What defines a man?
It seems the question depends not only on the man we’re attempting to define, but also it depends on who’s providing the definition. Case in point, Ermias Davidson Asghedom, aka, Nipsey Hussle.
To millions of those immured in hip-hop, and for that matter, pop culture, Hussle, killed March 31 at just 33 years of age, was an iconic emcee revered for his music, attaining both commercial and critical success. To many in his immediate community of Los Angeles he was a business owner providing opportunities for others … and to many, many Black people who may not even have a connection to today’s hip-hop – people such as me – he was a modern symbol of hope and empowerment. To others …
Like 2 Pac, killed in 1996, Hussle was an enigma. Enigma may be a bit strong. For most Black people in America it’s less enigma and more so, duality. Not this or that, but this andthat. Unfortunately, for the masses – the uninformed – the focus tends to lean towards the that.
News of the Nipsey Hussle shooting began to spread late afternoon/early evening, and as with most breaking news stories, details were sketchy. I was playing cards with a group of fellas and watching the Duke/Michigan State basketball game when our social media feeds alerted us to a shooting. First it was three men shot and injured outside of Hussle’s Marathon Clothing store, then it was Hussle himself was shot but not life-threatening, then it was he was in critical condition. I’m in the news business so my instincts took me off social media to find a daily news source. I pulled up NBC’s website and it was confirmed, Nipsey Hussle was dead. But that wasn’t the only story the NBC report wanted to tell. Due to the violent nature of the musician’s death NBC reported on Hussle’s last Twitter post, “Having strong enemies is a blessing.” The post was indeed ominous and cryptic.
As the outlet should have, it went on to offer background on Hussle for those who may be learning of him for the first time or know little about the man … and trust, there are many who fall in this category. But the background NBC focused upon was a background I didn’t know and was quite contrary to the Nipsey Hussle most fans and admirers know.
“Hussle had long been associated with the Rollin 60s Neighborhood Crips, one of Los Angeles' largest street gangs, which he publicly acknowledged in a 2010 interview with Complex magazine,” the breaking news article stated. To prove Hussle was a “gangbanger” a link to the Complex article was provided.
This was actually news to me.
I am not connected to today’s hip-hop like I was to hip-hop in the past. I still get out and party and I’m sure I’ve heard plenty of Nipsey Hussle’s music, but don’t ask me to name one song title because I can’t. But I know Nipsey Hussle. The reason I know Nipsey Hussle is because many major Black media outlets have long been reporting on the Los Angeles artist’s charitable exploits and his funding of a technology initiative focused on introducing careers in STEM to Black youth. Black media outlets reported on Hussle working to produce a documentary on homeopathic healer, Dr. Sebi – a man who believed in natural medicine and claimed to have an herbal cure for AIDS. Early interviews of Hussle that have now resurfaced show a young Hussle talking about wealth building and wealth creation through investing in real estate and other appreciating assets. He even delves into the colonization of many African nations and its impact on the world today. So, yes, it seems Nipsey Hussle was associated with a street gang, but clearly, he was so much more.
Early in the day, before the tragic shooting that killed Hussle and has two others fighting for their lives, I was home cleaning and folding clothes … typical Sunday morning stuff. I needed some form of entertainment to get me thought the mundane tasks, so I turned to Netflix. Trending was the documentary, “The Two Killings of Sam Cooke.”
In hindsight it was an eerie coincidence that it was that documentary I chose to watch on that morning.
“The Two Killings of Sam Cooke” was, as I saw it, a documentary reclaiming the legacy of legendary soul singer Sam Cooke. For years, the narrative of Sam Cooke was “talented singer killed in ‘seedy motel’ while in the company of a prostitute.”
That may or may not be how he died (like with Hussle, there is continued speculation surrounding the circumstances of Cooke’s killing) but that’s not how Cooke lived. Cooke was a musician who in many ways defined soul music, but more importantly, he was an out-front activist for Black people. Cooke often refused to play segregated shows at expense of his own earnings while enduring death threats from racist whites angered by his outspokenness. Cooke, like Hussle, advocated to self-reliance to the point of starting his own record label and publishing company. According to friend Smokey Robinson, Sam Cooke was the first entertainer to encourage Blacks to turn away processed hair and wear their natural hair.
“He invited the Afro,” exclaimed Robinson in the riveting documentary.
Sam Cooke was that influential. So too was Nipsey Hussle.
Sam Cooke’s legacy deserves to be told in its proper context. So too does Nipsey Hussle’s.
On my way to play cards I drove past a crime scene near North Minneapolis. As it turns out, like in the Hussle case, one person was killed and two others fighting for life. I don’t know much more about the lives of those shot but I know their story, like Hussle’s, is not monotone. I made the perilous mistake of reading the comments under a news story detailing the killing. I promise, those ill-informed and callous comments are not the totality of the victims. That young man who lost his life in North Minneapolis deserves to have his entire story told; same as Nipsey Hussle. They shouldn’t be defined by the ill-informed; neither in the comment section nor by the storyteller him or herself.
Most importantly, they should both be alive.