The Light of Los Angeles
December 2 – Behind a deli on Crenshaw’s busiest stretch, Nipsey Hussle is painted on an alley wall, in shades of goldenrod and crimson. It is hardly an anomaly. Throughout South Los Angeles, the specter of Hussle can be found all over: on storefronts, inside galleries and coffee shops, alongside freeways.
Ermias Joseph Asghedom was shot and killed outside his clothing store on March 31, 2019. Weeks of headlines and remembrances followed. He was deeply committed to shaping his hood the way he wished when he ran these streets as “Neighborhood Nip,” and it’s what motivated him to open his Marathon Clothing shop in the very strip mall where he spent years hustling mixtapes—before buying the entire strip. It’s why he opened Vector90, a coworking space and STEM incubator for inner-city youth. It’s why he advocated for art-centric beautification projects like Destination Crenshaw and personally helped renovate World on Wheels, the legendary roller rink on Venice Boulevard that partially birthed West Coast hip-hop. “He was not confused about who he was and what his mission was,” his life partner, Lauren London, tells me. “And it was the upliftment of us, as a people.”
It’s rare to meet someone in these parts who doesn’t have a Hussle story, but his imprint was far-reaching—just ask any black American or Habesha youth living in rough enclaves across the country what he meant. Hussle’s passing was an enormous loss, the depths of which are especially crippling to those who saw him not as a rapper or community activist but as a father, son, brother, lover, and friend. This is his story, told by those who knew him best.
Samiel Asghedom (brother): We was real close in age. I was three when [our parents] brought him home from the hospital. I’ll always remember, he would be crying whenever I was in the room, and Mom would come in there and spank me!
Dawit Asghedom (father): Ermias was very outgoing. He loved to read. And he also knew who he wanted to be.
Samiel Asghedom: We did everything together, from summer camp to karate. We liked all the same shit: Ninja Turtles, Batman, Pogs, basketball, football, music—everything. We used to walk to Crenshaw High and [jump] the fence and play basketball. He was shorter than everybody for a while. If he lost, he’d take the basketball and kick it over the fence. We probably lost 30 basketballs.
Dawit Asghedom: Whenever I would take him to the store, he used to want toys. But one time he picked up Makaveli [Tupac Shakur’s posthumous 1996 album]. I told him, “No. Why do you want this?” At the same time, deep in my head, I thought maybe it will teach him something. There was always music at my house—R&B mostly—and books. He already had good reading habits. So I changed my mind and told him, “I’ll buy you this one.”
Samantha Smith (sister): The first time I heard my brother rap, I had to be like seven. I thought it was so amazing, like, “My brother is going to be the next Jay-Z!” He would go to Watts Towers Arts Center to record when he was young. I remember driving with him and my mom, dropping him off on Saturday mornings. I would sneak in his room to read his notebook with all his raps in it. I had no idea what it even meant.
Tai Phillips (classmate; appears on Hussle’s 2013 mixtape, ‘Crenshaw’): He always had his backpack on and was in the rap cyphers at school.
Jaire Kwayera Clarence Lewis (classmate and collaborator): I checked in at Hamilton [High School] my junior year. I was already doing music a little bit, but I really loved to freestyle. He used to congregate with that group of kids that would be in the quad freestyling. He was dope, had a nostalgic vibe. He was really quiet and studious. He was always reading, always empowering himself with information. But I had equipment at my house, and I remember bragging about having a studio and he kind of just invited himself like, “I’m gonna come to your house.”
Phillips: He was always pretty laid-back. [One time, we] did a little photo shoot at the homecoming dance. He had on this Sean John jacket. He was posing, opening his jacket up. That was funny because I wasn’t expecting him to do that. I’m like, “Okay, I see you.”
Cobby Supreme (rapper, signed to Hussle’s All Money In label): It was 1998. I pulled inside the ARCO gas station on Crenshaw and Slauson, and there was a kid probably four or five years younger than me, which happened to be him. The little kid walked up to my door, trying to hand me a CD. I was familiar with the hustle, and I respected it. When he tried to hand me the CD, I was like, “No, I don’t want to buy no CD.” But I still gave him $5. Told him, “Keep the CD, just make your money.” And he smiled.
