Artist and activist Nipsey Hussle was memorialized on stage at the Staples Center during the 62nd Annual Grammys’ live telecast on January 26, giving new meaning to the term Sunday Service. Meek Mill and Roddy Ricch performed “Letter To Nipsey,” a new song inspired by the rapper, who was murdered in March 2019, while DJ Khaled, Kirk Franklin, John Legend, and YG led the congregation with a spirited rendition of Hussle’s Grammy-winning track “Higher.” During the tribute, performers danced while wearing traditional Eritrean clothing out of respect for Hussle’s culture.
While the tribute was bound to be robust due to the gravitas of Hussle’s enduring legacy, the passing of an honorary Los Angeles icon mere hours before gave the performance even more retrospective relevance. The untimely death of iconic basketball player Kobe Bryant due to a fatal helicopter crash sent shock waves across the nation, leaving many to express their grief and offer condolences to the loved ones of the nine who lost their lives. Images of both Hussle and Bryant were presented on screen at the conclusion of the Recording Academy’s tribute to uproarious applause and a standing ovation. The performance itself stood as a powerful, sentimental testament to the fragility of life itself, and highlighted the importance of leaving a legacy that goes beyond profession.
Hussle, who was nominated for Best Rap Album at the 2019 ceremony for his final album Victory Lap, was honored with two posthumous awards Sunday; his family was present to accept them on his behalf. Grammys host Alicia Keys noted that the Staples Center, the site of the ceremony and Los Angeles Lakers’ home games, will forever be “The House That Kobe Built.” The sports giant scored an unprecedented 81 points at the venue in 2006, and dropped 60 points in the last game of his 20-year career 10 years later. Both of Bryant’s retired jerseys were spotlighted in the rafters during the telecast. However, outside of the clear talent, inimitable drive, and relentless passion these two had for their crafts, their long-standing importance was truly bigger than bars and basketballs.
Both men devoted aspects of themselves to making a difference in the lives of others, making the succinctness of their time even more bittersweet to those who bore witness to it or experienced it firsthand. Through the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Foundation, founded by No. 24 himself, the self-proclaimed “Black Mamba” provided services dedicated to improving the lives of youth and families in need. He also focused on enriching and “nurturing [young] minds, bodies, and spirits” through non-profit programs like After-School All-Stars. Hussle – affectionately known as “Neighborhood Nip ”– was reportedly scheduled to meet with the LA Police Chief and Commissioner to address the issue of gang violence in the city one day after his death. He also lived with a fervent belief that communal workspaces like Vector 90 would be beneficial in fostering community among young black men in Los Angeles.
Both Hussle and Bryant were admittedly, publicly imperfect in terms of their alleged actions and words, and death should not absolve any wrongdoing they may have purveyed or pain they may have caused. However, their painful-to-digest deaths solidify the importance of living life wholly, completely, and purposefully. Despite their shortcomings, both men inspired admirers to continue their own marathons, to adopt razor-sharp mentality and work ethic, and to be involved in something far more grand than the scope of their perceived capabilities. Had Hussle and Bryant not focused on leaving imprints that transcended their respective industries, tributes dedicated to their legacies would not be as full, as warranted, or as necessary.
With situations such as these, it’s sobering to realize that all we have is time. It the same vein, it’s reassuring to know that even in death, we continue to learn. We did not know Nipsey Hussle and Kobe Bryant’s last days on earth would be so painfully expeditious. Yet, they built things that ultimately outlived them. Those legacies will render them immortal, especially to anyone who abides by lessons that these figures taught in life, and will continue to teach in death. If life was lived purposefully and impactfully, legacy has the power to transcend even the most intense tragedies, and it’s apparent that these cultural behemoths will continue to fly higher than anticipated.
Nipsey Hussle is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music Group.