Nipsey Hussle’s disciples are pursuing a radical vision for Los Angeles

Volume 4 Issue 3: On 31st March 2019, Nipsey Hussle was shot dead in the parking lot of his Marathon Clothing store. The Face speaks to the rapper's partners and protégés who are running the metaphorical marathon in his absence.

The eight-foot-tall chain-link fence quietly went up last August. Attached to it is a thin layer of green tarpaulin which further limits visibility, but visitors still sneak peeks and snap photos between the gaps in the barrier. They all angle to glimpse the sacred concrete, commemorated in songs and on sweatshirts. Crenshaw and Slauson, the spot where the true stories and the tragedy all went down.

Purchased for $2.5 million last January, this plaza in South Central Los Angeles famously belongs to Nipsey Hussle’s store, The Marathon Clothing (TMC). The rapper born Ermias Asghedom, his brother Samiel Blacc Sam” Asghedom, and entrepreneur David Gross owned the L‑shaped corner plot, which also housed a barbershop, a tax preparation office, a Boost Mobile outlet and a greasy spoon fast food joint. It was supposed to be the first piece of a property empire, part of a bigger mission to eventually buy back the block. Plans called for its redevelopment into a six-story affordable housing apartment complex, with a ground-level commercial component anchored by TMC. Ideally, it would serve as a bulwark against fast-encroaching gentrification threatening to endanger the neighbourhood’s historically black and Latino character. 

The dream was slowly transforming into reality, until that nightmare Sunday on the last day of March 2019. What happened was blood simple. The 33-year-old rapper, entrepreneur and beacon of communal strength was shot at least 10 times at close range in TMC’s parking lot, allegedly by a man named Eric Holder. According to eyewitness reports, Hussle warned his assailant – a fellow member of the Rollin 60s Neighborhood Crips street gang – of rumours claiming that he was a snitch. In an act of senseless retaliation, the gunman instantly deprived the community of one of its most inspiring voices and philanthropic forces. 

Since 2005, Hussle had been steadily earning respect as a rapper with guest features and mixtapes released via his own independent labels. (He charged $100 for limited-edition physical copies of 2013’s Crenshaw mixtape – Jay‑Z bought 100 of them.) A year before his death, Hussle enjoyed his first taste of major commercial success with his star-studded debut studio album Victory Lap, which climbed to the No.4 spot on the Billboard album chart. Although he was considered a veteran of the rap game, Hussle was killed when his future looked brighter than ever.

Most rappers of his stature leave the hood for a mansion in the hills, but Hussle remained. He stopped by TMC that afternoon to gift a clothing package to Kerry Lathan, a recently paroled acquaintance who had spent the past two decades behind bars. Hussle had a reputation for helping out people who wanted a fresh start.

In an irony so grim it could only be real, Hussle died on the same asphalt patch that he’d made globally renowned. This was the matrix where he’d flogged mixtape CDs as a teenager, where he and his brother had rented out a storefront to sell their line of Slauson T‑shirts, which eventually became so successful that they opened up TMC – a streetwear boutique that turned a small section of Crenshaw Boulevard, the 23-mile north-south artery that ran through their hood, into an international symbol of financial independence. 

When the Los Angeles Police Department and the city attorney’s office applied pressure to try to force their eviction due to allegations that it was a gang hangout, Hussle and his partners overcame decades of institutional inequality to purchase the lot from its previous owners.

In the aftermath of Hussle’s death, memorial gatherings spontaneously erupted in Detroit, Harlem, Washington D.C., Houston, London and Ethiopia (his father was an Eritrean émigré). In LA, throngs packed the streets for a funeral cortege stretching miles; his respect was so absolute that his death produced a temporary peace between warring gangs. In the alley next to TMC, lines stretched like those at Lourdes, packed with pilgrims seeking photos in front of a mural of Hussle with angel wings.

Social media was flooded with celebrity tributes, from music stars like Drake and Rihanna to athletes such as Russell Westbrook and Colin Kaepernick. At the memorial service at LA’s Staples Center, the programme handed to attendees included a tribute from Kendrick Lamar, who described Hussle as a vessel from God”. In an open letter read out by Hussle’s former business partner Karen Civil, Barack Obama wrote: While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighbourhood where he grew up and see only gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope.”

