(Transcript and credits below)
Shaun King: It’s Wednesday, April 3rd and today I’m dedicating this entire episode to my friend and brother Nipsey Hussle – who, and it hurts to even say these words, was tragically shot and killed on Sunday. Like millions of people, I’m crushed for his family, for the community, for the city of Los Angeles – which he loved and repped as much as any one person could ever love and rep a city, and I’m crushed for the culture, for our nation, and even for our world. Today I’m going to spend some time unpacking why Nipsey means so much to so many of us – because while many of you didn’t know much about him – to others of us he was not just a rapper but a leader, a motivator, a brother, and a pioneer – and then later I’ll share what I believe some next steps are that we can take that would honor him best. As everybody else talks endlessly about Donald Trump, we’re going in a different direction. We’re not just here to change the news – we’re here to change the world. This daily news podcast is not a repeat of what you’ve already heard somewhere else. I’m here to skip past the BS and tell you what you need to hear with the color, nuance, context, and
passion that our news deserves. This is Shaun King and you are listening to (THE BREAKDOWN).
I don’t know the last time I felt the way I do right now over the death of Nipsey Hussle. As many of you may know, my own brother, Jason, tragically passed away this past year, and his death hit my whole family like a ton of bricks. And it still hurts. In a span of just about 5 weeks he learned that he had pancreatic cancer and then died from it. He wasn’t even able to get any treatment to fight back. And he was a young man with a wife and two young children. We all got to say our goodbyes the best we could, but it has ripped our hearts out.
And when went through that, it was so unbelievably hard to see my brother, who had been the biggest, strongest guy I had known for most of my life, to all of sudden see him have the life just absolutely drained from his body. And I remember asking my wife what would be harder – to see the person you love slowly, painfully, slip away – or for that person to literally be here one day and gone tomorrow? Which is what we have here with the death of Nipsey Hussle. At 5pm on Sunday he was full of life, full of potential, full of hopes and plans and dreams and creative energy, and at 6pm he was gone. No goodbyes. No transition. Just a harsh, abrupt, brutal ending. And I think what I’ve seen over these past few days since Nipsey was murdered is that as hard and gut wrenching as it is for a loved one to slowly pass away, murder denies everybody, friends, family, colleagues, and others a chance to say goodbye. Murder denied Nipsey a chance to tell his most special loved ones just how much they meant to him. Murder denied him a chance to make some plans for what a transition should look and feel like. And it’s all just so ugly. Of course we compare his murder to that of Tupac and Biggie – and in some ways I think we have to compare them – because they were two of the most important figures in hip hop, in music, and even in American culture altogether – and they were both shot and killed. One – it hardly seems like it, but that was 23 years ago. And we also forget that Tupac and Biggie were just babies. Those brothers were 24 and 25 years old. We didn’t even get to see them in the prime of their careers. We didn’t get to see them hit their stride in their 30s or 40s. With Biggie and Tupac we were left to just dream about what they could’ve become. We’ll never know. And I think that’s some of what hurts so badly about Nipsey’s murder. We did get to catch a glimpse of his maturity. He was 33 years old and over the past few years he was really becoming much more than just a Los Angeles rapper, he was becoming a leader in South Central. He was absolutely becoming a key leader in hip hop. And I don’t just mean artistically – and he was an artistic leader – but Nipsey had become a voice for ownership, for entrepreneurship, for personal responsibility, and for what happens when you are fully dedicated to putting in the grind and hard work toward your goals. Had Biggie and Tupac lived, I hope we would’ve eventually seen what we’re just now getting to see from Nipsey – which is what happens when wisdom and maturity meets hip hop and street knowledge. Nipsey brought all of that together – and really set the tone for all of hip hop for status and success looking like more than cars and jewelry, but Nipsey made owning property and businesses look cool. He made it look cool to hire people from the hood that nobody else would give a chance and give them jobs.
And here’s the thing – Nipsey has always been different. I wanna play a clip from an interview of Nipsey that is almost 15 years old when Nipsey was just a baby faced youngster trying to become a full time hip hop artist – where he shocked the brother who was interviewing him when he told the guy that he what he really cared about was buying land and buying assets that grow in value. This video is on my Instagram page if you wanna check it out. Here it goes.
