The last time I was here, things were different.
First of all, Nip’s store was right here. The rapper’s swap-meet style shop with carpeted floors and iron-on T-shirts. His brother Sam and dad used to man the counter, but the door’s locked.
I stand back, look to my right, and realize that the store has now become a flagship for his brand The Marathon Clothing. Furthermore, it’s now swallowed up the corner spot of the strip mall. I walk in and am greeted by a listening station, glowing white walls, custom fixtures... It feels like I’m transported to the Beverly Center. His dad is still at the register, however. And I now realize the original space has been converted into the inventory backroom.
I hope Nipsey’s pops remembers me, but he doesn’t.
“Can I help you?” He glances at my camera. I look out of place for many reasons.
“I’m here for Nip. I’m supposed to interview him...”
One of the retail clerks walks by, “If he said he’ll be here, he’ll be here.”
I don’t blame his father for forgetting my face. It’s been almost eight years since I stood on Crenshaw and Slauson. In 2010, Nipsey was just gaining traction in the LA rap game. There was an irrefutable credibility, underground ties, and a certain comparison in physical appearance and laidback demeanor to Uncle Snoop. Nipsey had just graced XXL’s Freshman 10 cover and his “Crenshaw” tee (produced and sold exclusively out of their store) was a hit in the streets. I interviewed and photographed him for The Hundreds Magazine. It was exciting to drive around South Central with the rising star as the neighborhood bowed down around his convertible. It felt like I was sitting next to the sun.
Nipsey’s assistant John walks in. He’s on the phone, asking around for a “Bobby.”
“I’m here,” I raise my hand.
He apologizes and tells me Nip’s in the car and will be right in. John resumes his calls.
These days, eight years goes by like a full night of sleep, and so I’m still reconciling this new lux boutique with the old store. I’m accepting the fact that Nip now has a real assistant who manages a schedule that’s so airtight, that immediately after I leave that morning, another interview steps in, and then a flight to New York. By the time Nip enters and I’m done playing with his app that uses AR to transform any real-world TMC logo into an interactive video on my phone (there was no easier way to chew that), I can’t hold it in.
“Nip. What. The. Hell. Happened?”
He grins and greets me and it’s a warm reunion. We’ve been admiring each other’s growth from afar, but at this moment, I’m a spellbound fan. Straight up.
“Man...” he begins.
The car has changed, too. We’re now sitting in a murdered-out Maybach with custom logos embroidered and embossed in the interior. It’s better to conduct the interview in here—with everywhere Nipsey has to be, I’m guessing this is the closest he has to an office.
He continues, “...a lot of music primarily.”
For the last decade, Nipsey Hussle has been hammering away at his career as a venerable recording artist. There have been a serial of mixtapes and then the Crenshaw project in 2013 that stirred up noise for its innovative approach to selling records: 1,000 records for $100 each. Nipsey’s business strategy borrows from the streetwear mantra of limited supply. Crenshaw sold out immediately. JAY-Z himself bought 100 copies.
Of everything he’s done, however, nothing can compare to what is about to transpire this Friday. After a decade, Nipsey Hussle, via his All Money In venture and their partnership with Atlantic Records, is releasing his first album: Victory Lap.
“I put everything into it,” he says. “Like, I’ve never been as present at none of my releases and it’s never been so much of me in anything I ever put out, so you know I’m excited about that man. Like, whatever it does business-wise and all that, man, I put everything into it. It’ll always be a representation of me forever.”
It’s Nipsey on his terms, using his own paintbrushes and palette. The representation thing has been a problem for the 32-year-old Angeleno. Just last week, TMZ posted video of him on the front page, but not for bringing the Crenshaw community together for a shop event. Instead, the title in trademark all-caps reads, “NIPSEY HUSSLE BREAKS UP A WILD BRAWL!”
As sensational as all the gang life and street element is, believe it or not, that isn’t what drew me to Nipsey’s music. I tried to make this a point, too, when I first told Nip’s story eight years ago on my blog. He recalls this.
“Damn, man. I want them to receive me as an artist. I don’t want them to receive me as a gang member and just as some street shit. And I remember that you was one of the first journalists that, you know, got into the art and into the actual value outside of ‘Oh, that’s some Rollin’ 60s,’ not to diminish the reality of things. I’m just like, you know, it’s a lot of layers to this story. You know I appreciate it—how you tapped into a different perspective of the value. And that was one of the first steps in that direction. I even told my photographers and everybody, ‘Man, look, start taking pictures of me with my daughter bro. Take pictures of me where like I don’t got to throw the hood up on every picture.’ We don’t have to just regurgitate that part of the story. Give them the full spectrum like there’s some human shit going on, because in reality it’s not one-dimensional.”
