(Photo Courtesy of Jorge Peniche)
California is the land of the stars and the land of the slain. Unflinching American eyes eagerly amplify Hollywood’s Walk of Fame. These same patriotic eyes turn Helen Keller, refusing to see, or to hear about, a stateside war that continues to mangle. Each day, memorials are being erected for fallen soldiers. Souls continue to become engulfed by emptiness. Blue and red flags listlessly wave in surrender to a war that was waged before their births. Which is worse, Reaganomics, or the gang-banging genocide that’s afflicting California's streets?
Slauson and Crenshaw might as well be in a different galaxy from the flashing lights of Hollywood and Vine. Nipsey Hussle, a gang-bang graduate, has gained understanding through his personal pains. This Saluson-student-of-life, has gone from banging for the block, to banging on the system. His voice as an MC is far greater than any gang of misguided youths. Through Nipsey’s sincere approach to Hip-Hop, the shouldn’t-have’s, are given a voice. In part one, of this exclusive interview with AllHipHop.com, Nipsey Hussle discusses: Hip-Hop; Humanity; and his début album.
AllHipHop.com: In an interview that you did with BallerStatus.com you said, “I want to be able to do for my family without breaking the law. And I want to be able to be a man without risking my freedom. I want to be able to do what I love and get paid from it.” Do you still love Hip-Hop; why?
Nipsey Hussle: I definitely still love Hip-Hop. Even after I’m done with it; I don’t see that changing. The way Hip-Hop music has inspired me and talked to me, I think it’s going to be something that’s permanently [in my life]. You got 50-year-old people that are still infatuated with Rock & Roll. They still have their favorite albums, because it’s a part of their lives. I feel like for me and Hip-Hop, it’s going to be like that. Being a fan of Hip-Hop—a fan of the music, and the culture—there’s too many classic moments that molded and shaped my life. My love for Rap music and Hip-Hop culture is going to be forever.
AllHipHop.com: In order for you to grow into the man that you are today, what youthful habits or tendencies did you have to relinquish?
Nipsey Hussle: In terms of letting go of habits [there] was a lot of things. One thing that I always prided myself on was that, I have a good mind; I can think. So, I had to look at the situation I had to ask myself questions, ‘What does a successful artist do? What doesn’t a successful artist do?’
Even though I hadn’t become successful yet, I had to start thinking and living like a successful artist to become one. Due to my intelligence, any of the habits that didn’t make sense, and wouldn’t contribute to me become a successful artist; I had to let them go. Even to the point where I wouldn’t smoke weed at certain times, so I can focus. And I stayed away from certain individuals that wanted something different out of life.
I never turned-up my nose, or felt like I was better than, because I’m not. I just understood [that] what I was aiming at and working towards, was something different than what they were aiming at, and working towards. Somebody whose opinion I value once told me that, “If you’re around 10 broke people, you’re going to be the eleventh. If you’re around 10 ambitious people who are making progress and going somewhere you’re going to be the eleventh.”
So, you know, the company that you keep is very important. I just try to surround myself with like-minded individuals. I stopped holding myself to a standard of a lifestyle that I didn’t want to be restricted to. For example, being in the streets, it’s a certain aura and a certain stigma of how you’re supposed to play it. But a lot of times, that’s a destructive lifestyle. I had to re-examine what I wanted and base what I did off of that.
AllHipHop.com: Many people have got to know you and your music from your Bullets mixtape series. From this volume of work, what resonates with me is the way that you show the humanity behind the rag. Yes, you’re RSC [Rolling 60’s Crip], but you don’t glorify it nor condemn it. The juxtaposition of the songs is lovely, from “Bullets Ain’t Got No Names,” to “Walk In My Shoes,” from “Strapped,” to “Payback.” What I want to know is how you were able to ride that line so eloquently?
Nipsey Hussle: That was my goal, to try to be as genuinely myself through my music as I could be. Sometimes it comes across purely as I wanted it; and sometimes it don’t. In terms of that mixtape series, there was a level of truth in there, and a level of reality I was trying to articulate and get across to the listeners. Some people couldn’t get past certain records, and certain things I said, to actually see the message and the truth to what I’m saying; but, other people caught it. It was something that I was real passionate about, and something that I firmly believe in—that the world has us misconstrued.
I wanted to speak from a perspective of somebody that was in the situation, going through the situation, and coming out of the situation. I wanted to give my opinion, and my idea of what it was, and [to] speak on its behalf. You said it best—articulate the humanity—of what is going on. From the outside looking in, a lot of times it looks like the young people who are growing up in L.A. gangbanging, are just heartless, and ruthless killers.
But, to a young dude who grew up in the Jungles, or in the Jordan Down’s, or on Crenshaw and Slauson, you know, it’s just the reality of what’s going on outside. To the rest of the world, it may look like it’s a crew of killers, but to you it’s like, your homeboy who grew up down the street—and fixed your bike when you was a young dude. You know what I’m saying; he stuck up for you, when they was trying to jump you. When you was broke, he had a dollar and he let you get fifty cents; so, you could get a bag of chips. That’s the part that a lot of the world isn’t necessarily conscious of.