I love that clip so much because I think I had honestly assumed that Nipsey had just recently started caring about things like owning land, but what we see is that he was always marching to the beat of his own drummer. And what I’ve seen over the past few days is that other hip hop artists knew it as well. They all knew Nip was different. I don’t think I’ve ever seen hip hop artists be so devastated. I had a chance to speak with both Meek Mill and T.I this week and both of them were just crushed. I had at least half a dozen different rappers and athletes tell me that they had just broke down in tears and devastation over Nipsey’s murder – because they all knew he was special. He was their peer, but they also looked up to him and admired him. I call that a peer hero. They admired his business acumen, they admired his love for his city and his community, they loved how good he was at his craft and how he kept finding ways to get better and better.
Nipsey Hussle was your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper. I don’t think another current rapper in all of hip hop had more respect from other rappers than Nipsey Hussle. For most of his career he chose to remain completely independent – without a label – on purpose – funding and producing and distributing his own music – with his own price points – and his own style and substance – something that had really not been done before in quite the way he did it. But there are at least three reasons why rappers and hip hop fans respected Nipsey so much. First, and I think you have to start here, Nipsey was a really good rapper and lyricist. He had a distinct rapping voice with a slight rasp to it that just stood out. He invented unique new rhyme patterns and used words that had literally never been used before in hip hop. He was a brilliant, vivid, colorful storyteller. And he found a way to do something that is really hard to achieve in hip hop – and it’s kind of hard to describe – he told stories of empowerment, entrepreneurship, self-determination, hard work, personal responsibility, and even just stories of saving money up and using it in smart ways – he was the rare rapper that found a way to consistently tell positive stories – but couch them in so much coolness – that everyday people still listened, learned, and loved the man. I don’t think another rapper in the history of hip hop has ever talked more about business and entrepreneurship than Nipsey. And yet he kept all of his street cred in the process.
The second reason I think Nipsey garnered so much respect is that he openly told his story about gang life in Los Angeles, how he came up through the Rolling 60s Crips, and the good, bad, and ugly of what that meant for his life. I can’t think of another modern rapper has ever been quite as transparent about this as Nipsey had – and one of the only reasons he was able to be so transparent, to be honest, was because he was independent and controlled and owned his own music. Labels would’ve never allowed it. He didn’t glorify violence or gang life – and let me be honest here – sometimes that has happened in hip hop – where, in the name of simply telling stories – violence or drugs are glorified – but that truly was not what Nipsey was doing.
He was very a documentarian of hood life – how he had escaped some of the pitfalls – but also how he wanted to still stay in the neighborhood that produced him so he could give back. And that really leads me to my third why Nipsey had earned so much respect and admiration from hip hop artists and fans alike. Now a lot of people want to compare him to Tupac, and I get that, he even compared himself to Pac sometimes, but Nipsey, to me, was what we might’ve seen from Tupac if Pac had lived 10 years longer. He started buying up properties all over South Central, Los Angeles and encouraged people who listened to his music to do the very same thing. He started opening up successful businesses in Los Angeles. He started a co-working space right there in the hood – in a place where traditional businesses just wouldn’t go. He opened up an academic training center for young students. He opened up a barber shop, a clothing store, a fresh fish market, and then, instead of just renting those spaces, bought out the entire strip mall where the businesses were located. He employed people from the community that others refused to hire – and the businesses were successful, and beloved, and safe. They had all really been declared a neutral safe zone for everybody to visit and enjoy. And it was right there, in front of his businesses, that he was shot and killed. He never stood a chance. And I need us to have a hard conversation for a few minutes about Nipsey’s murder – because I see a few different conflicting viewpoints being expressed. Each of them have real merit, and I want to acknowledge and unpack them both for a few minutes.
First let me say this – we don’t have to agree on everything. That’s an unrealistic standard. I mean this on several levels. All of you listening to me right now don’t have to agree. Those of us who see ourselves as progressive or liberal don’t have to agree on everything. And those of us from certain ethnic groups don’t have to agree on everything. That can’t be our standard. We just have to make sure that when we disagree – that we do so in the healthiest way possible.
With that said – I am hearing two opposing narratives right now about Nipsey’s murder and I want to unpack them both. Both of them are about Black on Black violence, and both stances need to be acknowledged and understood. The first position is this – and was expressed to me first by Dr. Melina Abdullah – who is not only the head of Black Lives Matter in Los Angeles, but is a brilliant scholar and contributor to The North Star. Melina and others have said that we can’t allow the murder of Nipsey Hussle be used as an excuse to advance the trope that Black on Black violence is out of hand and must be dealt with aggressively.