Nipsey in 2010, the first time I interviewed him for The Hundreds Blog.
So. Wanna know what really connected me to Nipsey Hussle’s music and story?
The last time I saw Nipsey, we were still at our old warehouse on Wall St. We were inching up on ten years in the business and making some awkward, but necessary, decisions for The Hundreds. It was a particularly grueling day—the kind that demands greedily of you—and then Nipsey and his boy BH showed up. Fresh. Eager. And spirited to make their brand, The Marathon Clothing, succeed.
“You know, I tell people all the time about when you invited us to the [The Hundreds] factory. And let us get a walkthrough and you just gave me some insight on the game. You know, bro, you was like, ‘The image is strong.’ You remember telling me that? Like, ‘The Marathon’ is a good name.”
The Marathon is a GREAT name. It’s a continuing theme throughout Nipsey’s repertoire. It’s the name of his clothing brand, mentioned in mixtape titles, it’s a recurring lyric. And immediately I saw parallels between his philosophy on endurance and longevity in the rap game, and what I’ve weathered on the streetwear side. Even on a day like that, when I would’ve much rather had someone else making the calls. When I wanted to curl up in a ball and disappear into a corner of the universe. This reminder that I was running a marathon helped me to pace myself.
“It’s a discipline on one level to just stay productive. But I think that in order to really, really you know have a career, we got to fight to stay inspired, you know what I mean.”
I nod my head. “Got to fight to stay inspired. I like that.”
“Yeah, because it’s not natural to be inspired seven days a week, you know what I mean. Life happens. You know your brain sometimes get to working and you know, we human beings. I think that that’s why we love and we respect what E-40 did, what Too $hort did, what Jay-Z did, what Nas did, what Snoop Dogg did. Them dudes got 20-year careers. And we can look at moments when we like, ‘I don’t really love this album like that.’ But they got through it and they kept going. They got back to where it’s like, ‘My boy back. He in his box again.’
“And honestly that’s one of the reasons why I call my shit a ‘marathon’ because it’s like, as a marathon runner, your knees be getting ready to go out, your wind will be low. When it’s like, ‘Just finish,’ just keep pushing. You going to catch your second wind and they going to respect that you finished your marathon.”
Nipsey doesn’t stop there. Almost a decade later, as I take in the neighborhood around us and watch how Nipsey carries himself as a leader and not just a local celebrity, I now appreciate that on a deeper, more profound level, the Marathon is more than a battle cry—it’s Nipsey Hussle’s gift.
“We got to fight to stay inspired.”
“That’s where the marathon conversation started up. It was like, ‘What is my contribution?’ Because at first I just reflected the area in my heart. I just was a mirror to what was going on, to the culture of the area. And then after a while it became, ‘What’s your contribution?’ And my contribution was that philosophy. You know what I mean? Giving my story a context outside of just gang banging and street understanding. But moreso, like, this is a story of perseverance and endurance. To the college athlete, you can relate to Nipsey Hussle because you on your marathon, you know what I mean? Single mom, dad ain’t there, the city where a banging take place, you not going to quit, you going to stay committed. To the fashion designer, to the skater, to whatever. It relates because if you go a layer deeper, we all getting tested and we all running out of stamina and we all, you know what I mean, we all be pushing our limits.”
We bond over this. This call to serve our respective communities. There are two different types of entrepreneurs (or designers or artists): the ones who are trying to win over the world and then those who hone in on a core following. Personally, I fall into the latter. I’d rather focus on curating my audience. Always pruning and editing and making sure my follower is exactly who it’s supposed to be: someone who I’d be real-life friends with, if I had enough of me to go around.
Nipsey sees the value in investing in your community—inspiring them to go out and preach your gospel.
“You know, if people can understand it without us trying to appease new audiences or create new discovery... if we can just really be focused on what we believe in and let the people that have connected be our evangelists that go spread it and bring it to other people... I think that’s the perfect scenario. My experience with that is as a fan of things. And just even with your brand, with other brands that I’m a fan of, it’s like, you know you can read the messaging. You can kind of pick up on the intention behind every move.
“So the intention is, like, ‘Are we trying to get bigger?’ You always disappoint your core. When your intention is like, ‘We’re trying to continuously deliver on what the value is and what the promise is and what made us dope,’ I think it just becomes really, really authentic and consistent. Something happens, like... an invisible line gets crossed, where your people are riding with you forever. They’re like ‘Nah, fuck that, I’m with this dude, I’m a part of this.’
