Born in Crenshaw, Los Angeles, and of Eritrean heritage, Nipsey Hussle, aka Ermias Asghedom, was a reformed gangster, a rapper, entrepreneur and a community activist. Having renamed himself in honour of comedian Nipsey Russell, he was also 13 years into his recording career before he released his first – and, tragically, last – studio album, 2018’s appropriately titled Victory Lap.
Listen to ‘Victory Lap’ here.
The backstory: Anticipation had mounted to fever pitch
Issued by Atlantic Records, Nipsey Hussle’s debut album followed years in the mixtape game, with the disappointment of a stillborn major-label deal with Epic threatening to stall his progress. During that time, anticipation for Hussle’s first full-length record had mounted to fever pitch, the hype starting with his G-funk-inspired 2008 single Hussle In The House, and snowballing following a guest spot alongside West Coast legend Snoop Dogg, on the martial Upside Down.
The more melodic Killer, which featured Drake, came perfectly timed to coincide with the Canadian rapper’s own career take-off, while a spot on We Are The World 25 For Haiti, released to help raise funds to support victims of the January 2010 Haiti earthquake, gave Hussle further exposure, alongside icons from both the pop (Justin Bieber, Janey Jackson, Miley Cyrus) and hip-hop worlds (Busta Rhymes, LL Cool J, Snoop Dogg). Fast proving his versatility, Hussle continued to gain ground, thanks to a string of collaborations with everyone from indie darlings MGMT (on the lively Call From The Bank) to The Game (multiple tracks), 80s legend Sade (the atmospheric If U Were Mine), 50 Cent (on fellow LA rapper YG’s nostalgically old-school-flavoured I Want A Benz) and funk kingpin George Clinton (Do The Damn Thing). Victory Lap, however, was completely new territory for an undoubted star who’d yet to release a full album of his own.
The songs: Asserting his individuality against the competition
Victory Lap starts as it means to go on, with a melancholic title track that became a platinum-selling, Arctic Monkeys-biting chart hit in 2019. Guest vocals from New York City singer-songwriter Stacy Barthe somewhat sweetened the pill, but Hussle was nevertheless on apocalyptic form (“You gotta keep the devil in his hole”), cramming lyrics in by the pound. The relentless, whining one-line flow of the G-funk single Rap Ni__as follows, Hussle asserting his individuality against the competition.
The bouncing, effervescent, aspirational Last Time That I Checc’d (“I been self-made from the dribble”) features Nipsey’s friend YG. Continuing Victory Lap’s G-funk theme, the song holds its own against vintage hip-hop classics. As if to co-sign this, veteran rap mogul Puff Daddy steps in on the album’s next cut, delivering his usual hypeman interjections on the boomin’ and riddlin’ Young Ni__a (“Look, I got a team at my bank/I don’t even need an ID at my bank”). The third single lifted from the album, Dedication, also boasts a notable feature, this time from breakthrough Compton artist and latter-day hip-hop legend Kendrick Lamar, who’s more than happy to big up Nipsey’s hustle: “You hear the words out his lips/About flourishing from the streets to Black businesses?”