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The Marathon Continues: How Nipsey Hussle Helped Bridge the Divides of South Los Angeles

Nipsey Hussle memorial. Photo by Daniel Hernandez.

[dropcap size=big]L[/dropcap]os Angeles hip hop and South L.A. is turning to the airwaves to mourn the loss of rapper and entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle. Since Sunday evening, the city’s hip hop stations have been breaking from normal rotations of mainstream hits to pay tribute to a local hero — the Crenshaw neighborhood’s “Nip.”

At 92.3-FM, while Dre Sinatra struggled to find more radio-friendly Nipsey edits to play, co-hosts opened the airwaves to grieving friends and family, creating a moving public eulogy service in celebration of the man’s music, his activism, his investment his love for the Hyde Park/Crenshaw district where he grew up and never left.

“He was really doing something amazing for the streets, him being an example, and for him to not be here no more is just crazy,” Dre said over the air, fighting back tears. “I just want to say something to the listeners; you’re helping us get thru this right now. We might be helping y’all, but I hope you understand, y’all are helping us.”

Nipsey established multiple businesses at a strip mall where he once sold his own mixtapes in, and established a truly ambitious shared workspace called Vector 90, which Nipsey built to serve South Central tech entrepreneurs, and to help local kids gain the necessary STEM skills denied to them by historically underfunded and segregated schools. Nipsey was also heavily involved in helping fund the beloved World on Wheels roller rink in Mid-City, a landmark social and cultural space in black Los Angeles.

On the night of Hussle’s death, L.A. rapper The Game posted an emotional  video on his Instagram account. “Driving down Slauson at 4 am because of what happened to Nip,” he can be heard saying. “Shit’s crazy, man, I can’t even fucking sleep. I’m disgusted by this shit.”

Hussle's suspected shooter, a 29-year-old named Eric Holder, is now in custody after being arrested Tuesday in Bellflower, authorities said.

Since the shooting, tributes poured in from some of the city’s biggest names: LeBron James, Issa Rae, John Legend, as well as artists like J. Cole and Rihanna expressed shock at Hussle’s passing. On April 1, L.A.’s hip hop leader Kendrick Lamar stopped a live show in Argentina for a moment of silence for Nipsey.

RELATED: L.A. Already Loved Nipsey Hussle ~ Tributes Pour In as South Los Angeles Loses One of its Champions

Credit: World Star
Nipsey Hussle outside of Marathon. Credit: World Star

[dropcap size=small]N[/dropcap]ipsey’s community activism was integral to his music. After nearly 13 years of independently releasing and distributing mixtapes by himself on his label All Money In, Hussle released his debut album Victory Lap, and timed it with the opening day of Vector 90.

“For me, this hits home, cuz I live around the corner from there, so I see what he’s done for the kids, he fixed up my kid’s school,” said a female caller at Real 92.3. “We lost a brother, I know his brother personally, Sam, I see where it all started, when he was selling those CDs out the ice cream truck …” she added, as her voice began breaking on the air on Monday.

Nipsey always had advice and words of inspiration for his audience, and stories of surviving and thriving despite institutional racism. Hussle’s father was a refugee from Eritrea, and his mother is African-American. The rapper often couched his activism in efforts to uplift black and brown youth in the South L.A. area. In 2016 he and frequent collaborator YG penned the anti-authoritarian, black-and-brown, and Blood-and-Crip unity anthem "Fuck Donald Trump."

“It wouldn’t be the USA without Mexicans, and if it’s time to team up, shit let’s begin,” Nipsey raps. “Black love brown pride in the sets again,” citing a classic line by Tupac.

Hussle sought to constantly uplift local rappers, stacking his mixtapes full of local unsung and under-appreciated artists. The practice has become the norm among the city’s most respected producers, from Dr. Dre to DJ Mustard. Nipsey always showcased young L.A. talent, from early appearances of future superstars Kendrick Lamar and ScHoolboy Q, to YG, Buddy, Dom Kennedy, and local legend G Perico, to producers DJ Mustard and DJ Dahi.

“He’s a lot of people’s finish-line, you know? What they aspired to be,” said Rosecrans Vic, founder of Rosecrans Radio, a blog and online radio station that showcases local hip hop talent. “If you talk to any rapper, they’ll say that Nipsey was an influence in some way, either because of his music, or business wise, or his involvement in his community.”

RELATED: Interview with G Perico: 'Motivational, Gangster, Ratchet as a Motherf*cker, Hood Rat, Nasty, Conscious'

"He put on for Crenshaw, I was influenced by that to put on for Rosecrans [Avenue],” Vic added.

“He was early on visibly supportive of Jay Rock, and that was a big deal,” said Vic, referring to local Top Dawg Entertainment rapper Jay Rock, a member of the Bounty Hunter Bloods. Nipsey was affiliated with the Rollin 60’s Neighborhood Crips.

[dropcap size=big]Y[/dropcap]et Hussle was well-known for working across the Bloods-Crips boundary, which remains persistent in Los Angeles despite declining homicide figures overall. He collaborated with artists from the other side. “He made it okay for Crips to listen to YG,” Vic said. “Getting respect, especially when you’re a gang member in L.A., is a lot to say. His respect transferred to the rest of L.A.”

“He could go to any hood and be okay, and the wrong part was he was gunned down in his own hood,” he added.

Nipsey’s death comes amid a recent surge in homicides in South L.A., and a series of tragedies in the local hip hop scene. Two of the city’s biggest luminaries, Drakeo the Ruler, and 03 Greedo, are both currently incarcerated on different charges.

Drakeo, a rapper who makes self described “nervous, paranoid, trap music" is currently sitting in Men’s Central Jail with members of the local rap collective the Stinc Team, awaiting trial for suspiciously hazy charges of first-degree murder, attempted murder, and conspiracy to commit murder against another L.A. rapper, RJ. Shortly after, 03 Greedo turned himself into authorities in Texas for possession and weapons charges steaming from a 2016 arrest.

“I think it’s up to us, I know that I have to be a part of that. I have to make sure we all keep moving forward. The marathon continues,” Vic said, echoing a phrase that has emerged a rallying cry in Nipsey’s memory. A lot of artist are taking that to heart too. "Nipsey laid a blueprint for everyone to see and for everyone to become the Nipsey of their community.”

RELATED: Melee and Rush Leaves 19 Injured at Nipsey Hussle Memorial ~ Residents Cleaning Up After Citywide Tactical Alert

Daniel Hernandez contributed to this report.

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