Now maybe you are saying, but damn Shaun, it was Black on Black violence. After all it was a Black man that shot and killed Nipsey – and you are right in that regard, but let me back up Melina’s point and tell you why I think she’s right.
In The United States, we have more police officers per person than any other nation in the world. And the American government has often weaponized those police departments against Black & Brown & immigrant communities. And what Dr. Melina is saying is that if we allow the targeted murder of one person, Nipsey Hussle, to give the LAPD permission to flood our communities with police, in the name of Black on Black violence, then we’ve made a huge mistake – because Nipsey wasn’t murdered because we have a surge of Black on Black violence – he was targeted and killed by one violent person – and we can’t allow that one murder to cause the police to justify some war on our communities.
Are you understanding what I’m trying to say? Because here’s the thing – when a white person targets and kills another white person – American police don’t flood any white neighborhoods with cops. They don’t start any wars on white people. Hell – even when a white person kills 10 people or 20 people or 50 people, American law enforcement doesn’t then hold that against all white people. But that’s exactly what happens in all communities of color, and it’s not OK. My friend Dr. Ibram Kendi, in his amazing book Stamped From The Beginning, breaks down how it’s a form of racism to hold all Black people responsible for the act of one black person. And he’s right.
But so are my friends Mysonne and Tamika Mallory – two respected activists and organizers who’ve both experienced first hand the devastating impact of gun violence in our communities. Over the past few days I’ve seen both of them saying that we absolutely need to find better ways of addressing the violence in our communities. We can’t ignore it or pretend like it’s not a problem. We can’t refuse to mention it either out of embarrassment or even caution. Gun violence is a problem in our neighborhoods. And I think where both schools of thought converge and agree is that we all believe that more police and more prosecutors are the exact opposite of what our communities need. Because here’s the thing – almost all crime in the United States is intra-racial. Nearly 90% of all white people are murdered by white people and nearly 90% of all Latinos who are murdered are murdered by other Latinos and nearly 90% of all Black people are murdered by other Black people. So the truth is that white on white crime is actually a huge problem for white people. Almost all robberies of white people, sexual assaults of white people, are all committed by other white people, but we don’t hear or see them talking about white on white crime because they don’t want their communities flooded with police.
—-Let me tell a story for a few minutes.
So we have to determine for ourselves how we respond to the murder of Nipsey Hussle. First and foremost, mourn. Cry. Scream. Grieve. Give yourself the space to be overwhelmed. Give yourself the space to be hurt, to be angry. Give yourself the space to be confused. I’ve experienced all of those things over the past few days. Don’t skip past this stage – because it’s unhealthy to bottle that all up and hold it in. Talk to your friends and family about how you feel. Talk to a counselor if you can. But just don’t hold it in. And then we need to determine how we respond. And listen – I’m all for listening to Nipsey’s music. I’ve been listening to it. Buy it. Stream it. Do that. But I think the best way we honor Nipsey is by doing what he was trying to do with his life. Nipsey was a huge inspiration for me and I had a chance to talk to him about The North Star and how I hoped he would eventually become an investor one day when we opened up for that and he believed in what we’re building. But Nipsey used his money and his influence and his fame to do good in his community. And that’s what all of us need to be doing. And to be clear I’m not talking about Facebook and Instagram posts. I’m talking about doing tangible, measurable good for our communities. And let me say it like this – if I went to the people around you, your friends and family – and asked them what is it and who is it that you are fighting for, and they can’t tell me in an instant, then that means you aren’t fighting for anything. Because when you are like Nipsey – and are really fighting to transform an entire community -everybody around you knows about it.
Listen – I’ve gotta run – but I have some GREAT news to share with you. If you listened to yesterday’s episode of The Breakdown – you heard me tell the story of Jermaine Demetrious Anderson – the wonderful brother who served his time in prison 13 years ago – who was now being told he needed to go back to serve more time? Well guess what? The Federal Bureau of Prisons just agreed to drop that extra time and allow him to just live his life. How beautiful is that? A lot of people were fighting behind the scenes for him and I’m so glad that he is going to be able to move on and be free.
Thank you all for making it all through this episode of The Breakdown!
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Produced by Willis Polk II
Additional Instrumentation by: Christian Idris “Idrys” Shannon, Lance “Lance Fury” Powlis, Markeith Black & Smok Tageous
Additional Engineering by Amond “AJ” Jackson for Salem Psalms Library
Additional Vocals by Garnett “Natti” Bush
Scratches by Kenny “DJ FlipFlop” Vanderberg