scene.
One reason Nipsey’s music spread far beyond LA — NBA players.
DEMAR DEROZAN: I always used to listen to Nip all the time and I listened to him so much — I put so many guys on to Nip, you know, my rookie year in 2009. And they became fans of him, you know. It was crazy.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: DeMar DeRozan and Isaiah Thomas — otherwise known as IT — were two of Nipsey’s earliest NBA crusaders.
ISAIAH THOMAS: I remember putting DeMarcus Cousins on Nip Hussle, putting the whole Sacramento Kings on Nip Hussle.
DEMARCUS COUSINS: 100 percent true. IT was working out in the gym, you know, he had his music playing. I’m like, “man, what the hell is this, man?” He like, “It’s Nipsey.”
ISAIAH THOMAS: So when I put people on Nip, I be like, “Imma just let you listen to him. And then I know you’re going to come back to me and be like, ‘He’s the hardest out.’” And that’s what always happened. Every team I’ve been on.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: There’s a well known saying that “rappers wanna be ballplayers and ballplayers wanna be rappers.” But why? There’s a level of competition in both hip hop and basketball that mirror each other. You wanna be the best on the mic — and you wanna be the king of the court. But it’s always been deeper than that.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: Basketball, as we know it today, is so intertwined with ideas about blackness, with the black community, with hip hop, for sure.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Amira Rose Davis is a professor of History and African American studies at Penn State and co-host of the Burn It All Down podcast.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: We can really trace these shifts in the kind of culture of the NBA in particular to the Seventies. The rise of the NBA really coincided with the emergence of hip hop as the number one, kind of, music genre. One of the things that we have to pay attention to is the changing demographics of the league. We’re talking about a league that is very rapidly becoming, not only about Black players and majority Black players, but like, really making Black stars.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Basketball wasn’t invented by a Black person, but the game’s soul was largely cultivated by us — Black people — in city parks and on blacktops across the United States which are most of the same places that hip hop took shape in the 1970s. And since the beginning, hip hop has been tied to basketball. The two are like peanut butter and jelly. Or even better: white walls and Cadillacs.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: It looks like rappers coming to games very publicly. It looks like mentions of basketball players in rap songs. Of course, like Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball” in 1985.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Kurtis Blow is one example. But you’ve also got Shaquille O’Neal’s Shaq Diesel, still the only album from an athlete to ever go platinum. Jadakiss and Allen Iverson’s legendary Reebok commercials. And even Master P earning a preseason roster spot on both the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: We’ve seen, of course, a number of basketball players try their hand in rap. And I think that it is seen as an adjacent career that you step into. I think the swag, the confidence, right? Those are things that feels really transferable over to rapping. I think that, especially as an athlete where your labor and what you do is your body, is how you move. It’s how you perform. Rap not only was enticing because it felt like a very similar culture. It just felt like it required the same bravado, but it also was actually a vocal vehicle.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Friendships between rappers and basketball players became common — and high profile. Think Shaq and The Notorious B.I.G. Lil Wayne and Kobe Bryant. Or Jay-Z and LeBron James.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: It became very clear that these NBA players were very close to rappers in a way that you just, like, didn’t see at other sports. Part of that is about basketball itself in terms of, like, how it’s played and where it’s played. In basketball, there’s a proximity to the players where you can yell, you can say something. They can come and give you dap in the middle of running by. Rappers are right there and they become so blended into the atmosphere that the way that you even imagine a NBA game becomes tied to the spectacle around it
JUSTIN TINSLEY: But it’s far more than just a spectacle. Here’s former LA radio personality, Devi Brown.
DEVI BROWN: There’s so many, so many young people that rap, but not everyone gets heard. So many millions of people play basketball, but it is this tiny one percent that are able to do it professionally, and able to do it at an elite level. And it’s that kind of rare air that you breathe that only you can really understand each other. It’s so rare that you get to see people that look like you when you’re Black or brown that are respected in the world that are held up with a certain amount of celebration or cherishing.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: There’s a kinship between hoopers and rappers who oftentimes come from similar backgrounds.
DEVI BROWN: That aggrandizing: “I’m coming from nothing and I’ve gotten more. I’m great.” You know, that, that really only someone who makes that music — like a Nipsey — could do authentically that could then resonate with the greatness in an NBA player and in the relationships that he carries. That “Hustle and Motivate” — I mean, if that ain’t, like, the ethos of being an elite athlete, I don’t know what is. And then I mean, come on, you’re young, fly black men with means and platform, like, how do you not gravitate towards each other?
