Nipsey Hussle rightfully made a name for himself in 2008 with his powerful Bullets Ain’t Got No Name trilogy, which many expected to propel him to the forefront of West Coast rap. But in the five years since, other L.A. artists emerged to assume the mantle. This past August—out of our disappointment, not ill will—we put Nipsey on our 10 Underachieving Rappers list, and he wasn’t too happy about it. Not knowing his displeasure, I reached out for an interview so we could talk about the hype surrounding the recent release of his Crenshaw mixtape and its $100 price tag.
After some back and forth, and getting called out on Twitter by Nipsey himself (who also demanded $10,000 for a Complex interview), he finally agreed to get on the phone to talk to us (with a special $10,000 discount). And we're glad he did. In our conversation, he gave a scathing critique of our rap coverage, discussed why his music resonates with people, and explained why he refuses to budge from his anti-industry stance.
Interview by Angel Diaz (@ADiaz456)
So, I reached out to you for an interview once Crenshaw dropped and you denied us. Then you went on a Twitter rant about Complex and said we had to put up $10,000 for an interview. What was the source of your frustration?
First off, I never took anything personal. I never really took a personal offense to 25…I forgot the title you used. It was kind of a degrading article.
Complex was a big supporter from day one of my sh*t. But I started to see a change in the stance it was taking. It was almost like sarcastic…it made me think, Do you guys even like hip-hop?
The 10 Underachieving Rappers?
Exactly. I didn’t take personal offense to that. As a hip-hop artist in 2013, with the technology, the landscape of the industry and the culture, things are changing. We’re in a transitional period. We assume that editors of a credible magazine are intelligent people. We assume that these are people up on the state of things in the world, outside of just hip-hop. Leading up to that article, I went to Complex, I played my albums for Complex. Complex was a big supporter from day one of my shit. But I started to see a change in the stance it was taking. It was almost like sarcastic…it made me think, Do you guys even like hip-hop? Is Complex a magazine that has love for the culture? I started to see real sarcastic and degrading articles.
I understand being critical, that’s what keeps artists on top of their game. If they do some wack shit, there’s gonna be an honest write-up about their shit. What I got was that somebody in that building had a disgust for hip-hop. It was like a bougie stance from where they’re writing from. That’s what I took offense to. I see a lot of that in our culture right now. This shit came from the streets. This shit came from the people. This shit came from the struggle.
I took offense to, not only Complex’s stance, but the major labels’ stance on how they treat artists, how they treat the culture. And I felt like we’re at a point where our culture’s getting exploited and it’s looking like they’re trying to do us like they did rock 'n' roll. They’re trying to do us like they did Africa, and they’re trying to extract all of our natural resources for their own exploited reasons. If Complex is going to take the stance to degrade the culture and point out every flaw that hip-hop artists have and every mistake they make, then I’ma take the stance to say: As hip-hop, we’re gonna boycott Complex. We don’t need that. We can write about ourselves. We could develop our own outlet and we can cover our own stories. It’s like “No thank you. We don’t need y’all opinion no more.” And that’s why I said what I said.
To clarify, that list was based on artists we really fuck with who may not have had the output we wished they had. It was a critical opinion. We weren’t trying to bring anybody down.
Number one, who is an editor to have an opinion on a street nigga? Bottom line. Those editors don’t live this life. They don’t go through the struggle. I’m from the Rolling 60's my nigga. They don’t understand what putting an album out is to me. It ain’t the same as one of them backpack niggas, or one of them college-rapping types. That ain’t the shit I do. I got enemies. I went to war for real in between albums. My life is real. So when I hear about an editor asking: What’s up with my output? I’m like: What’s up with you even commenting on my life? Niggas don’t know my life. That’s the bourgeoisie approach that I get offended by because this ain’t no bubble. This ain’t no vacuum we doing this music out of. That’s why people connect to the pain in it. Because it’s real. That’s the part they should respect. These radio hits, these charts, they don’t validate the truth and the message. That’s when I start to be like, “Okay, you ain’t got a record on radio. You ain’t put an album out officially, so you’re an underachiever.”
