It has been almost two years since Nipsey Hussle last released music to the public. In other words: It’s about damn time.
The Los Angeles rapper’s newest mixtape Crenshaw has racked up hundreds of thousands of downloads within its first day of release. What’s intriguing about both the album and the artist is that Nipsey is an independent artist who has never released a debut album. Yet he recently encouraged fans to pay $100 for a hard copy of the mixtape. The kicker here is that loyal fans gladly chose to pay the fee over downloading the album for free.
Nipsy, whose real name is Ermias Asghedom, grew up in a neighborhood near Crenshaw Boulevard in South L.A. called the “sixties,” a gang-infested area occupied by the Rollin’ 60s’ Neighborhood Crips—of which Nipsey is a self-proclaimed member. In 2010, Nipsey was a part of XXL’s “Annual Freshman Top Ten,” alongside J.Cole, Big Sean and others. Before Kendrick Lamar began dominating party playlists and conversations about the “realest” in the rap game, Nipsey was dubbed “the next big thing” out of L.A.
On Crenshaw, Nipsey speaks on everything from growing up in the gang culture of the Crenshaw district to his current success as an entrepreneur and independent rapper. Many tracks chronicle Nipsey’s transition from being a gangbanger to a legitimate businessman and how those two identities often overlapped as he got his start. The overall message in Nipsey’s early work (including The Marathon and The Marathon Continues) and in Crenshaw is one of determination and motivation to make the best of the given circumstances no matter the odds.
With DJ Drama hosting the mixtape and production from the likes of 1500 or Nothin’ and The Futuristics, Crenshaw takes listeners away from the status quo of trap-heavy beats and Auto-Tuned hooks. Many of the G-funk-influenced instrumentals are complex and unworldly with deep bass and real instruments holding everything together. With features from Dom Kennedy, Rick Ross, Cobby Supreme, Slim Thug and underground R&B artist James Fauntleroy, Nipsey jumps from hardcore gangsta rap to Take Care-sounding tracks all in the same mixtape.
Nipsey starts off Crenshaw with tracks that scream, “I made it.” On “All Get Right,” Nipsey brags, “My Cuban link, that’s 14k / My presidential, I wear it every day / It symbolizes, how I’m enterprising / I came from lint in Dickie pockets so I emphasize it.” The ballad details Nipsey’s rise from nothing to having whatever he wants now that he’s in the limelight.
On “Face the World,” Nipsey speaks on his life before rap, and how it was audacious to aspire to something more than being a hustler in the streets. Nipsey admits that he “Prayed for blessings as a young nigga / Not to learn the hard lessons of a drug dealer / Triple life with a gang enhancement / The judge triple white and he hate your blackness.”
It isn’t all gloom, doom and guns that go boom on Crenshaw, however. Nipsey is known for his “top down” music—tracks to blast while speeding down the 405 freeway in a 500 Benz. On “Summertime In That Cutlass,” Nipsey combines infectious instrumentals with hard-hitting lyrics that bring to mind Sunday drives through the neighborhood, volume cranked so high the whole block knows who’s driving.
Crenshaw’s last track, “Crenshaw and Slauson (True Story),” takes a more introspective position on Nipsey’s fame and wealth and how he now enjoys being from a place where many men don’t make it to their 20th birthday. The eerie piano riff combined with Nipsey’s straight-from-the-heart narrative is chill-inducing. Nipsey bluntly explains how he sold his possessions to buy the tools he needed to chase the dream he so desperately wanted: “Brought my grocery bag of cash straight to Black Sam / He matched a nigga, next day we went to Sam Ash / He bought up Pro Tools and a microphone / The studio was far from plush, but them lights was on.”
For those who believe gangsta rap died with Eazy-E, the hiatus of Dr. Dre, the “‘Are We There Yet?’-ification” of Ice Cube and the reincarnation of one Snoop Lion, give Nipsey Hussle a listen. He’s a diamond in the rough. For fans of West Coast hip-hop, his music is infectious. Nipsey is proof that an independent artist can become a major force in today’s world of Clear Channel sameness and major label monopolies. This is just the beginning, though. In a Tuesday tweet Nipsey said, “…I made a hunnit k today off my album throw away’s.” If this is true, it’s scary to think of how good his album will be.
4.5 out of 5 stars