GERRICK KENNEDY: To me, it really does feel that it’s connected to how hard you’ve got to hustle if you’re an athlete or if you’re a rapper.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Gerrick Kennedy is a culture critic and author who has covered Nipsey for both GQ and the LA Times.
GERRICK KENNEDY: How hard you gotta hustle to keep your mind right, to keep your body right. All of these things that, like, you actually have to do in order to continue to do the thing, whether the thing is you know, shooting hoops or, you know, running a ball down a, down a field, or, you know, rapping, you know what I mean? Like, I think there’s a … the physicality of, of it. There’s a connection that’s there because there’s a hunger that never quite goes away ever.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Because of all of this, Nipsey and his friends in the NBA shared a mutual respect.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: A lot of that has to do with the way that he was oriented towards community. Where he was oriented towards activism. Where he was oriented towards a certain type of business plan and business mindset that wasn’t about, “oh, I’m just going to get rich for me,” but like “I’m going to get rich and put my people on.” And I think that that really resonated and became the foundation for some really deep friendships, whether it was with Russell Westbrook or James Harden, or, you know, a number of players who formed connection that went beyond just, “I see you on the sidelines and we’re going to take a picture,” and, you know, yeah, you’re at my game, I might appear in your video, you might rock my Jersey, but it turned into things like helping at each other’s foundations, refurbishing courts, talking about how to give back or open up storefronts in your neighborhoods that you come from and offering and modeling a different way. And I think that that’s a really seductive blueprint — a really seductive model — for Black entertainers, specifically, and Black males in the NBA.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Many of these men realized they had an opportunity to use their fame and wealth to leave a mark beyond their individual careers. It wasn’t just about entertaining, a platinum album or the next big contract. That was important, too. But so was trying to change the future of Black America.
AMIRA ROSE DAVIS: The discussions and the work being done in the NBA, they were right there. They were prime for that to happen. As many players were looking at like, “Well, how do I extend the pedestal that I have? How do I take this platform and do something with it? How do I take the resources that I have, and that I have earned, I’ve been given and redistribute them,” like, “What does that look like? We need a model for it.” And Nipsey was right there with that model.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: That model of hard work, of dedication, of commitment to the grind — that made up the ethos Nipsey lived by. He dubbed it “The Marathon.” Here’s Nipsey in his own words.
Nipsey Hussle: You know, if you really think about the metaphor of The Marathon, when you look at it as like life it’s about endurance, it’s about preparing, it’s about mentally breaking through your barriers. You’re more capable than you think you are and that you’re conscious of.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: And that “don’t give up” philosophy inspired many players around the NBA.
[Hard Knock TV
Nipsey Hussle: I’ve noticed that specifically athletes react to, to the message. And then also I think like, you know, they come from the same environment. They’re going through the same struggle. They just, you know, attacking it through they gifts on the court or on the field. And we’re doing it through the art and through the music. So, I think that whether it’s the message of motivation or just — if they apply to sports or if they apply to just the pursuit of like, becoming better, maximizing your potential, you know what I’m saying? And like challenging yourself. And likewise, though, we sit in the studio and have the playoffs on mute and go back and watch classic performances, you know what I’m saying? And just be like,”Look at the zone they was in.” You know what I’m saying? So, definitely. I think we both feed off each other.]
ISAIAH THOMAS: It was like what he was speaking on was really what I was going through in terms of, you know, running my race and staying on my marathon, and, you know, having to prove myself each and every year.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Nipsey’s work ethic resonated with IT. The undersized guard was selected with the last pick in the 2011 draft. Hustling was just part of who Thomas was.
ISAIAH THOMAS: And I leaned on his music during my, my dopest times during my darkest times. Um, I think every year he came out with something that was new, but was also relatable to what I was going through and what my journey was. And I mean, it matched. It matched every year.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: DeMar DeRozan is from Compton, roughly seven miles from where Nipsey was raised. They both loved where they were from. They saw the same things, lived the same things and, most importantly, survived the same things.