That’s where I get offended because let’s restart this whole situation. The metrics and the gauge of success, and of impact on the culture. It don’t got shit to do with Billboard, it don’t got shit to do with SoundScan. It don’t got shit to do with any of these platforms that the business created. This shit is a culture. This shit is our life. You understand? So in between my projects does it take a year or two, or another artist that live a real life? Does it take them a year to put a project out? Because he wants to retain ownership. He wants to do what they refuse to let you do and that’s control his own destiny. He don’t wanna be exploited by the music industry that been traditionally exploitive to our creators. Then he end up on lists like the Top 25 Underachievers.
A lot of these artists that you got on these lists, they’re living real life and come from real places. The fact that they’re not doing 25-to-life in jail, y’all niggas better salute that. The fact that niggas ain’t running up on shit, robbing shit, stealing shit—niggas are being creative, having a positive output. Complex better respect that, period.
It sounds like you actually did take it a little personally.
Yeah. But then I realize I can’t and I step back. That’s why I didn’t speak on y’all when the list first popped up. I just stepped back and said, “That’s y’all right to do that.” But I’m starting to see Complex. Y’all cover all the shit you don’t like about hip-hop. I stepped back and watched for months. I’ve come to a conclusion: Complex don’t love this shit. They’re not in it. They cover it from a bourgeoisie perspective. We’re judged by our peers. We’re not judged by somebody putting stories up writing an article. We don’t even know your background. You gotta validate your opinion in the real world. You can’t just walk on Crenshaw and Slauson and say, “I don’t like Nipsey’s project,” ’cause niggas gonna beat you up. Who are you to say that? I’m offended by the throw-a-stone-and-hide-your-hand operation of this industry. Diss a nigga one month because you think his career is over. And the nigga turn around and shift culture and you ask for an interview. Fuck your interview, nigga. Quote me on that.
I’m an unsigned artist getting $25,000 a show. I’m touring the world, not doing nothing against the law, getting money to feed my family. I got employees that have felonies and they can’t get jobs. They work for me.
To be fair, as your fan—and I told you my background—I can tell that you’re really from the streets. And I really fuck with your sound, but I wasn’t really feeling The Marathon Continues. We put you on the “Underachievers” list because you dropped that in 2011 and disappeared. We didn’t really hear from you until you started dropping the Victory Lap shit, which has been fire by the way.
Who’s making these rules up that you got to drop a project every six months? Who made these rules up? I don’t know where that came from. That’s not indigenous to rap. That’s what niggas start doing, but I’m not a follower. And I’m not in it for these same reasons. Niggas hold fame against you like that’s what you’re in it for. I’m not in it for fame. I’ve been famous in the streets already. My goal in this shit is different, bro. What I’m trying to do in this rap shit is different. That’s the reason that I priced my project for the price I priced it at. Obviously, it’s a business and we’re all trying to get the bread. But I really love hip-hop. I really love the culture of hip-hop. And if a nigga understands and listens to my catalog, they can tell that. If they can’t tell nothing else they can tell that.
I mean, it gave me a legitimate outlet. It gave me a freedom to be able to do what I love to do and get paid for it. But even before that, I’m a student, I’m a child of hip-hop first. I’m an unsigned artist getting $25,000 a show. I’m touring the world, not doing nothing against the law, getting money to feed my family. I got employees that have felonies and they can’t get jobs. They work for me.
Who are y’all talking to? Who’s the audience you’re speaking to? Because you can’t be speaking to the streets. The streets don’t think like that. They don’t, bro. They don’t think, like, he ain’t have a project for a couple months. Nah, that’s not how the streets think. They’re like, “My nigga, keep going. Keep going because you’re supposed to be dead. You’re supposed to be in jail. You’re supposed to be doing 25 with the rest of the niggas you grew up with.” My presence is positive. My presence is law of attraction. Mind over matter. That’s really the fabric of my creativity.
Do you really think we wait until artists are hyped to cover them and over-criticize them at times?
Fact. I mean I didn’t know y’all covered me. When I came into the game Complex jumped on my dick. I didn’t ask Complex to cover me. I was selling my music out my trunk on Crenshaw and Slauson, and Complex asked me can they get an interview. I didn’t ask them to write about me. I didn’t invite them into my world. I ain’t never need ’em. But I granted them access. So I let them have some cachet value. 'Cause the streets was fucking with me.
Like I said, we reached out to you earlier in your career. We gave A$AP Rocky his first cover. We gave Chance the Rapper his first cover.
It’s different, bro. I’m not them niggas at all. And it’s no disrespect to Chance or A$AP, but I’m different. You can’t compare me to A$AP Rocky or Chance the Rapper. No disrespect, I’m different. Go ahead though.
