Nipsey Hussle Taught Me To Wash Both Sides Of The Window

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Wash both sides of the window.

Sorry, there is no anecdote about riding around in Nip’s Maybach while he imparted some deeply considered, esoteric hood knowledge. That wasn’t his style. He wasn’t given to waxing overly philosophically or dressing up his tales — putting scoops on it, he called it. He never put scoops on it. He was plain spoken. He stood by his word. He said what he meant.

Even that lesson: Wash both sides of the window. I made that up. It’s not based on anything he said. It’s based on what he did. His words cut through the beat — his term, when we discussed engineering techniques for how he developed his forceful, crystal-clear sound on records — but his actions, they always, always spoke louder. He knew exactly what he wanted to say and expressed it in how he lived, in the goals he pursued, in how he did business.

By now, you’ve probably already read about his endeavors. The blown deal with Epic that began and ended with his star-making hit “Hussle In The House” and a shelved album, the $100 mixtape, the ten years of independent grind, the Marathon clothing store, buying back his block, the philanthropic donations, refurbishing the basketball court at his old school, the Grammy Award-nominated major label debut, the Vector 90 shared workspace and resource center. No one else would ever have thought to give that to the Crenshaw district — historically, the powers that be have only taken resources from these underserved, attention-starved blocks. Nipsey thought differently, that’s what made him special. But it was how he thought differently, too.

You gotta wash both sides of the window. See, if you only clean the outside of the glass, you can still see every smudge and every print on the inside. If you only clean the inside of the glass, all the grime and dust and dirt from the outside will still be clearly visible. But if you put in the extra work, you can clean the glass so thoroughly that you can’t even see it, that you can see the whole world from within and see everything inside from outside. Nipsey saw that and lived it.

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For instance, he knew how important enterprise and entrepreneurship were to the Black community, because he spoke on it nearly constantly. Ownership. Financial independence. The decks are stacked against us. But he wanted us to have our own, so that we could define ourselves. But unlike some, he didn’t see it as a be-all, end-all solution. Because the decks were stacked by someone. The rules are written by someone. He advocated working within the system too. He knew you had to fight the power from outside, but that you also had to work your way in, to change the role power has in our lives, from oppression to support.

Before he died, he told me his plans: How he was working with the city to build up the Crenshaw district, while working inside the district itself to curb gang violence, provide jobs, opportunities, and services he knew no one from out side the city would provide. He used connections within the system to create the leverage he needed to build up his neighborhood from within, then used those connections to make sure that he protected it from outside forces like gentrification forcing out residents. His next project was an apartment complex that would have ensured residents had affordable housing as the rail line through the neighborhood opened, bringing retail and revenue to the area, keeping the people who built the neighborhood at home.

Nipsey and I weren’t super close. I’d see him around, at the Drew League or at shows, going all the way back to 2010, when he and Dom Kennedy held a benefit concert for an earthquake that hit Haiti earlier that year. He was more like family — a cousin you’d catch up with at the family reunion. He was always generous. He was always kind. He always listened. He always gave just the right advice. We were the same age.

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When we talked, we talked about how we’d both grown up in similar situations, surrounded by gang violence and the illusions of poverty. We were both lucky; I went to private school one city over from Compton, just outside the reach of the gangs, Nipsey was relocated to his father’s native Eritrea at 18 to keep him out of trouble. I guess I was luckier; my parents’ efforts to keep me away from being affiliated worked better than Nipsey’s, although his experiences in the life eventually gave him the tools to climb out of those dire circumstances, as assuredly as my private school education did for me. We both wrote our way out. I wish, more than anything, the street life never found a way to reach out to him afterward, and I fear, more than anything, that one day it’ll come for me, too.

If there’s anything I hope people take away from Nipsey’s story it’s this: That you don’t have to be a perfect paragon of virtue to make a difference. Nipsey sure wasn’t — and he knew it, too. He didn’t let that stop him from trying. You don’t have to be smarter than anyone else. You don’t have to be more moral than anyone else. You don’t have to always be “right.” You don’t even have to be rich, even though it helps.

You just need to be compassionate. You just need to care about people more than you care about clout or money. You need to pitch in and help, no matter how small your actions may feel compared to the scale of social and systemic injustice. You must be involved in your community. Be seen doing good, no matter what it might cost you, because you never know who sees you, who will follow you, or how your small ripple can grow into a wave of immense power and scope that can erode the walls of racism and inequality that still stain our global community today. Help anyone and everyone you can.

It’s what Nipsey would do. It’s what Nipsey did. He was an example for all of us. Go be one yourself and one day all our combined lights can drive away the darkness of this world. Inside, outside, it doesn’t matter, as long as we wash both sides of the window, so the light can shine through.

Nipsey Hussle is a Warner Music artist. Uproxx is an independent subsidiary of Warner Music.