It’s been a little over a month since Los Angeles rapper and businessman Ermias Asghedom, better known as Nipsey Hussle, was shot and killed in front of his Marathon clothing store in the city’s Baldwin Park section. Since then, the community and the city at large have mourned their fallen son, both for the music he left behind and the good works he left incomplete with his death. It’s since become clear that, as an uncommon artist and man, Nipsey Hussle’s impact required much more than the usual set of tributes.
Not only did the Nipsey Hussle memorial service at Staples Center sell out the building and draw thousands of live streams from numerous sources, the procession that followed practically shut down all of South LA with well-wishers and revelers celebrating his life, memory, and musical legacy. The city’s notorious gangs even came together in mourning, paying the ultimate tribute to his passing by observing a citywide peace treaty that saw rival sets come together in fellowship after over forty years of feuding.
Hip-hop, in its way, has also honored the late, great Hussle in a number of ways, from touching social media posts to live show shout-outs. Those who knew Nipsey best even commemorated their friendships by doing what rappers are best known for outside of music: Buying blinged-out, custom chains that permanently engraved his image in their favorite accessories. Nipsey Hussle’s portrait might just be the new Jesus piece after this spring, but there were plenty of other ways the hip-hop community has honored him since his passing.
Giving Nipsey One More Victory Lap
It may seem almost too obvious, but one of the first ways Nipsey’s hip-hop fans and friends paid tribute was the one that came most naturally; they played his music. In the week immediately following Nipsey’s death, Billboard reported an almost 3000 percent increase in sales and streaming of his back catalog, including his “debut” album, Victory Lap, and his previous mixtapes like Crenshaw, The Marathon Continues, and Mailbox Money, some of which had previously been available as limited edition physical releases as part of Nipsey’s bold Proud to Pay initiative. Streaming platforms like Tidal made it even easier for fans to find his music, placing his catalog on their “New Releases” page.
Making NBA History
While not strictly a hip-hop figure, Russell Westbrook was one of Nipsey’s good friends and is a favorite of other rappers, as well as using his platform to promote up-and-coming performers like Lil Uzi Vert and JID in his Jordan shoe ads. His own tribute was a bit more unique than a simple shout-out; during a game against Nipsey’s hometown Lakers at Staples Center, Russ threw up an utterly ridiculous stat line as a homage to Nipsey’s affiliation with the Rollin 60s Neighborhood Crips. Shooting 20 points, nabbing 20 rebounds, and doling 20 assists, he became the first NBA star in 40 years to record such numbers. Add them all up and “that was for Nipsey” became a phrase that will eventually enter the Basketball Hall Of Fame.
For many stars, the most permanent and meaningful gesture they could make to honor Nipsey Hussle was to engrave his image on their skin. Rappers have long loved to show off their tattoos, which in their way, show off the people, places, and things most meaningful to rappers themselves. Many have pictures of fallen family members and friends. Some have their home states and cities inked onto their torsos. Blueface has a portrait of Benjamin Franklin, straight off the $100 bill (i.e. “blue face” hundreds). NBA stars JR Smith and Jordan Clarkson, rappers The Game, Rick Ross, Roddy Ricch, and Russ, and even Nipsey’s grieving partner Lauren London all have fresh new ink depicting the lanky rapper’s chiseled mug somewhere on their bodies.
Whenever a prominent figure in hip-hop passes, it’s a sure bet that rappers will incorporate that person into the next few concerts as a way of keeping their memory alive — especially when the bereaved is close friends with the departed. For instance, Vince Staples ended every stop on his recent Smile, You’re On Camera Tour by projecting the late Mac Miller’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert in its entirety on his background screen. To pay homage to Nipsey, rappers from Big Sean to Jay-Z added special verses to recent performances, while J. Cole dedicated a moving rendition of his emotive fan favorite “Love Yourz” to the late, great Hussle. Even Kanye took a moment out of his self-mythologizing Sunday Service to praise someone other than himself. Other rappers who dedicated performances to Nipsey’s memory include Anderson .Paak, Kid Cudi, and Lizzo.
Given how closely associated rappers are with the image of writing songs in their rhyme books (however many still do pen their lyrics this archaic way), it’s only natural that so many rappers have paid tribute to Nipsey Hussle not just with their onstage performances but with their gifts for wordplay and insight. While Jay-Z is known for coming up with the majority of his bars off the dome, he scribed a heartfelt dedication to the rapper he once championed for his enterprising business strategies in Nipsey’s memorial service program, as did Kendrick Lamar, who called Nip “a vessel from God.” While Jay quoted religious professor Howard Thurman, citing the concept of the “new Black man” in reference to Nipsey’s drive, determination, faith, Kendrick hailed Nipsey as a “radical” and a “thinker.” Later on, Kendrick’s labelmate Schoolboy Q paid similar written tribute in the booklet from his new album, Crash Talk, thanking him for his community action and for accepting Q despite their opposing street affiliations. Meanwhile, close friends like The Game and YG have posted daily social media dedications, sending up blue balloons and reminiscing on better days.
Lastly, so many rappers determined the best way to honor Nipsey Hussle’s memory was by customizing chains to pay tribute to the Slauson Boy. Rather than trying to get too elaborate or flashy — something Nipsey himself took great pains to avoid early in his career — the rappers who decided to get chains dedicated to him kept things simple for the most part by affixing portraits of the late rapper to pendants that would hang down from plain rope necklaces, surrounded by diamonds. The first to pop up with a Nipsey Hussle chain was Snoop Dogg, the OG west coast rapper to whom Nipsey drew comparisons early in his career for his long braids and laid-back drawl. Then Meek Mill, another rapper with whom Nipsey had a good relationship, as well as a planned collaborative album in the works, posted his own, similar chain. Even Tyga showed off a tasteful take on the Nipsey necklace. While they’re far less gaudy than some of the pieces we’re used to seeing from rappers in past years, if the new trend is portrait pendants, I’m sure Nipsey is somewhere nodding and smiling in approval.
Nipsey Hussle is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music.