Let’s get into the Crenshaw tape. You have a lot of dope beats on there. Tell us the process you went through in putting that together.
I’m not really into talking about it. It’s on www.iamproud2pay.com. It’s $100. Whatever you need to know is out there already. If niggas ain’t aware of it, it’s not for them. If the magazine ain’t up on it, it ain’t for them. They could put their ear to the street and they can get it from the people. It’s the first hundred-dollar album in the history of recorded music. That’s it. I ain’t really tripping off Complex’s opinion.
My truth is gonna be what they connect to. I touch people when I go to my shows. I see my lyrics tattooed on them. But I’m not a fame junkie. I’m not into trading ownership of the only asset I have, which is my intellectual property.
Well, I listened to the tape a couple times. I just want to talk about it a little bit. You don’t want to talk about the tape?
Go through every album, every song and then point out one lie. And then go through these other artists, whether you like them or not—who you consider my competition and whatnot—and go through their albums and compare record to record, line for line, from what the culture is, what hip-hop is, and my shit better than these niggas’ shit. You can quote me on that. Period. My shit realer. My shit ain’t got no lies in it. My story’s real. I ain’t supposed to be here. You can quote that. I’m supposed to be on the level with my homeboy Little Shady Blue. That’s where I’m supposed to be. By me standing here, and having an international audience for what I got to say—salute that. And you can quote me on that. Again, that ain’t no disrespect to you. I understand through your emails you’re probably a nigga like me so you probably understand where I’m coming from.
That’s why I wanna talk, just getting into the tape a little bit. Where did you come up with that idea? Were you worried that it wasn’t going to work?
No, I knew it was gonna work because I saw the stats on my website. I know that people in New Zealand spend $600 with me a month. I see that I’m shipping out a package that costs $400: a hat and T-shirt, mixtapes, a beanie, I see that. I got people in Toronto that spend $500. I see that. My fans are engaged to that level.
I’ve been fucking with you for a while and I realized early on that you resonated with people. You kind of have a cult following. Why do you think you resonate with people so much?
Because I’m real my nigga. My story is real. There ain’t no rap niggas in the game like me at all. Especially from my generation. There ain’t no nigga that stood up to what I stood up to. Went through what I went through. Thought how I thought. Didn’t give up. Stayed down, stayed in the shit. Built for his community. Stayed local and inspired his area. Came from a treacherous area like the Rolling 60's. Went toe to toe and head up with killers. There ain’t no nigga in the game like me. So that’s what they’re connecting to and the fact that I express my truth via my music. I don’t need a Dr. Dre beat. My truth is gonna be what they connect to. I touch people when I go to my shows. I see my lyrics tattooed on them. But I’m not a fame junkie. I’m not into trading ownership of the only asset I have, which is my intellectual property. I’m not into trading that so people will understand why I’m the realest thing in this shit.
You do a lot of records with Dom Kennedy. Did he have any influence on you in terms of how to make moves in this business?
You could say that.
Curren$y too. Those are guys that stayed independent and are making money and being successful.
I got respect for Curren$y, that’s my nigga. I got love and respect for Dom. I’m influenced by real niggas that’s doing real things. My strategy and my campaign is understood by the generation and the era we live in. Why would a nigga sign to a major label and give up the only thing you have? They be famous, but they don’t own shit. Once the marketing money wears off and you ain’t getting no check, and your single ain’t being marketed to radio no more? You don’t got nobody who really cares for you, or really loves you, or really connects to what you’re saying. So it’s over. I was on a major label with a lot of these niggas. I’ve seen niggas with No. 1 hits come and go. You feel what I’m saying? I’m still here my nigga.
It was a big co-sign when Jay Z bought a bunch of your CDs. How did that make you feel?
I respect a real nigga making a real nigga move. I wasn’t even gonna say nothing about it. The stories started getting out and people started acting like niggas was lying about it; so I confirmed it. I’m in it for doing what God put me here to do. That’s my job. I ain’t tripping on no co-sign. I respect Jay to the utmost, he’s a real nigga. I respect all real niggas. Fuck rappers. Fuck magazines. I respect the move. That ain’t why I did it and I don’t think it was successful because an artist of that caliber bought into it. I think that Jay understands the truth and he understands life like I probably understand life. In 2013, niggas is fools for signing with other rappers. Niggas is fucking clowns for signing these 360 deals. You can quote me on that. As a fan of hip-hop I want you to point to an artist that represents what I represent in the game right now. It ain’t got nothing to do with the move that just happened. I’m saying in general. I represent a real nigga that came from a real place that runs his own situation.
