The art and activism of Nipsey Hussle

Updated: Mar 2, 2020

A refection of the late rappers life and impact.

By Herschel Mackelina

Rest Easy Ermias. Photo credit:

As you probably have seen in headlines these past few weeks, there was heavy back-to-back media coverage on the death of LA rapper, Nipsey Hussle, on March 31 2019. Fatally shot outside his clothing store, the Grammy-nominated artist’s passing sent shock waves around the globe. Born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, his father was an Eritrean immigrant whose African heritage significantly impacted Hussle in his art and activism.

To his Eritrean community, he was an idol like no other. Kids had never before seen or heard of an Eritrean-American as successful as him in the hip-hop scene. He was the poster-child for a relatively unknown nation in mainstream American media. He shone a light on his culture and never shied away from it . In so doing inspired many young kids to be proud of their heritage and where they come from.

As his stage name alludes to, much of Hussle’s childhood was spent in his neighbourhood in South Los Angeles, rife in gang-violence, navigating through street life as a teenage street rapper. It is the collective experiences of growing up in such a unique culture that has left a profound impact on his music and his story. It is for this reason that many of the South African youth can respect and relate to the hustle of growing up in eKasi and feeling the gravity of a system in society hell bent on weighing one down.

What is so significant in Hussle’s story is that even whilst growing up he still saw the art and promise in the Hip Hop era of the 90s, with the likes of Tupac and Snoop Dog, who remained big inspirations in his music. Hip Hop back then was more than just music; it was an expressive art form in and of itself which reflected the realities and lifestyle of growing up in the streets.

This need for a unique form of expression and for our narratives to be told as best as only we can, resonates in many ways with our South African context – given our past. The innate desire for acknowledgement and equality. To sing, dance, write about our struggle, our pain and our triumphs. To be a beacon of hope and to liberate the one next to you so that they too can do the same. The western world has a particular individualistic-centred approach as to how we go about this world, which is in stark contrast to our indigenous community-orientated way of living centred on the principles of Ubuntu. It seems Hussle was well versed in his heritage and culture as his life stands testament to his quest of uplifting others along with him.

Of the many legacies that will live on in his name, the most enduring would probably be his many business ventures in the community he grew up in, Crenshaw. Hussle designed his businesses to benefit and give back to his community. Through the establishment of Vector90, an enterprise co-owned by Hussle and entrepreneur David Gross, he sought to provide basic training and development skills as well as an operating space for start-up companies to utilise. Through representing and helping underrepresented groups with the necessary expertise, and then linking them with corporate entities, there would be a heightened level of economic and social growth to the community.

In our county, the injustices and legacies of the past still remain, with the effects of economic disservice still existing in black communities. We as a youth can no longer rely on others to save or help us and the onus rests with us and us alone. If there’s anything to take away from Hussle’s legacy, it’s that we are our only saviours. Everything we ever need already exists within us, we need only find. May Nipsey Hussle’s story remain forever with us and in the words of the man himself, "The marathon continues.”

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