DEMAR DEROZAN: Once you can look, look at somebody and feel relatable to and look them in the eye and know they’ve been through something similar, the same, or some even worse in the same environment and culture you grew up in, you kind of listen differently. You kinda, take advice differently. You kind of feel inspired differently.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Real recognizes real. And so a lot of hoopers were hip to Nipsey damn near from the dribble. But much of the wider world wouldn’t know about Nipsey’s connection with NBA players until a Lakers game in October 2018. Let me set the scene because I was actually in STAPLES that night.
NBA Commentator: Thanks, guys. A beautiful night in downtown LA and what a night for the Lakers and their fans as a new star has arrived.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: It was the Lakers home opener against the Houston Rockets. The city was buzzing.
NBA Commentator: Some of the NBA’s all time legends including MVPs, champions, Hall of Famers and the latest legend to wear the purple and gold makes his home debut tonight. LeBron James and the Lakers at the STAPLES Center.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Nipsey Hussle was there sitting courtside. He was decked out in a vintage Magic Johnson throwback jersey, crisp white T underneath, glowing white sneakers and a bright yellow NBA snapback up top. By the time we hit the fourth quarter, the intensity was thick. It somehow had the energy of a playoff game, but it wasn’t even Halloween yet. The Rockets were up one, 109 to 108.
NBA Commentator: Harden fouled by Ingram. Did they count it? No.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Point guards Chris Paul — who was with the Rockets at the time — and Rajon Rondo who was with the Lakers back then — got into it over a foul.
NBA Commentator: Oh, oh – punches are thrown! Paul and Rondo throwing punches! Ingram comes in, he’s throwing punches.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: The mid court scuffle moved to the sidelines right by the floor seats where Hussle was sitting.
ISAIAH THOMAS: And he got up, pulled his pants up.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Nipsey looked like he was preparing to throw hands — and well, a meme was born.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Here’s IT:
ISAIAH THOMAS: ‘Cause the picture is just funny. That’s somebody that’s been in those situations and you already know about it. Like, first thing you got to do is “okay, I’m going to pull my pants up and see what’s going on.” And that’s why he is who he is, because that’s that side of him that he can’t shake. This is a primetime game. He’s court side. You know, punches is thrown. And he’s back there in the back like, in case something happens, knowing that he, you know, he’s not going to probably do nothing. It’s not — nothing to do with him, but he’s back there. The picture says it all. The picture describes who he is and where he’s from.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: It’s no secret that Nipsey was once an active gang member — a part of LA’s notorious Rollin’ 60s Crips. He joined when he was just 14 and his experiences form the basis of much of his work. But there was no chance he was getting into a fight that day, regardless of how it looked.
Interviewer: They like, “Why’s Nip pulling his pants up?” Like, “He got ready to go.”
Nipsey Hussle: [00:08:18] I thought, I thought that I thought it was gonna spill into where I was at. It was, like, close. You feel me? Come on, man. I’m not jumping in no NBA fight. Y’all know that]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: In some spaces, Nipsey had long been a household name. Yet in others, people were just getting to know him. He was a vet and a rising star.
The comedy of the meme aside, it was fulfilling to watch Nipsey reach a new level of fame. I remembered what he had told me nearly a decade earlier: “Just fuck with me, cuz. Imma figure this shit out.” And he did.
Two months after that night in STAPLES, Nipsey’s debut album Victory Lap was nominated for a GRAMMY. Not long after that, he stood on the red carpet with his daughter Emani and long time love, Lauren London.
[The Recording Academy
Interviewer: Nipsey, who do you have with you?
Nipsey Hussle: This is my daughter, Emani Dior.
Interviewer: Is this your First Grammys?
Interviewer: How are you feeling?
Interviewer: Dad? How are you feeling?
Nipsey Hussle: I feel great. Incredible.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: He just looked so happy. So regal. And so excited for what lay ahead. That’s the thing about time, though. We always think we have more of it.
On the evening of March 31, 2019, I had just returned from New York covering Dwayne Wade’s last game at Madison Square Garden. I was at a friend’s place in DC drinking a beer. I never drink beer. And then my phone rang. It was Bryan calling me from LA. He was in tears. And he was the one that gave me the news that Nipsey Hussle had been killed.
BRYAN ROBINSON: That was the day the music died for me. Like, you know what I mean? It stopped. Someone took the needle off the wax. Like, party’s over.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Shortly after Nipsey’s murder, I flew out to LA to cover his death for The Undefeated. I lived in LA for a year back in 2015, and every time I came back to visit, it was always love. But this time when I stepped off the plane, the grief that hung in the air was damn near suffocating. I had no clue what I’d write. I knew I wanted to honor Nipsey, but I also knew I wanted to speak about what it felt like in LA. An entire world was mourning his passing, but in LA it felt personal.