Have any other rappers hit you up saying, “Damn, I wish I thought about this?”
Yeah, a couple of my niggas that I fuck with and respect are like, “I’m with you. I wanna sit down with you and I wanna campaign how you campaign. I wanna get in on this 'Fuck the Middleman,' 'I Am Proud to Pay Shit' too.” And I’m like, “Let’s do it my nigga.” I salute it because this industry ain’t built for us to win. This industry built for niggas to be broke at the end of their careers. The Internet changed it. Before they put a nigga on an “Underachieving” list, let’s look at the metrics. Let’s look at the real mechanisms of gauging an artist’s impact on culture. Because if you’re telling me that all y’all gauging is Soundscan and Billboard, we don’t need y’all. Y’all getting an eviction notice. Complex outta here. We cooled on y’all because everything’s gotta go. Y’all the middleman, fuck y’all. What I’m really offended about is that Complex acted like I don’t remember. They emailed me like, “I’m a big fan, I fuck with y’all, let’s get an interview.”
But that was me though.
It was on behalf of Complex. They’re using you like these labels use these rappers. Listen to me real quick. Labels put rappers in front of their company to attract other rappers. Look at every label my nigga. Warner Bros. got their artists that they signed urban shit through. Atlantic got their artists they sign urban shit through. Def Jam got their artists they sign urban shit through. And one artist that say, “This is my nigga. I’m gonna let my nigga eat.” Then all the other niggas gotta sign through him. That’s the business model of these major labels. Niggas too stupid. Niggas is too reliant, getting caught up in the ambition of the artist to understand that this shit is disrespectful. If you’re a black man, if you’re a nigga from the struggle, you should be offended by that.
I know Kendrick deserves everything he’s got because he works for it. And that’s how I feel about it. I know that he raps what I rap. And the bigger he gets, the bigger this category that I’m in gets.
Niggas should ride with me. Niggas should have no other opinion about it. And it’s offensive. Or they’re not paying attention. If they’re not paying attention I’m here to wake them up. I’m here to tell them. I’ve been to every major label my nigga. Who does Interscope have? Dr. Dre. You wanna come to Interscope? Sign with Dre. What you think Warner Bros. and Atlantic got? They got niggas that they like and say to them, “We’ll let you get your money but every deal’s gotta come through you.” What you think Def Jam’s doing? Look at every artist they got on the platform recently. The labels are upset about it like, “Damn, we gotta deal with another nigga with some power now. Damn, another one slipped through.”
People were saying, “Why am I gonna pay $100 when I could just download it for free? Y’all stupid for paying $100 for it.” How do you feel about that?
We can criticize a street nigga, but we can’t be aware of the mindfuck that’s going on with these corporations and these motherfuckin’ giants. It’s a problem that Nip still values his product at $100—I get backlash from our culture. From the niggas that look like me. Most of these niggas rap for their damn selves. But when niggas go into the mall and buy $600 iPhones—and everybody’s got an iPhone—and stand in line for $1,000 shoes, and pay $5 a gallon for gas. That’s why I’m mad. That’s my objective and niggas gotta wake up. It’s a misinformed critique.
You were planning to drop Victory Lap first, right? So now that’s gonna be an album instead?
Yeah. I’ma tell you about that. I was in negotiations with a few major labels and we were almost close to a deal. So I started promoting Victory Lap as a mixtape before my album, because I was gonna drop Victory Lap, announce my deal, and go into the album; but I realized that the structure of these companies aren’t built to give me any type of ownership. They wanna give you a check. I told them keep the check, give me an asset and just market and distribute my shit. I don’t need a check. They wanted to give me all this money up front but I’m like, keep the money. Let me be involved as a partner. And niggas couldn’t do that. And it’s not because the people at the label didn’t want to help me. It’s because the corporate structure of their companies would not allow ownership. And I’m offended by that. I called an audible and I withstood social pressure. I believed in my heart that I would be less of a man to not stand up for what I believed in. I felt like it was racist. Like, I don’t deserve some shit I just built by myself? You want to give me some money? Oh, because you don’t think I know what the asset is? You think I don’t understand where the real value is? Well I’m offended by that and my goal changed. I didn’t do a press release or tell nobody about it. I just let my demonstration speak. And now they’ve seen the first part of it with the Crenshaw shit. That’s just a small piece of what my plan is.