All this for a rapper without a solo single that cracked the Billboard Top 40 while he was alive, let alone the international charts. But for millions of people around the world, Hussle’s motivational lyrics of self-determination, resistance to structural disenfranchisement, and local and racial upliftment made him a quasi-Malcolm X figure, a West Coast folk hero within hip-hop and the world writ large. 

His rap style blended Ice Cube’s strength of street knowledge with the menacing spliff-lit cool of Snoop Dogg. And his message was all distilled into a central image: the marathon. No easy shortcuts. No substitutes for sweat, hard work and the grind. 

For every nigga in the streets tryna feed the babies/​The single mamas workin’ hard not to miss a payment/​And dirty money get washed on royalty statements/​Black owners in this game of powerful racists/​Young niggas in the set that’s doin’ it makeshift/​Out the garage is how you end up in charge/It’s how you end up in penthouses, end up in cars/It’s how you start off a curb server, end up a boss/It’s how you win the whole thing and lift up a cigar/​With sweat drippin’ down your face cause the mission was hard

– Nipsey Hussle ft. Kendrick Lamar, Dedication (2018)

Vector90 is a 15,000 square foot co-working space, podcast studio and event spot deep in the heart of South Central LA. The gritty strip just outside the parking lot is filled with motorhomes for the dispossessed, but Vector90 is an oasis promising brighter futures. With waxed parquet floors, exposed brick and chic industrial cool, you’d expect to find it in a luxury district of downtown LA where lofts will cost you $4,000 a month.

Opened about a year prior to Hussle’s murder, Vector90 was initially the brainchild of his business partner David Gross. He was South Central-raised, but spent his teenage years living in small-town Texas, before attending Ivy League schools and working for 20 years in finance on Wall Street.

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In 2016 Gross returned home with a plan to build institutions that could generate grassroots impact within these traditionally neglected blocks. He was determined to break generational cycles of poverty and gang warfare. His older brother, a member of the Rollin 60s Crips, remains behind bars for a crime that he says he did not commit. Gross’ younger sibling Sean Mackk – once one of the city’s best young rappers – was murdered in 2017

Aware of the need for a credible big-name partner with a shrewd business sense and generous spirit, Hussle was the first and only name on his list. A serendipitous courtside seating assignment at a Lakers game allowed him to pitch his idea to Hussle directly. The two men immediately hit it off, and a handshake accelerated plans to launch Vector90 as partners.

I don’t believe in traditional philanthropy or charity,” Gross says when we meet at Vector90. Giving away books and turkeys to the community are good things, but aren’t sustainable or high impact. Real estate was my immediate focus.” 

It’s easy to understand why Hussle teamed up with Gross. Intensely focused and hyper-intelligent, he speaks swiftly and passionately. He’s solidly built, and appears to be somewhere in the vicinity of 40, give or take a few years. Dressed simply in a grey sweatshirt and jeans, people automatically begin gravitating towards him as soon as he enters their space.

After shuttering for several months in the wake of Hussle’s death, Vector90 reopened late last summer. Tonight is its monthly Burnout” night. About 60 staff members have locked themselves in from 8am to 8pm to knock out tasks that they’ve been putting off: sending out invoices, finalising a business plan or just stopping in to network with the like-minded. There are aluminium trays full of barbecued chicken wings, endless thermoses of coffee and open laptops. The mood is relentlessly upbeat and positive. Think: a hip-hop WeWork, if the utopian ethos espoused by that company’s founder actually felt real and not like marketing spiel. 

In one corner a large mural depicts the historically red-lined neighbourhoods of South LA where real estate developers once ghettoised people of colour. In another, two young stylish black professionals discuss valuations and someone who just raised $100 million of venture capital. I think Diddy is in one of his rounds,” one says.

This is just the start,” Gross says. We’re going to launch a community-facing non-profit that will give shareable tools to black people from inner cities to understand how to generate wealth. And we’re going to launch the Opportunity Fund, which will take people similar to Nipsey in other cities and put the buy back the block’ mantra in motion all over the country.”