There’s a certain reality going on in, L.A., that’s going on, and has been going on way before a lot of us were born. Walking outside your mama’s door, or your granny’s door, you deal with that reality the best way that you can. But, at the end of the day we’re still human and we go through human things. With that mixtape series, that was the overall theme that I was trying to get off my chest. We’re people, [and] this is why it goes down. We are not the cause; we’re the effect! Some records are purely aggressive and purely in the moment. Some records are more reflective and based on intelligence; but, all of it is true though.
AllHipHop.com: Yeah, I f*ck with you, Nipsey.
Nipsey Hussle: No question.
AllHipHop.com: While maintaining your art’s message and sincerity, how do you try to appeal to different audiences and demographics?
Nipsey Hussle: I just look at it like real life. I feel like certain people are just naturally biased, like in real life, it’s also like that in misc. You can walk into an elevator and a woman might grab her purse. That’s just how she feels. Then there’s some people that are open-minded and have an evolved opinion of the world, and an evolved understanding of people; that’s the audience that I try to go after.
The people that ain’t dogmatic and don’t have a closed mind, they might not even be from my walk-of-life, but they’re just a real human. They understand that people are different, but we all relate on certain levels. I try to hit them on those levels.
I go to my shows now, and I see a crowd that’s from all different walks-of-life—different ethnicities. It just reminds me that the truth resonates with everybody; whether they understand what I’m saying based on their experiences, or they can understand it based on the sincerity behind what I’m saying, and they can connect to the emotions. The goal is being honest and dealing with your bottom-line truth, because we all relate on certain levels. I see that the more and more that I speak from that perspective, the more of a broader audience I get. And the people that are listening gain a better understanding of me.
AllHipHop.com: Through life, we experience many different rites-of-passage. In regards to Hip-Hop, releasing the début album is a major one. Given that you left Epic, is South Central State of Mind still a tangible album, or are you creating new material for your debut?
Nipsey Hussle: I’m kinda in between right now. I’m definitely creating new material. Since the last project that I released, [The Marathon Continues] I’ve stacked up a lot of new music. Eventually, I’m going to release an official album. I just believe that the era I’m living in, people are not necessarily as concerned about an album. They’re more concerned about music and new music. So, I believe that the album is more of a business move.
In my opinion, I create all of my projects like albums, anyway. I don’t separate the process of [creating] a mixtape from the process of [creating] an album. [The difference] is more so the outlet. Mixtapes come out for free on the internet; albums are for sale on store shelves and at digital retailers. At the end of the day the creative process is the same. My goal is to build up my [fan] base until it’s strong enough, and they’re excited enough, and there’s enough demand for my album to commercially perform well. Because if that’s the case, if it doesn’t perform well, it might as well be a mixtape.
Once the demand is there, it’s only natural to supply that demand with the product, and sell it to them. You have to fill up the auditorium and the stadium before you hit the stage. Right now, that’s what I’m trying to do with the mixtape game. My end goal is to release an album. Just based on where I’m at in my life, I don’t know if I’m still going to call it, South Central State of Mind.
I feel like a lot of the records that I put on, Bullets Ain’t Got No Names: Volumes 1,2,3, The Marathon, and The MarathonContinues go toward the overall concept of, South Central State of Mind. So, if you collect all those projects and put them under one umbrella, that umbrella is, South Central State of Mind. But, I’m not sure—to be honest and answer your question—I’m not sure what I’m going to call the album. Once we get to that point, we get the records; we’ll be able to coin that album with a title that represents the sounds.
AllHipHop.com: Transitioning from a major label, to again embracing the fully independent route, how do you keep yourself and those within the movement motivated to manifest the vision for All Money In?
Nipsey Hussle: It’s more comfortable for me. I’m actually more motivated now that I’m outside of the major label situation. That’s not to say that eventually I won’t go back into one. Now with us, it’s more of an autopilot situation. We have a vision; we are more connected to the fans. We are more connected to the steering wheel of this car that we are driving. When we have ideas, and creative visions, we get to execute them and immediately see our results.
In terms of learning experiences, it’s a better situation. You get to go from concept, to creation, to reality in a much shorter process. What that does is it gives you an advantage, because you get to test out your ideas and see which ones work and which ones don’t work. In time, you get a better understanding of what you’re doing right, what you’re doing wrong, what the fans want and what’s working.
The transition, it was an uncomfortable transition just because it went from Epic footing the bill, to everything being out-of-pocket. The upside of it is that the quality of content increased; because, now it’s coming directly from us. There’s no middleman between the fan-base and the artist; it’s direct. Because of that, I think that there’s a new excitement about what I’m doing. There’s a stronger connection, because it’s evident that it’s coming directly from the artist, and directly from the team.
There’s a team surrounding me that all has one collective vision. Whereas, on the label you have billing—quarterly billing—decisions get made in a perspective of business, as opposed to the perspective of what’s good for the brand. You know, quality control, I feel that’s the main thing that hurts artists, in those situations. There’s a business interest that comes before the brand’s interest. But really, you’re supposed to put the brand before the business at all times. If you create a powerful brand, naturally there’s a reward to that. I feel like that’s the advantage that we have now that we’re independent.
Follow AllHipHop.com contributor Niki Gatewood on Twitter (@THE_NikiG).