When can we expect Victory Lap?
It’ll be the next project I release. The first single is ready, it’s called “Rap Niggas.” That’s coming soon. That’s really the most concrete information I have right now. I don’t wanna give out information that the fans hold onto, and get let down. So I’ma leave it at that. Completely independent and it’ll be under the Fuck the Middleman pay model.
I just want to get your opinion. Kendrick’s at the forefront right now, repping the West. What were your thoughts when you first heard the “Control” verse?
I’m a fan of Kendrick as a person and as an artist, and I respect the Top Dawg movement. I know them niggas, I know they come from the projects. I know we were on tour together and we were beating shit up in the club together. I know that they are genuine niggas. I know Kendrick deserves everything he’s got because he works for it. And that’s how I feel about it. I know that he raps what I rap. And the bigger he gets, the bigger this category that I’m in gets. And I salute and I respect it as a real nigga.
When the Crenshaw tape was coming out and people were criticizing the model, Dom went on Twitter to publicly back you. How does that feel to have a peer fuck with you unconditionally?
It’s like in the streets. If I fight you fight. I ain’t gonna watch you fight and not jump in it. What type of nigga does that make me? And I call myself “your nigga?” If you fighting, I’m fighting. That’s how we were raised. Ain’t nothing special. That’s how we was brought up.
I needed a marketing machine and I needed international distribution for my product. [Rick] Ross fought tooth and nail to make that happen for me. I respect him and salute him for that; but then we ran into the corporate structure of these companies.
This is sort of old news, but were you really close to joining Maybach Music?
Me and Rick Ross sat down and talked and he made it clear that he can make the deal that I need. And I told him that I don’t need money, I need a partnership. I needed a marketing machine and I needed international distribution for my product. Ross fought tooth and nail to make that happen for me. I respect him and salute him for that; but then we ran into the corporate structure of these companies. And again, it offended me, because here you have one of the most powerful, respected niggas in the game about to make a power move that’s going to incite the culture and they want us to be the ones that compromise. They should be the ones to compromise for the culture so this thing can happen. We’re not supposed to compromise and that’s what they said. They said, “Just be happy with the hood and happy with the fame of it and how it’s gonna make it look. It’s gonna be big. You’re gonna be the biggest nigga out of the West,” and all this other shit. Sell that to a ho, my nigga. I’m a man.
That’s why you’re doing it like guys like Dom, Curren$y, and Action Bronson and taking the indie route?
Now let me ask you this. Since the game has changed, when are the magazines gonna change? And stop rating niggas as “underachievers?” When they gonna react to what’s going on? Because they’re late. You look at major labels, even physical publications, they’re on their way out my nigga. Niggas ain’t buying magazines in the next 10 years. They’re gonna be on the iPad downloading magazines.
But we were one of the first print magazines to embrace digital.
Yeah, but my thing is, y’all still misrepresenting the culture. I know it’s not Marc Ecko, because I understand he’s the owner, his involvement is probably not all the way down to the core of the daily operation. But somewhere in between there’s a disconnect and I know Marc Ecko stand for ownership. I bought his book before he told me he was gonna send me one. I bought it because I respect dude. I bought his clothes when they was out. I understand his impact on culture. I know he did 50 Cent’s clothing line. I respect it.
So this is your new model? You’re staying independent?
You listen to my first shit—I said, “Fuck the middleman.” 2003. I’ve been campaigning this but the game wasn’t ready, and it wasn’t time. Niggas convinced me to take a major deal. I feel like now, since this new thing dropped, and real niggas like Jay Z stood up with the power of his influence, he influenced other businessmen to say, “You know what Nip? I’ma support you. Give me 200. I’m buying 200.” We gonna pay the IRS and we gonna power what we believe in. And niggas gonna be able to gauge my sincerity over the next year or two. You’ll have other artists popping up doing the same thing. And then what these labels gonna do? They gonna have to give niggas their fair share. I stood up to shit way tougher than the labels before. I’m not scared. I ain’t got no fear in my heart, trust me. I stood up to way more shit than a major label, than some pencil-pushing white boy, no disrespect. I’ma keep it 100. And that’s it, that’s how I feel.
RELATED: Our 2010 interview with Nipsey