When I first heard the news about Nipsey Hussle, I had no idea who he was. As a 43-year-old white Jewish guy from Chattanooga, Tennessee, my music taste teeters between dad rock and whatever my elementary-school-aged boys are listening to.
But once I began reading the coverage of the rapper’s life and the impact he had on his South Los Angeles community, I felt I had missed out on something special, something rare, the spark of untapped potential that was just beginning to flourish. And I’m not talking about Hussle’s music.
Here in the South, in my small community, Los Angeles can feel like a whole other world, like a million miles away. And I’m not saying that in a podunk, back hills kind of way. I’ve been to California several times. I’ve been to New York City. As a journalist, I’d like to consider myself educated, well-versed in current events, and plugged into the happenings in our national culture. Though I don’t listen to music as often as I’d like these days, I try my best to stay aware of new artists and trends. And when it comes to problems such as the ever-widening political divide in this country, the systemic gender issues women face, and the institutional racism that many African Americans are forced to fight on a daily basis, I’d like to think I’m actively combating these societal plagues in my own small way.
But Hussle’s music eluded me. And his untimely death has shaken me for reasons I’m still trying to reconcile.
It’s also been a wake-up call for many in his Crenshaw District community. As Ark Republic has reported, the 33-year-old rapper not only had a burgeoning music career, but he was also an entrepreneur and philanthropist who had begun to invest in real estate and other business ventures to help build affordable housing for low-income families. He also encouraged young entrepreneurs to start their own companies, as well as, rebuild parts of his community that had been neglected from the 1992 Rodney King riots. It was also reported that he was going to meet with the chief of police to try to find ways to end gang violence in the area.
In my hometown of Chattanooga, not only do we have our own gang problems, but gentrification seems to be so widespread that there seems to be two different communities in our city, the white community and the Black and Latino community. As much as we would not like to admit that Chattanooga has a race problem, it does. According to a 2015 Chattanooga Times Free Press story, many people in the city’s low-income neighborhoods, which are predominantly black, lack a high school diploma. And close to 56 percent of black single mothers live in poverty compared to 33 percent of single white mothers.
When my wife moved here from Huntsville, Alabama in 2005, she was surprised by the lack of Black leadership in the city’s government. And now, almost 15 years later, things aren’t much better. And since the direction in which our country is moving politically is inspiring an uptick in white nationalism, the good work Hussle had been doing to help improve his community and the legacy he leaves behind must be remembered. And the foundation he started must be built upon.
After a call for thoughts on Hussle’s murder over Facebook, Jacobie Sims, one of my former students from back in my high school teaching days, shared her opinion with me. She talked about the shock of it all, how she thought he’d initially pull through, and her surprise that he didn’t. She also expressed how tragic it was that he was shot in front of his daughter, and listed the good things he was doing to help improve his community. And then she wrote, “When rappers or well-known figures in the Black community go back to the communities they were raised in, they are sometimes killed by the same people they go back to try and help. Now, I can’t help but wonder what he could’ve accomplished if it wasn’t for some loser’s ego. And it makes me sad.”
Hussle’s music may or may not be remembered 20 years from now. But it’s up to all of us to make sure his legacy of making his community better will be.
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