A self-proclaimed master of his own fate, Nipsey Hussle is a prolific and dedicated rap talent. Releasing 10 mixtapes over a ten-year period, the wordsmith and entrepreneur has patiently bided his time, waiting on the prime moment to release his most accomplished and impressive body of work to date. Entitled Victory Lap and released last month via Atlantic, Nipsey’s 16-track opus boasts a heavy collab list, representative of some of hip-hop’s most powerful players. Hyped by Drake on Twitter (“Nipsey you hustle the hardest”), backed by Kendrick and favorited by Puff Daddy, YG, JAY-Z and The-Dream, Nipsey has ascended to true greatness from troubled times.
Legitimately hustling his way while surviving on the streets, the 32-year-old Crenshaw native was once famously an active member of the local Rollin 60’s Neighborhood Crips gang. Today, Nipsey speaks honestly about his experiences so others may swerve an avoidable descent into self-destruction and aggression. His eloquent lyrics serve as a warning to those inspired by violence and negativity, but Nipsey is a brilliant force of optimism and positivity in rap; recognizing only the positive impact of his life’s success while avoiding dwelling on the sadness and strife his young adulthood on the streets earned him.
Now a proud father of two, an active entrepreneur, and successful in the fields of fashion, finance, and music, Nipsey names his greatest passion as words. He remains humble and thoughtful, “I don’t think I am smarter than anyone nor stupid. I take words seriously because it’s really important for me to express what I mean and to not beat around the bush. I need to be specific. I need my message to be received the way I intended it.”
Highsnobiety caught up with Nipsey Hussle to discuss his mainstream breakthrough with Victory Lap, working closely with Kendrick Lamar and Drake, and his extraordinary journey from gang life to the high life.
Do you think ‘Victory Lap’ is the best work that you have created to date?
I really do, and I know that’s the correct thing to say, but it really is in terms of consistency in a body of work, especially with the song writing and lyrics. I can listen to it top to bottom and it will throw up a few different emotions for me with each track. The content feels so honest, and I think the production is really elevated. Victory Lap really does represent my life and what is real to me.
Of all your lyrics or verses, which are you the proudest of?
I have a song called “Save the World” on my Crenshaw mixtape and the lyrics say:
“Don’t cry tears, they don’t fly here. And if you don’t die here, you supposed to fly here. 365 here is like a dog year. No wonder why these n*ggas 20 and got white hairs. Stressin’ like they 40 and some change. It’s lonely in this game, all my homies are in pain.”
Here I am saying there is no point in crying or being sad about what’s going on, that if you don’t die here you are supposed to fly later, if you make it out, you are supposed to take it to the next level and really achieve something. It’s pre-destined for some of us to just die or go to jail. If you somehow wiggle out of that, then there is no limit to your opportunity. You will have already dealt with the hardest part of the game, so if you can survive that you can really master this other part of the world. One year in that environment is like a dog year. You have kids of 20-years-old who have the wisdom of 60-year-old men because of the way they experience life.
When I wrote that, it felt so honest and natural. The power of words really struck me with that song. I felt like these sentiments were so true, when you see the pain on those young people’s faces, the experiences of a person far beyond their years. They are so young and they have experienced life up close, they know death and the severity of what can happen. All that stress ages them. It puts a level of wisdom, experience, and pain on their face. That all feels so close to me.
You’ve lived a million different lives and been exposed to so many cultures, your experiences could have hardened you and robbed you of your optimism and given you a less accessible kind of bravado but instead, you’re a very likeable, relatable, prolific and warm-hearted man. How do you maintain that?
That’s a dope compliment and I appreciate that. I can expand on that through this lyric on my Crenshaw mixtape, the track is “Crenshaw and Slauson”:
“Was a charismatic n*gga, I don’t play as much. ‘Cos life is real when you live it in a place like us.”
Here I was talking about memories of my childhood, remembering pictures on the wall at my grandmother’s house. I was a happy-go-lucky child, I never took a picture without showing my teeth. I was charismatic. I love people and I love life, I have always naturally been like that. When I was involved with the Crips, getting more exposed to darker elements of life, that shellshocked me. I had to express a different side of myself, and it took me going through all the levels of being on the streets – becoming secure in who I really am again – as a teenager. As an adult, I needed to resort back to my natural disposition as a loving person.
Again, I love people and I love life, but in the environment of gang culture anybody could drive through your neighborhood, jump out and kill you. That’s real life, that’s what goes on. People that you knew all your life will rob you and if you resist they will kill you. That was the texture of the relationships, so to be an open book and to be somebody who wore kindness and charisma on their sleeve could cost me more than I could afford in vulnerability. I was stoney-faced, cold, and occasionally violent with my guard up. Then in contrast, I realized I would much rather be perceived as vulnerable and to embrace a different style of living.
