“Leave the hood behind.”
That’s the phrase so many rich and famous Black people stew over. Lil Boosie has infamously spoken on the hood being “hypnotized with hatred” toward people who make good for themselves. Meek Mill regretfully surmised, “know they’d kill me in my hood, but I just keep on comin’ through” on “100 Summers” from his Championships album. When the despair of poverty, self-hate, and violent conditioning converge, tragedies like Nipsey Hussle’s shooting death at 33 can happen.
At the time I write this, there’s no concrete info on what circumstances led to the fatal shooting. The latest reports are that he was killed outside the Marathon clothing store that he owned in the Hyde Park section of South Los Angeles, along with two other people who are in stable condition. The LAPD are apparently looking for a Black male suspect. Even when his murderer is caught and a motive arises, it won’t alter the feelings of many who are ruing that Nipsey is the latest example of someone who was killed showing love to a Maad City that didn’t love itself enough to reciprocate.
Black entertainers, athletes, and just about any Black person with a decent income have grappled with whether to “leave the hood behind” forever. Capitalism means “haves” and “have nots,” and in impoverished communities like certain stretches of Nipsey’s native L.A., it’s an unfortunately tenuous task for both groups to live harmoniously. That’s why so many who grew up rough get their first “come up” and don’t look back. Sure, gun violence is happening everywhere, but it’s a higher risk to live in areas where, as incarcerated drug kingpin Kenneth “Boobie” Williams told Rick Ross on his Hood Billionaire album, “minute thinkers become vicious haters” and prominent people become targets.
Like Jay-Z, the best-case scenario for anyone making the transition from the streets to more positive pastures, Nipsey was focused on using music as a vehicle toward generational wealth from day one. He got out of the streets — and didn’t trivialize his gang connections afterward. He didn’t run and take the first major label deal he was offered, he decided to ascend the ladder with his crew independently and build leverage before signing with Atlantic in 2017.
He made himself an independent blueprint with ingenious, successful marketing like selling his Crenshaw album in $100 bundles. When Snoop offered him a chance to get into Hollywood by playing Snoop in the Straight Outta Compton biopic, he passed because, as Snoop says, he “wanted to do his own thing.” That’s what he always did.
After earning a higher profile in the music industry through gritty, motivational music, he embodied his “all money in, no money out” mantra by investing his money into neighborhood. He bought a local shopping center with plans to become a real estate mogul, and tried to deter residents in his Crenshaw neighborhood from selling their homes and letting the area become gentrified like so many American cities. He was working to bring opportunities and awareness to the plight of formerly incarcerated people and was set to help children in different learn cities coding and other valuable skills through a STEM program. He embodied not only the possibilities for Black ownership and investing in the betterment of your community, but hope for young people who are still lost to the traumatic fog of the streets, where the value of life is dirt cheap. He was doing everything right, and still someone saw fit to end his journey in the very parking lot where it began over a decade ago with him selling his CDs.
Like Chinx Drugs, XXXTentacion, Jimmy Wopo, Doe B, Stack Bundles, The Jacka, Soulja Slim, Big L, and a slew of others before him, his death will further confirm to some that once you establish yourself a little bit, it’s best to leave the hood and do what you can from a distance. “Leave the hood” proponents believe that while you should check on your loved ones occasionally you shouldn’t be in your neighborhood on a regular basis because of the potential “enemies” Nipsey referred to in his ominous final tweet. After the murder of Nipsey, a man who represented the flip side of the argument and did more for his hometown than most politicians, it’s hard for anyone to tell them they’re wrong. Black people have so little to cling to in America, and there are no explicitly right or wrong answers. We’re all just trying to navigate this predicament the best we can.
That’s why it’s disheartening to see this worst-case scenario occur in the prime of his life, at the height of a career he worked so hard for. Nipsey’s death isn’t just a loss for his loved ones, but the people he was trying to help that didn’t have abundant opportunities. He was pridefully stepping into his role as a community leader and an advocate for a voiceless cacophony of people like him. His presence was needed because there are so few figures who can get through to the wild kids running around L.A. and other cities and convince them in the validity of another way. His death may affect the mindset of the next person of means who was looking to be as involved and present in their city, which will, in turn, deprive people who could have went even further than Nipsey if given a chance.
When people use the term “senseless” violence, this is exactly what they’re referring to. There’s no way that whoever committed that act against Nipsey and the other two who were shot made sense of the ramifications of their actions. If they did, they would have realized that his life, like any life, was too valuable to end in a hail of gunfire. Nipsey was doing his part to contribute to change, and likely fell victim to the very kind of person he was trying to empower. That disheartening paradox is something to think on as the rap world mourns his death, celebrates his legacy, and thinks on what, if anything, can be done to stop this cycle of gun violence.