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.