Slauson Avenue stretches from one end of South Los Angeles to the other. On Monday, it was cordoned off for a handful of blocks between 8th Avenue and West Boulevard.
Traffic ambled along to the first of a dozen highway patrol officers attempting to wave cars off the main drag and onto the side streets cutting through the residential blocks of Hyde Park. Most heeded his directions, but one guy driving a pickup truck weaved around the thin blockade, faked a left turn, and continued on to the intersection at Slauson and Crenshaw. He splashed imaginary cash at the steering wheel as I caught the third verse of “Hussle & Motivate” through his open window. The song arrives just shy of halfway into Victory Lap. The title of Nipsey Hussle’s Grammy-nominated major-label debut is both brash and earned, coming as it did last year after a decade-plus of preaching and subsisting on the same black capitalist praxis:
Lead to the lake, if they wanna fish
Make sure them niggas around you stick to the script
The script: Stack it up and take care of your people. Nipsey Hussle was a rapper, yes, but he was more a motivational speaker. He was also a father and a partner. Above all, he was not finished. But on Sunday, in broad daylight, in the parking lot of the Marathon Clothing store—in front of everything he’d built—Nipsey Hussle was shot and killed. He was 33 years old.
There’s a clip making the rounds on social media of what was possibly Hussle’s first interview ever, from 2006, on the street outside Russell Simmons’s Get Your Money Right summit. His first mixtape, Slauson Boy, hadn’t even been out a whole year, and—the interviewer, Davey D, couldn’t believe this—he was already talking about car depreciation and real estate investment. His voice was alarmingly seasoned even then; it’s that signature rasp that sounds cold sober and overworked, but yaws toward oracular. Hussle’s music tells the story of a violent, desperate 60s—the area of Hyde Park where, in his formative years, he’d seen more than enough of the life he didn’t want. It also tells of how he worked toward building the life he did want, but at home. He began by betting on himself when labels first came calling, choosing instead to remain independent and stay the mixtape course, famously introducing a scarcity model with 2013’s Crenshaw: He would press 1,000 copies and sell them for $100 each. Jay-Z was a fan of the idea, but a lot of rap fans on the internet were not.
There’s another clip, recorded about 12 years after that first one, of Nip showing a local news outlet around his corner of the universe, the corner that he came up hustling on, at Slauson and Crenshaw. There was his Marathon Clothing store; his general goods store that provided basics like socks, T-shirts, and cellphones at affordable price points; his restaurant; and then his barbershop, which he still needed to staff out. But: his. He owned all of it, including a piece of Vector90, a coworking community and youth-focused incubator 10 minutes east, on the other side of Hyde Park Boulevard. That spindly 20-year-old from 2006 swimming in his white tee wasn’t just regurgitating some stuff he’d heard Russell Simmons parrot during a self-help conference. He took what was useful and actually lived it.
This is who y’all took away from us pic.twitter.com/p8gYOIC01d— one won’t do. two is not enough. you need Thr3e. (@th3oryhazit) April 1, 2019
The thing about vigils is that no one is ever quite sure what to do at them, other than be surrounded by more people who understand. Prayer candles, flowers, empty D’Ussé bottles, and hand-drawn posters were strewn across the spot where Nipsey was gunned down. People came to pay their respects and left when it felt right; occasionally someone gave an impassioned speech condemning senseless violence, or in support of black love, or black-owned businesses. Some peddled conspiracy theories similar to the ones trotted out immediately after Nip’s death—he was working on a documentary about Dr. Sebi, the late controversial herbalist who claimed to have discovered a cure for AIDS before he died. So the government must have killed Nip too. Five shots to the body and one to the head is a military execution. (It may have been an execution, but almost definitely not a military one. The LAPD has identified 29-year-old Eric Holder as the lead suspect.) Others stood in stunned silence, waiting for his passing to not be real. To my left, a man my age said he took off work and drove over from Venice because he woke up that morning and couldn’t convince himself that this had really happened. To my right, another man, who stays a few blocks over, held a portable speaker overhead. He was softly rapping along to “Blue Laces” with his eyes closed, almost as if in prayer.
I’m from Westside, California, they run up on ya
Ask you where you from and check the tats under your clothin’
On site at the impromptu memorial, you could see mistrust take two distinct shapes—mistrust in things as they are, and then, on a spare few occasions, mistrust in unfamiliar faces piling out of news vans, asking too many questions. How could anyone be sure the story would be told straight? In the evening hours, after I left, a massive stampede would break out for reasons that are still unclear. The reports trickled in over Twitter, as they did on Sunday afternoon—first it was two people that had been shot, then two shot and six stabbed, then ultimately 19 patients treated, though there was no confirmation of any gunshot or stab wounds.
I know I shouldn’t make this sort of leap, having just been made keenly aware of how much things can change in an afternoon, but those initial reports didn’t map onto the event that I left. People were there to pay their respects, make vows, shed a few tears. More booze and bigger speakers were coming out, but only once did the memorial ever threaten to actually turn violent. Some guy who had apparently finished a fifth of vodka by himself talked over a eulogy, loudly insisting that we rearrange the memorial into the shape of Nip’s body because it’d be cooler that way. He was swiftly and sternly escorted off the lot.
There’s a third clip, of Nipsey hanging out on that same corner. He’s talking about reinvesting in himself and leveling up with wide-eyed enthusiasm; in the wake of his death, it’s inspiring and dispiriting. Nipsey was proof positive that the boring work of putting actionable steps to goals would make them achievable, however small the steps, however laboriously slow the journey. He’s gone now. But the Marathon continues.