As for the original TMC store on Crenshaw and Slauson, there’s no specific timetable for when it will reopen. But it will, eventually, boasting multi-family affordable housing, retail space and a Hussle museum concept. Further helping to amplify Hussle’s legacy of uplifting the black community through enterprise, spring sees the opening of Destination Crenshaw – an open-air museum of permanent and rotating art exhibitions celebrating the African-American community of South LA. Hussle was involved from the earliest conversations about the project, even donating his team of graphic artists to design its logo.

In this country we love the idea of the self-made person, and Nipsey was that,” points out Gross as several members of Vector90 take breaks to pose for photos next to a neon-fringed #TMC sign on the wall. There was a peace, wisdom, and intellect about Nipsey, born of the experiences that he had. He was a true man of the people and stayed pure in his mission. It’s our job to keep that going.”

Listen, look, before rap my last name was my lifestyle/​And when I visualise success it look like right now/​What was once grey skies is now white clouds/​And I did with the ones that y’all said was not the right crowd”

– Nipsey Hussle ft. Drake, Killer (2013)


Before the TMC store existed, there was just Hussle and J Stone. With fame a remote ambition and survival a more pressing concern, the two childhood friends sold fake dope to pay for countless hours in a cramped studio located in an enemy neighbourhood, with the volume kept low so that it wouldn’t blow up their spot.

We wasn’t doing the rap shit at first. We were just kids fucking around in the hood,” recalls Stone at his house in a nondescript corner of southeast LA. He wears a Puma tracksuit, a backwards hat and Nike slides. He speaks with the understated force of an OG who has seen it all and has nothing left to prove. Then we discovered that we had the same passion for music. Other people around us wanted to rap, but no one wanted it as much as us.”

  • Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.”  Nipsey never sold his soul and always stood 10 toes in the street.” 

Boxes of shoes are stacked up to the ceiling, a reminder of Hussle’s collaborations with Puma, which have continued in the year since his murder. Their advertisements frequently feature Stone, Lauren London (Hussle’s longtime partner and the mother of his three-year-old son, Kross) and the crew from his record label, All Money In. 

Stone appears on record throughout Hussle’s catalogue. But each time he’d start to earn a street buzz he’d find himself in trouble again and return to jail. Nonetheless, Stone remained a cornerstone of Hussle’s independent label and crew. And in the wake of his murder, Stone recorded the most poignant tribute to his fallen brother, a track fittingly titled The Marathon Continues.

With roughly 4,000,000 views on YouTube alone, it’s a pain-wracked eulogy testifying to how much Hussle mattered, as well as a blood-sealed pact to keep his memory alive. In the process, Stone recaps the power of the Staples Center memorial and outpouring of admiration that following Hussle’s death: YG poured an Ace of Spades, I poured Clicquot/​We took you through the whole LA, it was Nip day/​Obama wrote you a letter, what more can I say?/Stevie sung at your funeral, nigga, you the great/‘The Marathon Continues’, that’s what you would say.”

With the release of last autumn’s excellent album The Definition of Loyalty – which featured Snoop Dogg, YG and Wale – Stone has emerged as a West Coast people’s champ in the same mould as Hussle. We built a foundation of real diehard fans because we gave them something to hold on to; we’re trying to lead them,” Stone says. Tomorrow morning, he’ll be leaving on a flight for a sold-out date in New Mexico. The following week he’ll be performing at a show in New York.

When you’re the people’s choice, it doesn’t have anything to do with the corporate machine or the internet,” Stone adds. When the streets are fucking with you, you don’t need a major label or a co-sign to sell out shows all over the world. You’re already official.”

It’s an influence felt from the ground level up to the biggest superstars. In January, Hussle won two Grammys for DJ Khaled’s Higher, and Racks in the Middle, his collaboration with Roddy Ricch and Hit Boy. The latter posthumously became the biggest song of Hussle’s career, earning a platinum certification and peaking at No.26 on the Billboard Hot 100

Over the last decade, Hit Boy has lived up to his name. He’s the multi-platinum producer behind Jay‑Z and Kanye West’s Niggas in Paris, Beyoncé’s XO, and roughly half of the late Juice WRLD’s No.1 debuting second album Death Race for Love. From Rihanna to A$AP Rocky, Eminem to Kendrick Lamar, Hit Boy has been in the studio with some of the biggest names in contemporary music. Yet he cites Hussle as one of his most important collaborators.