“I think what we assume are the steps to get bigger, sometimes aren’t. I think that being consistent and being concise with what you’re doing and being very specific and being very focused is really what creates a situation that last 30 years or last 50 years where you got Levi’s and you got Polo...”
Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about this, but Nipsey just put the bow on it. There’s the underground. There’s the mainstream. But most stars blow it after they break through, buy their own hype, and lose themselves. Maybe they pose as someone else, perhaps they’re accountable to an outsider’s vision. Whatever it is, they abandon the unique and remarkable traits that got them there and wind up an artist without an anchor.
“It’s so weird,” I interject, “because I feel like you’re echoing my philosophy on everything in life but we grew up in two different universes. I want to know: where did that come from? That resilience, the grit, your understanding of life as a metaphor of a marathon. Where did this all come from? The entrepreneurial sense—is that your dad? Is that the neighborhood growing up? Did you read something growing up? What was it?”
“You know, I think it’s a combination of all them things—” Nipsey stops. He nods at his bodyguard who’s waiting outside the car. His dad taps on the window and warns him that the police are around the corner. We pause the interview as Nipsey pulls out of the parking lot (“Oh yeah. I went to jail more than I can count out this parking lot. Still ‘til this day.”)
We take a slow drive down Crenshaw. There’s the dispensary, which he also owns, plus the car wash. I note the Metro, which is part of another local initiative the rapper is a part of: Destination Crenshaw.
“This is a story of perseverance and endurance.”
We resume the conversation. “If I would narrow it down to one quality, I think it was realizing that—wait a minute—you know, there’s two realities. There’s the reality of what you got going on inside you and all your guts and your hunches and what you think is possible maybe. And there’s a reality of what exists already in the world.
“As young people from South Central LA, that’s contrary to what I thought I could do. That was in total opposition to my internal assumption. But I read something that was really powerful to me and it was like, ‘Would you rather be at conflict with the world and at peace with yourself, or at peace with the world and in conflict with yourself?’ And I would rather be at conflict with the world and at peace with myself, you know what I mean. And I took that as like, ‘Fuck that.’ I might be crazy. I might be completely radical and wrong and left of center. Fuck it. I’m going to be at peace with myself just going for what my guts and my hunches are.
“Now, if I let my world’s view of what is acceptable and what is expected of me dictate and I let that water get in my boat, you know, I would be at war with myself. And you know I would be. It would be a nice comfortable seat I’d be sitting in, but I wouldn’t feel like myself. I’ve been through every emotion with this shit. I know I speak for everybody that’s ever done anything they considered challenging or that was, like, massive or that was radical. I know that I’m not an isolated scenario and so I know what you went through without knowing the full story because I know the process. And the process is like, you know, it’ll drive you borderline insane. It’ll make people think you’re crazy. It’ll make you think you’re crazy. It’ll challenge all your relationships and isolate you and then when you break through you’ll be like aw man I’m glad I didn’t fold, I was tripping.
“And that’s why it’s so emotional and so powerful when we make our breakthroughs, you know what I mean. Man, so then we become testimonies. People can look at Bobby Hundreds and be like, ‘Well, shit. I know the story and I remembered reading this and knowing that he was going through this and he pushed through it so, fuck it, I’m going through that right now...’ and it becomes valuable for other people you know.
“I would rather be at conflict with the world and at peace with myself.”
It’s almost like your parents make sacrifices for their kids. You know, you make sacrifices for the next generation and the next creatives and artists that’s coming up. Because what’s the reward for all this stress? The money’s one thing. That’s cool but that don’t fix nothing truthfully. Like, what is the reward for all of this pressure you put yourself under? All of this stress, all of this burden that’s on your back. It’s that you know you pushed the boundary further for the next creative to come through and he can reference you now and be like... you know what I’m saying.”
After the cops have gone and we get the green light, we circle back to the shop and I catch some final portraits of Nip against the wall. A couple starry-eyed customers bump into each other, surprised to see their favorite artist in-person on his home turf. Like walking into a Nike store and Michael Jordan’s trying on shoes. By the time I grab my stuff, he’s already gone – whisked off to his next appointment by his assistant Johnny, the bodyguard, and a growing entourage. After the commotion leaves the room and the shop restores order, it’s just Nipsey’s dad and I. He looks me in the eye, shakes my hand, and smiles, “It was good to see you.”
The Hundreds X The Marathon Clothing drops this Friday, 2/16 in conjunction with Nipsey's much-anticipated album release Victory Lap.