I called him back to the window and asked him if he was Rollin’ 60s [Neighborhood Crips, a popular set]. He shook his head and told me no, but he kind of did it with a grin. I’m like, “You sure?” “Nah.” “You going to be 60s?” “Nah.” And he did another grin.
It was all like family. We weren’t basing none of the things we were doing on following traditional gang life. It was like, if you was in this, like anything else—a basketball team or whatever—you’re going to be loyal. That’s basically what it is.
Lewis: I don’t feel like a ton of the kids at Hamilton were immersed in the gang culture. He definitely did change a little bit.
Da’Monte “Pacman Da Gunman” Lyles (rapper, signed to Hussle’s All Money In label): First thing you noticed was the money, the chains. Everybody looks up to you when you got money, jewelry and everything. I automatically got a role-model impression from him.
Lamar “Mars” Edwards (member of music collective 1500 or Nothin’ and longtime collaborator): My first impression was he was hood as hell, and I wanted to stay away from him. I was low-key scared.
Brittany Bell (publicist, Atlantic Records): He was tall and skinny, like, “Geez.” I hugged him from the side, and my arm wrapped around him twice.
Dawit Asghedom: When I heard [he joined a gang], it was a surprise to me. I asked him, “How long have you been doing this? You’re smart and everything, but you’re hanging with gang members?” I remember asking myself, “How can I get him out from there?”
Dawit Asghedom: As his dad, I wanted to make sure he saw the place that raised me. It’s good to know your origins. I always wanted to get them back there. I wanted them to know the family—their cousins, grandmother, uncles, and relatives they only knew by telephone. And I wanted them to see it was different in Africa.
Samiel Asghedom: I was very worried about my brother. My cousin Adam [Andebrhan] would have conversations with my brother like, “Do something positive, because we’re not gonna last out here. Nobody lasts out here like that.”
Dawit Asghedom: Here it is very money-oriented and about material objects. I wanted them to see the richness of those differences. When we came back [from Eritrea], Ermias said, “What do I want to do with my life? Do I want to continue doing this, or do I want to go to a different direction?” He found himself. And he found a way to get out, because he decided to.
Samiel Asghedom: When we first put an album out independently, he printed business cards that said “Slauson Boy Records.” We put up posters and paid money out of our pockets to get radio advertisements.
Bell: My grandmother has a business on the corner of Crenshaw and 54th Street, so I remember always seeing Nipsey around the neighborhood…selling CDs from out of his trunk.
Samiel Asghedom: He had everybody in the whole neighborhood putting up posters and volunteering for him. The people rallied around him. It motivated him.
Edwards: He was always coming to our studios, trying to see how he could improve, how he could get his sound better, his quality better. Most rappers weren’t worried about that. Most were worried about having the biggest song, the biggest chain, the [best] girl.
John “J-Keys” Groover Jr. (one half of production duo Mike & Keys and longtime collaborator): Back then, people was like, “He’s the new Snoop Dogg.” But Nipsey definitely had his own identity when I met him. He was a star in my mind.
Dom Kennedy (longtime collaborator): I heard the name first, and I was curious about who he was. I searched for him on Google and saw a guy with a blue shirt that said “60 Crip.” Being from where I’m from, I knew what that meant.
Meek Mill (rapper): He was always cool, calm, and collected. He wasn’t really talking that much. When you come from the streets, you don’t really show your emotions around new people you meet.
DJ Khaled (producer): I actually tried to sign him. I’d seen his documentary on WorldStar, and I was like, “This kid is special.”
Dallas Martin (senior VP of A&R, Atlantic Records): Everybody respected that he did it his way…pushing his independent situation and trying to do what’s best for him and his team.
Michael “Money Mike” Cox Jr. (one half of production duo Mike & Keys and longtime collaborator): The first record we did was [2013’s] “Checc Me Out” with Dom Kennedy. That was the first studio session we ever had with Nipsey.
Groover: I remember Nipsey was like, “This is the sound that I’m going with.” He never really had a sound before. People just knew him from rapping on other people’s beats, so “Checc Me Out” was kind of like establishing [himself] as an artist.
Dom Kennedy: That song is probably the hardest song ever to come out of Los Angeles, honestly. We wanted to make something that counted—and I saw it on his face.
Rick Ross (rapper): I met Nipsey back in ’09. I told him, “I see the impact you will make on the world.” I always knew he would be bigger than just music. I saw it from the beginning.
