Business is done differently in 2019. Uber changed transport. Netflix changed entertainment. Nipsey Hussle is changing the artist archetype. No conventional artist development plan would include charging $100 for a mixtape and waiting 10 years before you drop a debut album, but Nip is a strategic dude.
Despite being one of the few shining lights in LA’s post-Game, pre-TDE era, Nipsey rarely received the support of local radio. Instead, he generated his own press when he asked $100 for the Crenshaw mixtape. When label deals came and went with no benefit, Nip shrugged it off by diversifying his income with investment in everything, from cryptocurrency to a revenue-generating recording studio, and relieving the stress of living purely off of music.
When his debut album Victory Lap finally dropped in 2018, Nip again defied convention by stretching the album roll out across eight months. In 2019, Victory Lap was recognised with a Grammy nomination. Since then, he’s been featured in both Forbes – discussing a new real estate development – and GQ, where he was photographed in his native South Central, with a resplendent white horse, no less.
With both his cultural and capitalist credibility growing, it’s natural to draw comparisons between Nip and Jay Z. “[Jay Z is] the prime example,” explains Nipsey. “But you got Puff, you got Master P, you got Rick Ross, you got T.I, you got Jeezy, Ludacris, Dr. Dre, 50 Cent.”
“These are the moguls that built enterprise around their music,” he continues. “That mentality of using the core business, which for us is music, and then building this enterprise around yourself; you create wealth when you empower your team with it, and you take the pressure off of your core business. You could do [music] out of the love when you got all these other things that take care of the bottom line.”
It’s at this point that the blueprint becomes more clear. Rather than hampering Nipsey Hussle as several time-consuming distractions, his various pursuits outside of hip-hop are actually aiding his music. “Doing music to pay bills is an uncomfortable situation,” he explains. “I never wanted to be in that situation. When I was coming out the street, that's why we was hustling; so we didn't have to put so much pressure on the music, like ‘if I don't get this right, I can't eat, or I can't pay the bills.’”
“For that same reason, you got Ace of Spades. You got Ciroc. You got Dre Beats. You got Vitamin Water. All these different ventures to just make sure that you're never going to the space of completely relying on music or your core business.”
Comfortable in the knowledge that his bills were paid and several bags were secure, Nip used 2017 to craft his first album. After almost ten years of independent mixtapes, 2018’s Victory Lap was not only Hussle’s debut album, but his first experience releasing music on a major label. The result was heralded as his best work yet. “That was my goal,” Nip declares. “To make a really focused project. Not just songs but an album where songs interact with each other and the messages are told over the course of three or four songs instead of one.”
It’s tempting to categorise Nipsey Hussle as a hustler first and artist second, but Victory Lap secured that Best Rap Album Grammy nomination off the back of Nip’s respect for the art and focus on crafting an album. “I had big records,” he says. “I had a record with Cardi B, I had a record with Future, and these [were] probably hits. But Victory Lap won't be Victory Lap if you go get to track 9 or track 10 and hear, ‘oh, he's trying to cover the club record’ or ‘he trying to get to the female audience with this one.’ I wanted it to be just a person telling their life story over the course of an album.”
Victory Lap is now in the rear view. Only a few weeks into 2019, Nip has already switched lanes and is advancing toward the next milestone on the marathon. The quick re-up and release of “Racks In The Middle” flags more music to come. “I was finishing something with Victory Lap. The next project is going to be more of a chapter one to something new,” he says.
Victory Lap was the conclusion of Nipsey Hussle’s first phase; the independent grind, the decade of mixtapes, the transition from bangin’ on wax to educating his audience about equity and investment.
A new chapter is already being written in Nip’s business life. His long-standing Marathon flagship store sits in the centre of a strip mall on Crenshaw & Slauson. Hussle recently acquired ownership of the entire mall and will now add value to the space with housing built above the refurbished commercial properties.
“I was aware of what was going to happen to my business life as I was making Victory Lap. This moment now is what came after it. That's what the moment represents, a new chapter.”