Nipsey Hussle Loved His Blackness

Michael Eric Dyson, New York Times, April 12, 2019

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[Nipsey Hussle] is more present in the culture than he has ever been. How does a rapper who was just coming into his own fill the Staples Center for his funeral and cast a spell over a society that barely knew his name the day he died?

One reason Hussle’s death struck a collective nerve is because his story fit into competing narratives across an ideological spectrum. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps? Hussle believed in hard work and black uplift and self-reliance, and started several businesses in the hood. Fight the powers that be? Hussle joined fellow rapper YG on an indictment of Donald Trump: “I’m from a place where you prolly can’t go/Speakin’ for some people that you prolly ain’t know.”

But the main reason his story is so compelling is because love was at the core of his beliefs and behavior. Love of his craft. Love of his blackness. Love of his neighborhood. Love of his partner, the actress Lauren London, and their kids. {snip}

His death is even more haunting because the love he showed took place against the backdrop of unsettling violence, both real and imagined, both in structural forces and intimate spaces, often conjured or measured by his own pen.

{snip} Both Tupac and Hussle were transformed in death from hood griots to ghetto saints, from verbal magicians to generational martyrs.

Hussle loved and embraced his blackness, a blackness that was bigger than the sum of its intriguing parts. He was every bit the unapologetic patron of Slauson, Crenshaw and South Central Los Angeles. But he also embraced his East African roots in his father’s homeland of Eritrea when he was 18. Hussle, his brother and his father made another pilgrimage to Eritrea in 2018 that gave him renewed inspiration for his reverse-gentrification Husslenomics: Own your master recordings, master your own entrepreneurial terrain, recycle capital in the hood by reinvesting earnings back into the people who inspired your art.

Hussle also embodied the trans-Atlantic routes of black identity — the crisscrossing and crosscutting ways of global blackness and the awareness that no one culture or country or tribe has ownership of a blissfully variegated blackness. It was that sense of blackness that linked a scholar like me and a rapper like him when we shared a six-hour flight last year from Los Angeles to New York.

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Each day since Hussle’s death, more of his words surface like Dead Sea Scrolls and shed light on the secular scriptures he spat in rhyme. His death at 33 inevitably suggests the arc of resurrection, or at least a biblical reckoning with his time on earth. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” another marathon runner said. Or as Hussle said, “Hopin’ as you walk across the sand, you see my shoe print/And you follow til it change your life, it’s all an evolution.”

Michael Eric Dyson

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