All around the city, Nipsey blasted out of speakers. Some people were openly weeping in their cars at stop lights. Others just stood outside, smoking weed and not saying anything as Nipsey’s music served as their medicine. It was a cathartic experience.
Bryan, who was back in LA and working as a live music producer, took me down to Slauson and Crenshaw. I was worried about him. We watched people gather in the Marathon store parking lot. It was covered with everything from tribute flowers and prayer candles to blue and silver balloons. Nipsey was someone from his crib. Someone from the hood that was living life the right way and got taken out in the absolute worst way. Now that I think about it, Bryan and I didn’t talk too much. We just took everything in.
What struck me the most was the alley. It was the same alley Nipsey’s killer ran through to escape to his getaway car. This was right after he forever altered the course of Crenshaw’s history. Now, mourners were waiting in line for their chance to touch the earth Nipsey last graced. They wanted to feel his energy — if only for a moment. But to do so, they had to literally walk through trauma to try and deal with trauma. Such has always been the case of being Black in America in one way or another.
Nipsey’s death was about more than a well known rapper losing his life. For South LA, it was about the loss of opportunity, the loss of what could be for a community with a history of economic struggle. He invested in the area, bought property, and started businesses. And when he’d earned enough to leave, he stayed. Here’s culture critic Gerrick Kennedy:
GERRICK KENNEDY: He did the thing that we all say that we’re going to do, right? Which is like, “We’re going to get a little bit of money and we’re going to help our ‘hood.” Some of us do it, and this is not that it’s wrong, but some of us do it from afar. We get our money and then we bounce. And then we, you know, we send stuff over or we might open up something at some point. But you don’t see a lot of people who then stay in the community and also try to build it at the same time.
News Anchor: Now, to Los Angeles where tens of thousands will pay their respects to rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle.
Reporter: The Prince of South LA — or, King of the Streets, as so many affectionately called him — will be remembered today inside the STAPLES Center for his celebration of life service. And 21,000 people or more will be packed in here. They gave away free tickets to those 21,000.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: The Staples Center became the place the world said goodbye to Nipsey. At that time, only Michael Jackson had received such an honor. Stevie Wonder sang at his funeral. Even President Barack Obama sent a tribute read by Nipsey’s close friend and business partner, Karen Civil.
[Nipsey Hussle Memorial Service
Karen Civil: While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and only see gangs, bullets, and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope. He saw a community that even through its flaws taught him to always keep going.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: The stage was decked out in blue and white — a nod to Nipsey’s affiliation to the Rollin’ 60s Crips.
GERRICK KENNEDY: I don’t think there’s gonna ever be another time in our history that you’re going to see a sea of people in Crip blue walking into a major, a major sports venue, right? I don’t think you’re ever going to see that, ever.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: The arena was packed with people from all walks of life paying their respects.
GERRICK KENNEDY: I don’t like the word spectacle, but how else do you talk about a memorial service that’s at an arena other than a spectacle, because that’s just the only word to really describe some of this. Tens of thousands of people coming to share, you know, their grief in this place. And I remember not knowing what to make of so much of it. And when we got inside, his casket was already there and so you’re immediately reminded of you’re here for.
[Nipsey Hussle Memorial Service
DJ Battlecat: Make some noise for Nipsey Hussle. I say it again, make some noise for Nipsey Hussle!]
GERRICK KENNEDY: DJ Battlecat — he got going and that entire arena erupted in this way that, I kid you not, I have never felt before. I mean, the floor was shaking. It was shaking because the people were clapping and stomping and were so loud and uplifting him in this moment where it’s like, you know, you it’s, it’s traditional home going in the sense where like, that’s what we are — we’re very boisterous, you know, as Black folks. We’ve always been that way when we have to, you know, bury one of our own. But there was this other element too, where it’s like, “Shit, it’s a full band and they are rocking right now?” You know what I mean? Like it was so many different things were happening at once where it’s like, “I don’t even know, like, how to process this.”
[Nipsey Hussle Memorial Service
DJ Battlecat: Nipsey! Nipsey! Hussle! The Marathon continues, baby. 1500 or Nothin’. Let’s go!]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: DeMar DeRozan was also taking in the enormity of Nipsey’s Staples Center memorial.