Steve “Steve-O” Carless (co-founder, the Marathon Agency): One thing I really admired about him was nothing tripped him off course. Negotiating the Warner and MMG deal, we were going back and forth on terms. When the draft came through, he said, “Man, this is really, really impressive. I’m shocked by what Rick Ross is proposing to me.” And I was like, “This [deal] represents everything you said you wanted.” And he said, “Just let me meditate.”
J Roc (bodyguard): Nip was just so concerned with doing it “the Nip Hussle way.”
Carless: He called me back the next morning, at the crack of dawn, and said, “As a team we should turn that down…the way this reads, and what they’re giving me, it doesn’t represent for my brother, for Adam, for Fatts [Stephen “Fatts” Donelson was a childhood friend of Hussle’s and helped him start All Money In before he was killed in 2017, at the age of 30], for anybody that has contributed to this movement. I can’t allow that to happen to them. If it’s meant to be, then it will come to me; if not, I’ll work for it. But we’re going to get it this way.” That really hit me hard. I was completely frozen by it.
Rick Ross: Nipsey had his own aspirations for independence. I respected his position. We didn’t close the deal, but we always stayed in touch.
J Roc: Ross offered everything Nip wanted. I didn’t understand it, like, “What the fuck is going on?” I was there through the rough parts, when there was no deal. It was times where we didn’t know how the bills were going to get paid. But everything got paid, and Nip would pay me. My bills was getting paid, and I didn’t know how he was paying his own bills.
Phillips: By then his career had already taken off. He was playing me some of his songs from Crenshaw, asking me who I could hear on different songs as features. When I heard he was selling the album for $100, I was like, “How did he come up with that?”
Lauren London (partner; mother of Hussle’s son, Kross): We met through a mutual friend, like, on the phone. Because we’re both from L.A., we had a lot of friends in common. I had a couple of homegirls that had hung out with him and would come back to me like, “Oh, my God! You would really like Nip! He seems like your type!” I wasn’t dating anybody at the time, or doing any of that. We met because I wanted to pick up a box of clothes he offered me after I bought a couple [copies of] Crenshaw. I pulled up to his shop on Crenshaw and Slauson, and he was like, “You want to hang out?”
Bell: The relationship that he had with Lauren was something very unique. I told him, “You guys were literally birthed and created for each other.”
London: So we drove around the city, and to my surprise he knew my aunt, so we pull up to my aunt’s house to eat. He had called her. Later that night we drove down PCH and talked for hours. I would consider that our first date. Before that, we had talked on the phone for like eight hours, but [this] was the first time we were face-to-face. We started kicking it every day for weeks, and then I realized that we never went to dinner and had, like, a proper first date. From there, it was just…easy. It felt so natural for us to be in each other’s lives.
Smith: I lived with him [throughout] my teenage life. We would call up KyoChon Chicken, which was down the street, when he stayed in Koreatown. They would deliver this spicy, crazy spicy Korean chicken that we liked. We called like everyday for almost like a month. We was trying to eat it all the time!
London: We were both foodies. We would go to Little Ethiopia a lot and eat at Merkato. He introduced me to Eritrean and Ethiopian cuisine. He loved Mexican food and anything really spicy—he would add extra jalapeños. I was always making him tacos. Always.
Tatum Herman (hairstylist): I met one of his producers in a Halloween store. I braided his hair, and a couple days later he was like, “Yo, I work with this dude named Nipsey, and he really thought my braids was fly. You want to braid him up?” So I went to his house to do his hair because I wasn’t even in a full shop yet. He was a cool guy. Easy to be around.
Derek “MixedByAli” Ali (recording/mixing engineer): He was that guy that always just shines the room up.
Meek Mill: As I got a chance to know him, I learned he had a good heart. A pure heart. His energy was good.
Jorge Peniche (road manager and business partner): He was just a really stress-free person that did things by a very specific set of guidelines—rules that were super honorable. Other people might have taken shortcuts or scammed. But he always did things the right way.
Herman: He told the truth because lying, to him, was the worst thing you could do. Even if everybody thought he was in the wrong, he stood next to what he did.
Chief Johnson (senior manager of entertainment marketing for Puma, which collaborated with Hussle before his death on a capsule collection): He came across as one of those people who you met one time and you felt like you’ve known forever. He always had a light to him.
