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‘Victory Lap’: How Nipsey Hussle’s Debut Album Secured His Track Record
In Depth

‘Victory Lap’: How Nipsey Hussle’s Debut Album Secured His Track Record

Nipsey Hussle’s sole album, ‘Victory Lap’, may have taken home the medal, but fans still mourn the loss of the much-missed victor.

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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?”

Blue Laces 2 revises Hussle’s somewhat prophetic Blue Laces, from 2010’s The Marathon mixtape, which referenced his gang of old, the Crips, and featured a guest spot from first-wave gangsta rapper Kokane. This time around, Hussle remains in reflecting frame of mind, employing an early Kanye West-style sped-up soul sample, though his life has progressed onwards and upwards (“City council meetin’, they got Hussle speakin’”). In the near-decade that had passed since The Marathon, he had also become a bona fide hitmaker, with the heavy and atmospherically creeping stomp of Victory Lap’s centrepiece, Hussle & Motivate, going gold in 2019, becoming one of his best-known tracks.

Releasing the pressure

The ticking trap of Status Symbol 3 releases the pressure, featuring a comedic turn from Compton’s prolific Buddy (“Almost forgot what I was doin’”), who picks up where his two previous collaborations with Hussle left off. Succa Proof then brings in veteran dancehall artist Konshens for a fire-and-brimstone feature (“Boy diss Nipsey Hussle/Exercise mi trigger finger muscle”).

The bombastic second part in another series, Keyz 2 The City 2 calls upon South Central singer Tee Flii to lend a hand on a song which makes a U-turn halfway through, for a whole different flavour (“My whole life is like a balance act”), before leading into the infectious, bumpin’ Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs hit Grinding All My Life (“Sacrificed, hustled, paid the price/Want a slice, got to roll the dice”).

The soulful Million While You Young features R&B master The-Dream, who declares his loyalty as Hussle reflects on the pressures of becoming successful (“Streets ain’t for everybody, get your grades up”), while the 70s soul feel of Loaded Bases pitches Hussle’s laidback rhymes against another noted singer, Atlanta’s sweet-toned Cee-Lo Green. The album’s nominal closer, the dreamy, uplifting Real Big, features Floetry’s Marsha Ambrosius, who offers her own support over more motivational chords (“If I could give you the stars, baby, I would”). However, significant unannounced bonus cuts sneak in, in the form of the laidback, trippy and nostalgic Double Up, which features Palestinian rapper Belly alongside Dom Kennedy, floating over its rusty beats; and the proudly brassy Right Hand 2 God.

The promo videos: Hundreds of millions of views from captivated fans

Half of Victory Lap was bolstered by promo videos. The title track’s clip features footage filmed at an idyllic holiday location, mixed with hometown hangouts. The videos for Rap Ni__as, Last Time That I Checc’d and Status Symbol 3 focus mainly on cars, while Grinding All My Life does what it says in the title. Hussle & Motivate, however, has Hussle holding up a security truck, in what plays like a try-out for a career in action films. Most notably of all, the epic video for Double Up has had hundreds of millions of views from fans captivated by its story of Nipsey and an alluring female former criminal acquaintance meeting again years later, under radically different circumstances.

The release and the legacy: Leaving fans with the medal, not the victor

Released on 16 February 2018, Victory Lap went platinum with ease, and scored Nipsey Hussle a Grammy nomination. But his success was cut tragically short: in 2019, having barely had time to sample his next-level fame, the rapper became yet another victim of gun violence in the US. After being shot repeatedly on the afternoon of Sunday, 10 March, outside his own shop in South Central, in an attack by another Crip, Hussle died aged 33, leaving two children fatherless. Tributes came from figures as prominent as Barack Obama, whose wife, Michelle, had named Hussle & Motivate one of her favourite songs. A little more Hussle material has crept out in the years since his death, but while Victory Lap may have won him the race, we have been left with the medal, not the much-missed victor.

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