Los Angeles―The shock murder of Nipsey Hussle triggered an outpouring of grief among artists and activists alike―and for many crystallized the chronic dangers of street life the LA rapper aimed to uproot.
For some, his death recalled the 1990s era of targeted hip hop killings thought to be bygone: the assassination of Hussle, 33, comes more than two decades after a spate of killings claimed the lives of rap superstars including Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G.
Sunday’s killing in broad daylight, which Los Angeles police believe is gang-related and personal in nature, prompted some comparisons to those fatal shootings: all talented musicians, all from impoverished neighborhoods, all shot dead at a young age.
But for Najee Ali, a California civil rights activist, “music has nothing to do with it.”
“Poverty and low-income areas have everything to do―that’s what breeds violence, it’s not the music.”
Indeed, the eulogies from superstars like Beyonce, Kendrick Lamar, Drake and Cardi B to the Grammy-nominated Hussle―colloquially known as “Nipsey” or “Neighborhood Nip”―that mushroomed on social media told the story of a local legend and community leader who invested back into the streets that raised him.
And perhaps most importantly, they crafted a heartrending portrait of a black man killed by gun violence in America.
“This hurts,” wrote New York rapper Nas on Instagram. “It’s dangerous to be an MC. Dangerous to be a b-ball player. It’s dangerous to have money. Dangerous To Be A Black Man.”
It is not an “easy fix,” he continued. “Hard to fix anything when kids are still living in poverty.”
“Nipsey is a True voice. He will never be silenced. He still is A stand-up General for the People who never left his people.”
For decades, the public image of rap has been closely intertwined with those of gangs: early West Coast hip hop in particular grew out of notoriously gang-plagued areas in California, with late 1980s groups like N.W.A. rapping about hardships and social injustice there.
The 1990s heyday of Los Angeles gangsta rap -- a subgenre that saw artists boast of violence, misogyny and drug use in constructing their hardcore image -- saw massive success for rappers like Snoop Dogg, a known member of the Crips gang.
“Rap is a musical genre that demands a level of authenticity from its artists,” said Geoff Harkness, a Rhode Island College sociologist focused on hip hop.
“Even for rap musicians with no interest in or connection to violence, there is immense pressure to gain authenticity and credibility through violent acts,” he told AFP.
Less than a year ago XXXTentacion -- the Miami rapper who catapulted to fame on his dark lyricism and muffled style -- was also shot dead.
Prior to his murder, the 20-year-old lived a life violent even by rap world standards, embodying a stereotype Harkness said is sometimes encouraged by the music industry.
“Record companies and media corporations reap untold fortunes by urging young, often poor, black men to play up or even fabricate criminal backgrounds in order to sell more product,” Harkness said, adding “the rappers are also complicit in this process.”
Hussle was also a Crip -- fans laid out royal blue candles at makeshift memorials to the slain rapper, the color of the notorious gang -- and even his music echoed the old school gangsta rap sound.
But in recent years, the artist, entrepreneur and philanthropist had led efforts to eradicate the organized violence ripping apart his hometown.
Steve Soboroff, the Los Angeles police commissioner, said the rapper had planned to meet with top law enforcement officials Monday to “talk about ways he could help stop gang violence and help us help kids.
“I’m so very sad.”
At a memorial for Hussle on Monday, at least six people were wounded in a stampede. Officials said it was unclear what sparked it.
Hussle, an Eritrean-American born Ermias Asghedom and raised in LA’s Crenshaw district, had transformed the block he would hustle on into a retail, job-creating hub for his Marathon Clothing company.
He had also backed Destination Crenshaw -- an open-air museum describing itself as “1.3 miles of art & culture celebrating black LA” -- along with a science, tech and math education center.
“He was not just a rapper,” said activist Ali. “Nipsey was our shining black prince who overcame adversity and gang life to become a Grammy-nominated artist and one of our most influential community leaders.”
“He could’ve easily moved to a gated community -- he chose to stay.”
In the end, Hussle’s life was taken on the very corner he sought to revive, shot several times at close range by a suspect still at large.
News of his death saw many fans sharing his songs -- he didn’t release a label debut album until last year’s acclaimed “Victory Lap,” but boasted a number of mixtapes -- with his poignant lyricism lighting up social media.
“I’m just young and I’m reckless, I’m just on for my section,” he rapped in one song, “Ocean Views.”
“I just write down these confessions... died to get life around me, I guess that I’m an exception / Blessings.”