Nipsey Hussle was an embodiment of his stage name. Born Ermias Joesph Asghedom, the rapper's hustle led to his rise through the music business ranks, from artist to mogul. His remarkable transformation — from selling mixtapes out of the trunk of his car to owning and operating multiple storefronts on Crenshaw and Slauson in Los Angeles' South Central neighborhood — was cut short after his untimely death on March 31, 2019.
Though Hussle is gone now, his legacy endures in both his neighborhood and within the rap community. In L.A., Hussle intentionally planted businesses to provide the impoverished area with an opportunity to grow economically. His ambition to succeed has greatly impacted the upcoming generation of rappers, like Roddy Ricch, whose Nipsey collaboration "Racks In The Middle" won the GRAMMY for Best Rap Performance in 2020.
Despite his absence, the rapper's business deals continue to prosper at the hands of his family and team who are dedicated to his vision and legacy. On May 17, his estate hosted a special screening of The Marathon (Cultivation), a documentary on the late rapper's life and journey through the cannabis industry.
Hussle first started growing and selling marijuana to fund his recording career, which led to running into troubles with the law. Once it became legal in California, he and his brother, Samiel Asgehdom — Hussle's main business partner — wanted to get ahead of the fast-growing industry; the two developed their cannabis strain Marathon OG with The Cure Company.
On June 18, another milestone was added to Hussle's legacy: the grand opening of The Marathon Collective, a THC and CBD retail store in Canoga Park, Los Angeles. This was a huge victory given that Nipsey, his brother Samiel Asgehdom, Adam Andebrhan, and the late Stephen Donelson had been attempting to get their cannabis license since 2017.
Photo: Edgar Medina & Hugo Aguilar
"Through the ups and downs, whatever we were doing, the key was not about money but trying to make our business work,'' Asghedom told GRAMMY.com at the store opening. "So, whether [the Marathon Collective] becomes a billion-dollar or a thousand-dollar company, what Nipsey thrived on, and what we also do, is to ensure that everyone has a job and a legitimate opportunity."
Hussle's father, Dawit Asghedom, joined Samiel in helping to uphold the late rapper's ambitions and also attended the grand opening. "I hope this is an example to our community that when you start, there will be bumps in the road," Dawit told GRAMMY.com, "but if you continue, you'll achieve in any pursuits you have in your life."
The Marathon Collective is the second brick and mortar store of Hussle's. In 2017, he opened the Marathon Clothing store (co-owned by Samiel and his friend Stephen Donelson), which was an innovative "smart store" where customers used an app to gain access to exclusive content while making purchases. The building now serves as a memorial site for Nipsey, as he was fatally shot outside of the store in 2019. According to Samiel, the retail store has a new location on Melrose that the team is renovating, and it is expected to open in the next six or seven months.
Long before he pivoted to a successful businessman, Hussle's knack for entrepreneurial ventures began with his career as a rapper. He got his first shot at a musical career in 2008 when he signed with Epic Records. However, after Epic experienced financial difficulties in 2010, Nipsey chose not to renew his contract and left the label — but instead of being discouraged, Hussle seized the opportunity to build his name and brand his way. He established his own label, All Money In, in 2010, rather than looking for one to help him launch his career. Soon after, he released his mixtape The Marathon.
The Marathon is a mantra that essentially became Hussle's brand, and serves as a metaphor for the journey of life. A marathon takes time; ultimately, it's about striding with patience and perseverance. Hussle never glamorized entrepreneurship; he always depicted it truthfully in his music: "I'll say it's worth it, I won't say it's fair," he raps on the title track of his 2018 album Victory Lap. "Find your purpose, or you're wasting air."
While Victory Lap proved to be a commercial win — it peaked at No. 2 on the all-genre Billboard 200 albums chart and earned a GRAMMY nomination for Best Rap Album in 2019 — Hussle prioritized ownership and authenticity as opposed to focusing on mainstream success. He used music to explain who he was and how he grew up, meanwhile maintaining control over his masters.
"There were many opportunities for Nipsey's career to take off commercially and be more mainstream, but he followed a mantra that we still practice daily, brand before business,'' Jorge Peniche, longtime friend and business partner of Nipsey Hussle, told GRAMMY.com. "He wanted success on his terms — not only for himself, but for people who were with him from the beginning."
Hussle proved that a loyal, core following was valuable through his Proud 2 Pay campaign — a marketing strategy for his mixtape, Crenshaw. Hussle sold 1,000 physical copies of his highly anticipated mixtape for $100. He believed that because he had such a strong connection with his fans and community, people would be proud to pay for this body of work, and he was right.
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The marketing strategy went viral, and with only three days of promotion, the albums sold out in 24 hours. Hussle's hustle went viral in the hip-hop community and gained notice from billionaire rap mogul JAY-Z, who bought a hundred copies.
"The whole thing is, we're going to make all these young n<em></em> say f<em></em><em> these labels, "said Hussle in a statement he released via YouTube. "Once the culture changes with these artists' expectations, what will the labels do? They're going to do one of two things — give n</em>* better deals, or they will crumble and turn into Blockbuster."
Hussle had previously introduced himself to the West Coast rap scene with mixtapes like 2005's Slauson Boy and Bullets Ain't Got No Name (which became a trilogy of mixtapes, released from 2008-2009), but this campaign delivered a message. He was not only focused on producing hits, but also on building an empire. Nipsey found a balance–– investing himself into music while also seeing the value in branching out into other endeavors.
As his notoriety grew, he envisioned releasing his first studio album with a bigger promotional push. This led to him signing a strategic partnership with Atlantic Records in 2017. (Although specific terms were not disclosed, it was revealed that it was a multi-album deal.) Hussle received major backing for Victory Lap, while maintaining complete control of his All Money In record label and its roster of artists — a rare deal for artists at the time.
But he didn't stop there. Hussle shared his success with his community again by partnering with entrepreneur David Gross to open Vector90, a professional co-working space in Crenshaw, in February 2018. The space aims to "anchor cultural and intellectual hubs for entrepreneurs and creatives."
Nipsey had 14 different businesses in total, spanning industries from restaurant to beauty. His work with inner-city youth was among his most notable efforts; one of his final initiatives was building what is now the Neighborhood Nip Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing opportunities for young creatives in music.
Months before his death, Hussle joined an investment group that planned to use a tax break provided by a recent federal law to rebuild his neighborhood and other forgotten low-income areas. He realized the gentrification that was taking over Los Angeles neglected South Central, and saw it as an opportunity to expand it himself. Hussle saw the beauty in his community and knew South Central also deserved to grow, but the hands that planted the seed would be from other musicians and politicians from L.A., not developers.
What was important to Nipsey was evident throughout his life — especially in the final years, which he spent investing in and improving his community. Even though his life was cut short, he accomplished what many people strive for: a legacy that will live on after we are gone.
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