Bell: He was such a family man. He loved his babies. When I would take my son to school in the mornings, I would see him coming from dropping off his daughter. He dropped her off at school every morning. To be an entertainer and find that time out of the day to have these conversations on the way to school with your daughter and be that first person that she sees on her way out? I really admired [that].
London: He was a very gentle father. Extremely gentle. Very present.
Norberto Garcia (videographer): Before you look at all the tattoos, before you look at the gang culture and that side of him, he was really just a beautiful person. He had a beautiful heart. He brought a certain energy into every room he stepped into.
Lewis: [He was] one of the most thrill-seeking-ist, funniest guys. And you would never guess, because he seemed so serious and so astute. But man, Nip’s sense of humor? He could have easily done comedy.
Smith: He’s like a little kid.
J Roc: My favorite memory is when we had a juice fight in the truck. He was renting a Tahoe. This was during the time when drinking lean was going on, right, so we had some in the truck. And I’m like, “Look, niggas got to stop drinking lean. Niggas that drink lean is cranky as fuck!”
Nip and everybody else is fucked-up, and these niggas start pouring lean on me! I found a bottle of juice and throw it. They throwing lean. None of us ever laughed that hard in our entire lives.
London: Nip was very spontaneous. He would be like, “Boog, let’s go out of town.” And I’d go with him and no luggage. He was very fun in that way. He loved having fun. We’d wake up in the morning, and he’d be like, “Bet you won’t get on a roller coaster.” We would literally just wash our faces, brush our teeth, put on sweats, and go to Magic Mountain, randomly, to get on a roller coaster and start the day.
BH (rapper): He woke me up one day like, “Man, come outside.” I walk outside, get in the car, and we on our way to Six Flags. He set me up! I don’t ride roller coasters. I don’t fuck with them at all.
Smith: Actually, Nip was terribly scared of any roller coaster that just drops. We’ll get on everything else, but when it comes to rides like Goliath, he’ll [pretend] like he was about to get on. You’ll be headed for the line, and you look back and he’s nowhere to be found! But he don’t have it in him to see kids trying to cheer him on and he doesn’t get on.
BH: So Nip gets on the ride. Everybody gets on the ride. It’s one seat open, and he makes me get on. That shit starts clicking all the way to the top. I’m closing my eyes, like, “Hurry up and get this over!” And he’s pushing me, like, “Open your eyes, bro!” I said, “Man, leave me the fuck alone right now, Nip!”
After it was over, he’s like, “Just tell me one thing, bro. Did you have fun?”
Herman: He was a rule breaker. This guy would pull a $230,000 car up on the sidewalk and park there and not give no fucks about it. He’ll miss a flight in a heartbeat if he felt he was being rushed.
Karen Civil (digital-media strategist and business partner): He would be on time to the airport but never on time to get on a flight. You would lose him. I’d always go into panic mode. You go check a restaurant, you yell into the bathroom. I would literally beg [the gate attendants] to hold the door. And Nipsey would be looking at books.
Jon Fagan (executive assistant and coordinator/engineer): He was real big on Contagious by Jonah Berger and The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding.
Civil: He had this bookcase. I believe it was red, from Ikea. I was like, “This is really dope. I’m going to get one.” And he says, “K.C., you can’t get a bookcase and fill it with books. If you get the bookcase, any book that goes on it, you have to read it.” I eventually went and got the bookcase in black, and there’s over 100 books on there. And he’s the reason I read them.
London: A couple days before he passed, he bought me three books. One was a book about parenting. He loved Power vs. Force. He swore on that book and got a lot of game from it. I mean, between he and I, we damn near had a library.
Edwards: There would be sessions where I would be going downstairs to smoke and walk in the room, and he’s in there, watching a documentary. There would be [all these] Crips in the room, watching a documentary on business.
J Roc: The best day with Nip was when we got the Atlantic deal. Nip did it the boss way and got what he wanted. And I was so happy.
Brianna Agyemang (senior director of marketing, Atlantic Records): He was proud of it. If he was nervous, he never really showed it.
Martin: The best moment, for sure, was being able to tell him he was nominated for a Grammy.