What was the first album you played your daughter?
I play Miseducation of Lauryn Hill to my daughters a lot. I play Adele, she’s inspired by Adele. She would sing “Hello” when that came out and the little vein on her neck would pop out because she put her whole heart into it. My daughter has a beautiful voice, and I’m not just saying that because I am her father. She can really sing. I try to expose her to dope vocalists and let her hear great singers. My son is really little, he’s 18 months old, but he already loves music too. He dances in time to my songs!
Would you ever feature your daughter who sings on a track?
Yeah! I have been trying to tell her! I took her out at my album release concert in LA, she came on stage to perform, she was not shy at all. That’s how I closed the night. The energy at the album release party was the most memorable part of that night, we played new songs that the fans hadn’t really heard, minus the singles. It was dope to be in a room full of my fans and by the end of the concert this album was going to be readily available. That gave the whole event a unique energy, just talking to the crowd, the fans who have been with me through everything, I feel emotional sharing this debut with them. A lot of my friends who are celebrities or influencers just came up to support.
How did the track “Dedication” featuring Kendrick Lamar first take shape?
That record was just destined to be on this album. I laid the concept for that song down such a long time ago. I knew that the hook was powerful, and it was just the emotion in the hood at the time. I was almost singing in that hook because I was really in the spirit when I was recording it. I really felt the words, it took over me a little bit. The way the song came together happened in stages – I had originally written three verses myself. The first verse was a powerful verse and the other two were strong, but I thought the concept could be brought home better, so I left the track alone.
My producer became very inspired and said ‘You need to finish this song.’ We were mixing and matching the album and we were still picking what to include on the track listing. We got to “Dedication” and I went into the booth and finished the last verse; that brought the record a little closer to conclusion. Then my producers snuck the record to Kendrick. He went crazy and completed a 32 bar verse; he didn’t do a traditional 16 bar, he laid down the equivalent of two verses on that track. It goes by fast because of how powerful his words are. It just felt right, the universe or some higher intelligence knew that there was a verse that needed to be added to it and it was from Kendrick, which was so right for it. The moment the record came out was perfect. If it had been released a year ago it wouldn’t have been as effective.
Did you record your track “Killer” with Drake in the studio or remotely?
Drake and I, we talked early, it was at the 2009 BET awards in LA. He was really blowing up for the first time – “Best I Ever Had” was on its way to being number one. He went on Twitter and wrote “Nipsey Hu$$le is the hardest out!”, and that started trending and everyone noticed it. Then I spoke to my team and they hooked up a mutual respect convo, we both said ‘I think we gonna be here for a while as artists. The aesthetic is really dope so I feel like we should do a record now even though it’s early.’ We discussed records we could collaborate on, I said ‘send me a record and I’ll do the same for you’ and so, ironically, the one he sent first was produced by 1500 or Nothin’. Those are my in-house producers, and they didn’t know that Drake had rapped on one of their songs until I brought it over there to make my verse. They said ‘man this is so deep’.
Do you find you can work very fluidly? As in, you can just step into the studio and lay down a vocal, or do you find sometimes you go through periods where you don’t like what you are creating?
Absolutely, 100% I would be lying if I were to say I had that level of control over my creative processes. It is hard to learn how to harness creativity when you need it. It boils down to where we are at as people. It takes a level of faith, you must really believe in what it is you are saying. It’s deeper than just being aggressive; you can be forceful with your creativity, but after you make enough songs and create enough art you will realize that art is a result of inspiration.
In my instance, I just look for ways to be inspired and that becomes an energy thing. Music exists, all the possible melodies live somewhere, that place is a vibration above where we exist. You must gain access to that place, and to gain access you must come humbly. You must come with honesty and with the right frequency or you will be banging on the door and it will be like ‘no bro you aren’t dressed right for this party.’ You gotta get the energy right, no excuses. If you aren’t humble and your heart isn’t in the right place then it’s wrong. Are you thinking about getting rich? Are you thinking about things that vibrate on a lower frequency than the actual material that you are trying to tap into? Are you trying to make a radio record or go platinum? If so, your intentions are going to prevent you from really getting access. But if you are in a space where you are trying to be honest and creative – trying to articulate feelings and words to the emotions – when you are in that state you can go for days and days and days, until you do something or think of something that brings you back down to normality.
That feels like an almost meditative state. You must remain open, if you are polluted by other thoughts or feelings it will hinder your processes.
In my experience it’s so real, you really can fall from grace because of one wrong song or one bad intention, for instance being arrogant or thinking that you got it and you mastered it. The process is learning to respect the art.
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- Words: Milly McMahon
- Imagery: Nicholas Watkin