Teachers Guide - Nipsey Hussle Background

Nipsey’s foundation

You may not have heard the name Nipsey Hussle before he was shot and killed on March 31, 2019 in Los Angeles California. Or perhaps you haven’t heard the name until now, but news of Hussle’s death went viral and led to an outpouring of grief and love from across the world.

Ermias Joseph “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom, was a Grammy-nominated rapper and songwriter, as well as an entrepreneur, community activist, and a father of two. Nipsey Hussle was born on August 15, 1985 in Los Angeles, California, to Dawit Asghedom, an Eritrean immigrant and Angelique Smith, a Black American from Los Angeles. Hussle has an older brother, Samiel Asghedom, and sister, Samantha Smith. 

Growing up in the poverty-stricken environment of South Central Los Angeles, he got involved in gang life at an early age. Hussle spoke publicly about his longtime affiliation with the Rollin’ 60s, an LA-area gang connected to the Crips. However, he was determined to change his life, so he distanced himself from gang activity as he began to focus on his music and career. 


Hussle rose from the Los Angeles streets with a series of hit underground mixtapes, becoming both a respected rapper and beloved community figure. He was an established presence in the music industry; earning a Grammy nomination for his critically acclaimed debut album “Victory Lap” and collaborating with artists as big as Drake and Diddy. His death made it clear that his legacy would be anchored to both his music career and his successful journey to becoming a community-focused business leader from out of one of the roughest corners of Los Angeles. 

Hussle’s music was deeply connected to his history with the Rollin’ 60s, he was open about his membership in the gang, which started when he was a teen, as he told WBUR in a 2018 interview. In that same interview, he spoke proudly of “making it out” unscathed; Hussle stated, “In my section of the Crenshaw District in the Rollin’ 60s, none of my peers survived. None of my peers avoided prison,” he said. “None of ’em. Everybody got bullet wounds and felonies and strikes. So to make it out mentally stable and not in prison and not on drugs, that’s a win.” 


Hussle's nickname came from his entrepreneurial spirit. At age 11, he shined shoes for $2.50, with a goal of one hundred shoes per day to pay for his school clothes. Later, Hussle sold his mixtapes out of a car trunk at a neighborhood strip mall at the intersection of Slauson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard. He would eventually sign to Epic Records. Upon his exit from Epic Records, he founded his own record label called, “All Money In Records”. During this time, Hussle experimented with unorthodox sales strategies such as selling expensive copies of certain mixtapes even while the songs were distributed for free. 

Hussle's Marathon branding served as inspiration for his business partner Steve Carless when he founded the Marathon Agency in 2013, with business partners Karen Civil and Jorge Peniche. They designed the talent-based brand to attract a diverse set of clients in all stages of their careers. In October 2016, Carless, the head of the agency, told Billboard that Hussle had invested "like over six figures" in the Marathon Agency and described him as "kind of like our silent partner." 

In 2017 Hussle began earnestly working on several philanthropic efforts, this further solidified his evolution from gang member to major-label signee and community leader. Hussle was involved in community activism, working to empower and employ underprivileged groups through real estate investments, science and tech learning centers for teens, and multiple other efforts in inner-city Los Angeles. 

Also In 2017, Hussle bought real estate in the Crenshaw District (with DJ Khaled as a partner). This real estate included the storefront that became (his store) The Marathon Clothing. On June 17, 2017 Hussle alongside his  partners Steve Carless, Karen Civil, and his brother Samiel Asghedom opened The Marathon Clothing Store. Opening the store at this intersection in the Crenshaw Commercial District was important to him, because he wanted to invest and provide opportunities in his nearby neighborhood of Hyde Park. The Marathon Clothing Store was conceived both as a way to promote commerce in a lower-class area and as an experiment that blended smart technology with brick-and-mortar retail. The year before Hussle’s death, he partnered with real estate investor David Gross to buy the small shopping center where his store was located.

 Nipsey Hussle discussed ideas of creating a science and tech-focused center for youth. He spoke of finding inspiration in so-called “disruptive thinkers” from the Silicon Valley like Mark Zuckerburg and Elon Musk. In an article Hussle is quoted saying, “What Silicon Valley is saying to justify that lack of diversity is that there’s no pipeline from the inner-city to Silicon Valley. The reason that there’s no pipeline is that we lack science, technology, engineering, and math skills, and you can’t teach a 13-year-old that; it’s too late. They gotta be trained in that.” In 2018, in effort to create a pipeline from the inner-city to the Silicon Valley, Hussle co-founded  a science and tech-focused center with a WeWork-style coworking space attached, for underprivileged youth..  

Community Activism 

In 2004 at the age of 19, Nipsey Hussle's father took both him and his brother Samiel on a trip to Eritrea, East Africa for three months. Hussle credited the trip with inspiring him to become a community activist with an "entrepreneurial spirit". He wanted to focus on "giving solutions and inspiration" to young Black men like him. 

Hussle later funded improvements to neighborhood schools and spent time with students, participating on panels about growing up in the area and the influence of gang culture and starting a co-working environment which he named Vector 90. From his own experience, he believed that the Crenshaw area was being underserved and that young people would benefit from communal workspaces. Nipsey wanted the youth to be able to take classes in science, technology and mathematics at the center. Hussle was also intimately involved in the planning and advisory stages of the Destination Crenshaw project that would showcase the history and culture of African Americans in his neighborhood. In March 2019, Hussle contacted officials from the LAPD, he then arranged a meeting between him, Roc Nation and the LAPD to discuss what they could do to help prevent gang violence in South Los Angeles. The meeting was  scheduled to take place on April 1, the day after he died. 

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