Carless: Nip called me on three-way with Dallas [Martin]. It was an emotional conversation. We all were just thankful for each other and kind of like high-fiving through the phone. He told us how proud of us he was that we all stayed down, and we told him how proud we were of him.
Martin: From the start we knew that this was Grammy-level material. So for him to, you know, be able to get that recognition meant a lot to him, because he poured his heart into the album.
Bell: He said he couldn’t fully be excited, because Fatts wasn’t here. He felt bad celebrating such a moment, because the person who had been there from the beginning wasn’t here.
Samiel Asghedom: As youngsters, looking up at Snoop, Jay, Puff, and Master P doing things with the music and enterprising, we always wished and hoped to be in that position. And everything we had always admired other people doing, my brother was doing. From the store opening up to getting written about in Forbes and GQ.
Bell: The GQ shoot was pretty epic.
London: We were in the bathroom putting on our clothes, and all of it was music-video, model-esque clothing. I’m like, “I can’t fit in anything, I’m overweight.” This was the first time I was taking pictures after the baby. And he’s like, “You’re beautiful, I’m gonna make this work. Don’t trip, Boog. Keep your energy up.”
So he comes out and was like, “We gotta get her right.” So they set up another fitting for me, later that day. Me and him stayed in the area, went out to eat, and sat in the car and talked until the fitting. I’m all nervous like, “I hope these clothes fit.” He was so supportive—like making tea for me—and he sat through my whole fitting. Every time I would come out in new clothes, he would clap: “Look at how fly you look. You gonna kill it.”
Bell: It was so cold and it rained. But he was very happy and proud. He had his friends on set with us. I knew how big it was for our little pocket of neighborhoods, because these places are rarely captured like this.
London: That street where we took a picture on the horse? That’s my cousin’s block. I remember afterwards, my homegirl who does my hair, Maisha, was crying, and I’m like, “Why are you crying?” And she’s like, “I just feel like I’ve been a part of some history.”
Agyemang: Another great day was the Grammys.
Garnett “G” Flynn (engineer): We had the Grammy-nomination party at the Peppermint Club. Everybody was there: Jay-Z, [Dave] Chappelle, Tip, Snoop. It really told more of a story of Hussle’s life, you know?
Bell: He pulled up to the Grammys with his momma, his daddy, and his daughter. I technically only had red carpet tickets for him and Lauren. He’s like, “Just put Emani in the middle of us, they not gonna tell us nothing.” We ended up getting through and she walked with us. She was so proud of her daddy. And it was really nice to have his mom and dad on the carpet, because that was such a huge moment for him.
Agyemang: We were happy because he got nominated, he got recognized.
Bell: He didn’t win. He was almost relieved. He was like, “It’s Cardi’s time. It wasn’t my time. I got the nomination, I’m good. Let’s turn up.”
DJ Khaled: I was calling him to do a record for my album. We met up in Miami, he came by my house. We had an amazing lunch and an amazing conversation about my kids and his kids in the backyard. We talked about investments. He told me about his mother, his grandma, and his pops. I told him, “Man, you should put that in a song one day.” That first verse of “Higher” was what he was telling me in the backyard.
Then he went to L.A. to finish the record, and it was just a masterpiece. I put John Legend on it, and I even told Nip, “I feel like this is a Grammy.” We ended up shooting a video. We had so much fun. There was like an energy, like we knew this record was going to be special. And four days later… To this day, I don’t believe it.
On March 31, 2019, Hussle pulled up to his Marathon Clothing shop. He’d just purchased the entire strip mall with plans to redevelop the property into a housing-and-retail complex anchored by his store. That afternoon he took pictures with fans and signed autographs.
According to unsealed transcripts of the grand jury proceedings, he was allegedly approached by a man named Eric Holder, an aspiring rapper and a purported Rollin’ 60s Crip suspected of snitching. Hussle reportedly told him to take care of the rumors. “Oh, yeah, motherfuckers be hating on me,” Holder replied. They shook hands. According to testimony, Holder would later return with two guns and fire at Hussle and the group around him. Multiple bullets pierced Hussle’s body. (Holder has pleaded not guilty to all charges.)
His brother, Samiel, got to the scene before the ambulance; a 911 operator told him what to do before paramedics arrived. But Hussle couldn’t be saved.