DEMAR DEROZAN: To see LA in a setting I’d never seen it before — come together the way it did, the gangs, people, you know, it showed you how powerful of a person he was. It definitely was a crazy day. It was a crazy moment. It was a crazy thing to be a part of and see somebody sell out, you know, the STAPLES Center for a memorial to pay their respect.
[Nipsey Hussle Memorial Service
Angelique Smith: My son, Ermias Joseph Asghedom, was a great man
Dawit Asghedom: The thing is that Ermias has been loved by everybody but we never thought this much love from the world.
Lauren London: Grief is the final act of love. My heart hears you. I feel you everywhere. I’m so grateful that I had you. I love you beyond this earth. And until we meet again..the Marathon continues!
Crowd: Nipsey! Nipsey!]
News Anchor: We are watching that procession now, uh, heading away from STAPLES Center.
Reporter: A lot of folks clapping and cheering him on as he makes his way closer to his store. And, of course, an emotional moment for so many. He meant so much to this community. This is his neighborhood.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Nipsey’s final journey was 25.5 miles through the streets of LA — just short of a full marathon distance. You see, this is important because neighborhoods and gangs come with their own set of rules and street political guidelines. Stay in your hood, and I’ll stay in mine. But that day, all that mattered was giving Nipsey the send off he deserved. Here’s Nipsey’s big brother, Samiel Asghedom:
SAMIEL ASGHEDOM: People in every hood that’s supposedly supposed to be enemies, you know, they were, they love bro. And they were taking inspiration from bro and opening up stores within they ‘hood. And his message was translating from, you know, the hustlers and other ‘hoods and they was giving that message to the youth. And so, so the new generation was being raised on something else other than what we was raised on and nigga need a Nobel peace prize. ‘Cause niggas can’t do that shit, but Hussle did it. And even moving through the city — Hussle’s funeral — everybody from the police: “Y’all can’t do that. Y’all can’t go through every different ‘hood in LA. ” Like, “Watch us. Ain’t shit going to happen. Niggas gon’ stand out. And they gon’ support. Cause it’s bigger than what y’all think.” That’s one thing I was adamant about: Like, I don’t care about nothing else. We gon’ roll bro through the city. Man, think that it showed that the people came out. They showed love. So I say that to just bring it back, that that shit meant more than anything to bro that people knew what he was trying to do.
JUSTIN TINSLEY: To understand what Nipsey was trying to do, we have to go back and learn about his youth, his environment, and the choices that made him.
Nipsey Hussle: I’m from right here. I’m from the Rollin’ Sixties.The Rollin’ Sixties is important to LA. Right? If you’re from LA, you could say, “Yes” — you will know that. LA important to California, right? California, important to America, right? America important to the globe, right? So, I’m global. I could keep it all the way me.]
JUSTIN TINSLEY: Nipsey, where you from? That’s next on the King of Crenshaw.
Reporter and Host: Justin Tinsley
Senior Producer: Joanne Griffith
Production Team: Gus Navarro, Dave King, and Derwin Graham
The series was edited by: Julia Lowrie Henderson, Senior Editorial Producer for 30 for 30 Podcasts, and Steve Reiss, Deputy Editor for The Undefeated
Executive Producers: Erin Leyden, Brian Lockhart, Kevin Merida, and Raina Kelley
Additional Production Support: Meradith Hoddinott, Mitra Kaboli, and Eve Wulf
Original Music: 1500 or Nothin’
Mix Engineering: Ryan Ross Smith, Ben Tolliday and Garrett Lang
Project Manager and Licensing: Cath Sankey
Additional Licensing Support: Jennifer Thorpe
Development: Adam Neuhaus & Trevor Gil
Talent Producers: Chantre Camack and Sharee Stephens
Music Director: Kevin Wilson
Fact Checking: Roger Jackson
Legal Review: Alan Lau
Special thanks to the Estate of Nipsey Hussle
Audio provide courtesy of:
“Self Made” interview series hosted by Brett Berish, CEO of Luc Belaire, Bumbu Rum, McQueen and the Violet Fog and Villon
97.9 The Beat
97.9 The Box
ABC7/KABC-TV Los Angeles
Big Boy Radio Network
iHeartMedia’s The Breakfast Club
Genius Media Group, Inc.
Justice for Murdered Children
LA This Week
© 2019 The Recording Academy