As KRS-One articulated throughout his catalog and in his many teachings, "Rap is something you do, hip hop is something you live." As the culture continues to evolve today, many feel it's not only important, but vital to preserve and honor the fundamental elements: Graffiti, emceeing, breakdancing, deejaying and knowledge. This column called "Each One, Teach One" aims to do exactly that. It will highlight various lessons that can be passed between new and old generations alike.
In the hours, days and now weeks that have somehow slipped by since the heinous murder of Nipsey Hussle; a myriad of eulogies in various forms have emerged from the emotional ether, further cementing what the proud Los Angeles native knew all along. The man born Ermias Joseph Asghedom was different.
Taken from the world far too soon, Neighborhood Nip was an artist, activist, community leader, marketing genius and self-taught entrepreneur whose influence is destined to be felt for lifetimes. While an immeasurable amount of ink continues to be spilt reflecting on how he spent his 33 years on this planet with intention, one thing that is hard-pressed to ignore is how his legacy is transcendental.
As exemplified across generations, communities and varying degrees of fandom, his impact runs unequivocally deeper than rap, although the craft was his chosen vessel to carry his message and an artform he perfected with pride. Nipsey's own words provide strength and direction, especially at a time where processing his untimely death and seeking answers falls short, reminding others that "the greatest human act is to inspire."
Among the many tributes making their rounds online; and finding their ways into history and our hearts alike; is Barack Obama's tribute letter, which was read aloud by Karen Civil in front of a crowd of 21,000 people who had gathered at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles to publicly celebrate Nipsey's life at a memorial service.
"While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and see only gangs, bullets, and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope," Obama wrote. "He saw a community that, even through its flaws, taught him to always keep going. His choice to invest in that community rather than ignore it -- to build a skills training center and a coworking space in Crenshaw; to lift up the Eritrean-American community; to set an example for young people to follow -- is a legacy worth of celebration. I hope his memory inspires more good work in Crenshaw and communities like it."
Meek Mill and Snoop Dogg, among countless others, echoed the magnitude of meaning and truth behind Obama's words by noting how Nip not only set the bar high for what living a well-rounded life could mean, but showed by example how accessible such a purposeful life could be through hard work, dedication and faith.
Entering the rap game in 2005 with his self-released mixtape, Slauson Boy Volume 1, Nipsey set out on a lifelong mission that was as multifaceted as it was motivational. As his earliest interviews show, he was determined to redefine what hip hop lauded as success, deciding from the jump that he was more interested in real estate investment, ownership and opportunity than to be someone with a collection of luxury cars or diamonds. He was determined to take care of his own people and that drive extended well beyond his bloodline. In more ways than one, Nip delivered.
As his fans are tasked with the honor of upholding the values that Nipsey outlined in music, business and life, there are ample takeaways that show not only how he put his enlightened perspectives into practice, but succeeded in remaining authentic to his core. A student of the streets and Silicon Valley alike, Nipsey's mental strength and drive now feel superhuman. However, the magic lies in knowing that the marathon continues.
In the spirit of pushing forward and picking up the baton like the late legend himself would have encouraged, here are five business lessons extracted from the school of Nipsey Hussle.
Find your purpose or you wastin' air.
Nipsey was -- among many other things -- consistent. His vision was one that he saw clearer with every passing day, making each and every move he made both calculated and impassioned. As his partner Lauren London reflected; he would go to bed listening to audiobooks, and begin each day by playing music and lighting sage to ensure that his family's "energy going outside would be uplifting and we could handle the day." When someone knows and lives their purpose, habits are formed that best serve said purpose. Nipsey knew he was meant to lead by example and if he succeeded in inspiring just one person each day, it wasn't a sign that his work was done, but rather an indication he was on the right path.
Being self-made means being comfortable working with what you have.
While speaking with Forbes in 2018, Nipsey reflected on what being self-made meant to him. In his words, "Being self-made means never making an excuse as to why you can't take steps toward whatever your goal is. There's always something you can do. You may not always have the necessary tools and resources, but you always have something. Being self-made also means being comfortable working with what you have. It's about realizing there are different levels throughout your journey, and you have to be patient. Most people want to skip the process, not knowing that when you skip steps, you miss the lessons. If you start small and build on what you have, you can continue to multiply that into something greater, while picking up all of the valuable lessons along the way. You learn all of the secrets to the game on your way up. If you're not willing to embrace getting it off the curb, you're going to fumble anyway once you get your hands on something substantial. You will mishandle it because you missed all of the necessary steps. Being self-made is about embracing the process, knowing that you're going to get all of the valuable jewels that you can't teach someone — wisdom only the game and experience can teach you."
Knowing he was dealt a hand of disadvantages given the environment in which he was raised, Nipsey utilized his resources well and took control of his narrative. His life experiences singlehandedly became his best teacher and biggest motivator. Nip dedicated his time to find ways to keep leveling up and grinding until he could give back. He was admirable, humble and wise.
Knowing your value is the first step toward actually receiving your worth.
In 2013, Nipsey made the unprecedented decision to offer his Crenshaw project to fans for $100 per copy. He famously sold 1,000 copies in one night with JAY-Z copping 100 for himself. He grossed a minimum of $100,000, proving that knowing your worth and demanding respect is often a risk worth taking. The next year, he upped the ante, selling 2014's Mailbox Money for $1,000. While he sold 60 copies and grossed $60,000, he also created a database of "proud to pay" fans, allowing him to reward his diehard fans with exclusives.
Read books, surround yourself with like-minds and remember, no job is too small.
While Nipsey may have earned mailbox money eventually, he also knew the value of knowing that no job is too small or insignificant. From sweeping the floors of his own studio to creating new models for others to follow, Nipsey built his businesses from the ground up. His hunger for knowledge was fed both by surrounding himself with those who understood his vision and encouraged his own personal development for growth, as much as it was fueled by his passion for reading. With books such as Contagious by Jonah Berger, Power Vs. Force by David R. Hawkins, and The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout each having a place on his recommended reading list, it's not difficult to see how Nipsey applied what he learned. From the way that he organized his time to those he interacted with on a day-to-day basis, Nipsey understood that there is more to one's diet than food.
It's not about what you can buy, it's about what you can build.
As fans reflect on Nipsey's legacy, a foundational cornerstone is found in his The Marathon Clothing store. Located on Slauson Ave. and Crenshaw Blvd., the very corner where Nipsey spent years hustling because his life depended on it is where he bought back the block, a decision that is much deeper than retail. It speaks to ownership, investment and hope. He gave back to his neighborhood in a plethora of ways, from creating opportunities for people with felonies to inspiring others to rise above similar disadvantaged socioeconomic circumstances.
Alongside his business partners, Nipsey executed and planted seeds for a variety of endeavors across industries such as tech, entertainment, real estate, food, lifestyle and philanthropy. His endeavors -- both fully realized and just beginning -- include opening a STEM academy and co-working space in South Los Angeles, investing in cryptocurrency, playing an integral role in the formation of Destination Crenshaw (a public art space set to open in 2020), establishing a barbershop in honor of his friend who died from gun violence, partnering with Puma for a Marathon Clothing collaboration set to launch in fall 2019 and reopening World on Wheels -- a roller rink initially damaged during the 1992 L.A. riots -- and so much more.
Given the extent of his work as an investor, creative and entrepreneur, as well as factoring in his definitively unrelenting drive, it goes without saying that Nipsey had plans as big as his dreams. As a light in the lives of countless people, many are noting how it feels as though his passing created a shift in energy. To ensure the movements he began remain a call-to-action, it is now up to those he inspired to embrace the shift with newfound purpose. And then, keep going.