Martin: I saw Nip the Thursday before he passed. We were in a studio—me, him, and Meek Mill. They were going to do a joint album. He was Grammy-nominated, Meek was coming off the success of Championships, and they were big fans of each other. They made some great songs that night.
Meek Mill: We probably had about three or four songs.
Flynn: I get a phone call a little later, and it was questions: “Have you heard?” There were other times when rumors had circulated like that, and I’m looking at Nip like, “Nah, clearly he’s not been shot, I’m standing right here with him.” Then it turned into “Get down to the hospital.”
Garcia: I had just got home from church, and I got a phone call from a friend, like, “Hey, is Nipsey okay? I heard that he might’ve got shot.” I jumped on Google right away, and there were no articles. So I called Jorge [Peniche], and he told me.
London: I can’t talk about our last day together, and I still have to be strong for my children. I have a three-year-old that’s still asking, “Where is Daddy?” He doesn’t understand the concept of death.
Tens of thousands of mourners packed Staples Center and lined the streets of South L.A. for Hussle’s memorial and crosstown processional—a final victory lap for a hometown hero.
Dawit Asghedom: Everywhere I go, the love that people have given us.… You don’t expect it. The world misses him.
Herman: When I was asked to braid his hair for the wake, I was a little scared. I brought his favorite tea [to the funeral home], so that the whole room could smell aromatic. I brought a few crystals, some sage, palo santo. It was a ritual, because I knew I had to be in a certain space. I thought it was going to be a lot harder, but honestly I felt his presence in the room. Nip was very tender-headed. I mean, he would be moving around and he could not handle it. When I did the first braid, I swear to God I heard him say, “T, this the first time it don’t hurt.” His spirit was in there with me. He would make a joke.
London: I haven’t gotten to digest the fullness of it, because it’s overwhelming and I’m in the process of healing myself and my family. But I absolutely feel the love of the city.
Bell: I want people to remember his goal of uplifting our community.
Russell Westbrook (point guard, Houston Rockets): Unfortunately, it’s taken something [like this] to get people around the world to understand how much of a dope-ass dude he was. They understand what he’s built on—his beliefs, his grind, his struggle. Now people understand Nipsey, what he believed in and the way he walked this earth.
BH: It really just put a black cloud over me. I was really just down and depressed. Not talking to nobody, no answering the phone. Just getting high. Smoking weed and sipping a lot of lean. Just trying to numb the pain. And then one day, Hussle came to me like, Bro. Regardless of he’s dead or whatever, you know what I’m saying? I can hear him like, “So this means you die too? You better get out there and go get your bag. Make sure my kids [are okay], go check on Lauren. I’m still here. I’m with you. Go finish all that shit I started.”
Samiel Asghedom: What gives me a little bit of peace is knowing that he did a lot. He came a long way. Everything that he accomplished. I know what it took and how hard he worked. Seeing him follow through in doing all he did. I’m very proud of him.
London: Nip wasn’t just trying to make music to get money or be famous. He understood that through his music, he would be able to get his message across. And he was very big on his purpose with God. He knew who he was with God. He knew the mission that God and the purpose that God had placed on his heart.
Smith: His legacy will be “the Marathon Continues”—meaning his children, his children’s children. His mother, his sister, his brother, his life partner, his grandmother, all his friends and loved ones, that’s his legacy. His music is his legacy. All of his businesses are his legacy. All of the businesses opening up because we’re inspired, that’s his legacy.
Meek Mill: He’s a king. He overcame all types of obstacles, changed his life around.
Dom Kennedy: It bothers me when people say he’s just a rapper. He kind of humanized the young black experience. He modernized the Malcolm X thing.
Rick Ross: Nipsey’s legacy will be that he lived in and lived out his purpose. He did everything with purpose.
Peniche: He invested in a lot of people. He was a visionary, an architect.
DJ Khaled: If you listen to every interview he did, it’s incredible. Like the man was speaking and you can learn from it now and years from now.
Dawit Asghedom: Ermias wanted to change the world for the better. He gave hope to the hopeless. He motivated the youth to not give up their dreams, and at the same time he showed that it takes dedication and hard work to achieve it.
London: He loved his people. He wanted us to be strong and on our own, and he really wanted to put that message in his music and in his interviews. Now when people YouTube him and go back, they’re getting reintroduced to Nip. But Nip was always on that mission.
Gerrick D. Kennedy | GQ