He was the definition of a real artist: one who always knew who he was and refused to compromise to make whatever was hot at the time,” Hit Boy tells me. It’s inspired not just me, but everyone he encountered to be the best version of themselves and tap into a deeper level than what just appears on the surface.” 

In his lifetime, Hussle shifted the faultlines of a famously tectonic city. He helped find common ground between notoriously antagonistic gang sets, co-wrote one of the era’s most scathing political screeds in his YG collaboration FDT (Fuck Donald Trump), and re-introduced a sense of pride and empowerment that will reverberate for decades to come. So it’s only right that a younger generation has begun to emerge to carry on his legacy. 

It wouldn’t be the USA without Mexicans/​And if it’s time to team up, shit, let’s begin/​Black love, brown pride in the sets again/​White people feel the same as my next of kin

YG ft. Nipsey Hussle, Fuck Donald Trump (2016)

Leimert Park sits barely a mile away from Crenshaw and Slauson. Here in this scaled-down West Coast analogue to Harlem, you’ll find Crenshaw High graduate Six Sev, the unofficial mayor of Leimert. The 23-year-old artist, entrepreneur and rapper has already become one of Hussle’s most important protégés. 

After all, it was Hussle who first discovered Six Sev, collaborating with him on TMC’s ultra-successful Slauson Super Mall” design, a nod to the locally famous flea market. On his way home one day from Crenshaw High, Six Sev approached Hussle to show him his sketches. Always seeking new local talent, the legendary neighbourhood figure immediately invited him into the studio to kick ideas around, leading to a capsule collaboration between TMC, Puma and Six Sev. It kickstarted the young artist’s burgeoning career, an ambitious multi-media affair encompassing music, fashion, film and community work. Jay‑Z was recently spotted wearing Six Sev’s Make Crenshaw Great Again” hat, a line dedicated to revolutionising and embracing our Crenshaw district community”.

Six Sev

Over the past year, Six Sev’s DIY hip-hop night Pray for the Hood” has become a fixture in South LA, with imminent plans for a block party festival. His debut album, last year’s Sevshaw, stamped him as one of the neighbourhood’s most urgent and socially conscious voices. Motivated by Hussle’s example, he has embarked on local garden restoration projects and organises a monthly flea market with musical performances from young creatives. Oh, and he helped director Calmatic with styling and creative direction on Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road video.

Nipsey represented the West Coast in the realest way,” Six Sev says. The lanky former high-school basketball player wears a tracksuit. His hair is dyed blond and green and he has a tattoo in cursive script just above his left eyebrow. He never sold his soul and always stood ten toes in the street. Respect in the streets is always better than respect in the industry, and he had both.” 

We’re at Leimert Park’s Martin Luther King Day parade, which bills itself as the biggest and longest-running such celebration in America. Everywhere Six Sev goes he’s stopped and greeted with smiles and daps. He stops to survey the euphoric scene. It’s filled with revellers eating soul food and sipping coffee, dancing to 90s West Coast hip-hop and jazz. There are booths selling brightly coloured Kente cloth dresses and others staffed by volunteers who attempt to enlist passers-by to help various community organisations. 

Everyone’s awareness is up,” says Six Sev, once again referring to the impact – musical, cultural, philanthropic, entrepreneurial – that the late, great Hussle had on these streets. They want to get involved in the community and it’s opened up a lane for me to come in as a new face and help keep it going. I was so overwhelmed and sad when Nipsey passed. My goal had been to do in Leimert what he had done in Crenshaw. But now it seems like the whole community needs us. There are a lot of us out here really trying to make the city a better place. I’m just trying to step up to the plate and help inspire them.” 

In his untimely absence, Hussle’s legacy has not only endured, it has flourished, in ways both subtle and overt. For the time being that chain-link fence on Crenshaw and Slauson keeps out fans who want to pay their respects. But, actually, it’s one of the first steps towards the eventual construction of the multi-use complex, which will be christened Nipsey Hussle Tower. In LA and elsewhere, his memory won’t be forgotten. There are too many people he inspired, and they remain dedicated to ensuring the marathon continues. 


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