Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 38


Coffee: Breakfast Blend, Trader Joe’s Brand

When all is said and done, a man’s life becomes R.I.P. posts and coroner reports, all the more so if he’s famous. Yesterday afternoon, Nipsey Hussle was murdered.

I remember when Mailbox Money blew up. I was just getting into hip-hop. Nipsey had a way of saying things with just a few words. I’d been listening to Kendrick Lamar and Lil Wayne. Nipsey condensed their sort of gymnastic paragraphs into single lines: “Blood, sweat and tears, just squeezin my fruits.” He inspired me. He made me a better writer.

I was going to start this differently. I was going to say: “There are very few male role models in 2019. Good men doing good things, maybe, but few who interrogate deeply what it means to be a man. Nipsey Hussle did that interrogation.” And that’s all true – he was uncompromisingly masculine, rapping about how to define manhood in modern America – but when I sat down to write it, it felt too safe. Tame, even. That’s not all he was. “Hold me down through these troubled times, be another victim to my stubborn pride.”

As an artist, he beat the system. A hard thing for anyone to do, even harder for a black man in deeply prejudiced America. He briefly held a record deal with Atlantic way back in the day but dropped the deal as soon as it was clear they’d own the rights to his masters. He spent the next decade releasing mixtapes, developing his own label, and only last year did he sign with Atlantic again for the release of his debut album – only it was just a distribution deal. Nipsey was his own master until the end. He even bragged about the legal language: ‘Atlantic’, this massive corporate monster, had signed itself as a ‘partner.’

He kept things local. He reinvested in his community. I won’t get too deep into that because it’s not my community, I can’t know the pain or pride they feel right now. Nipsey Hussle was unequivocably a proud black man. His words had power. They opened my eyes as this white guy bobbing his head to hip-hop. They helped me understand the trauma of black Americans in a way I hadn’t before. They made me hold myself accountable to my role in that trauma. “One Shot got life, Zimmerman got acquitted; Talkin’ ’bout a carjackin’, we talkin’ ’bout a killin’; Wonder why we never have faith in the system; Look at young [black men] like a waste of existence.”

I feel like there’s beer on my breath. I feel like I’m drunk on something. Weak, thin stuff, no glamour. A missed train. A march I didn’t go on. Important dates I didn’t keep.

Victory Lap – that was the name of Nipsey’s debut album, released just over a year ago. The Marathon has been his brand for years. Life is a Marathon. You can sit on the sidelines or you can run it. That’s a beautiful thing, but it’s hard. It comes with a responsibility – you’re committed to the race, you’ve got to finish. Nipsey Hussle made me a better artist. Nipsey Hussle made me a better citizen. Nipsey Hussle made me a better man. He earned his Victory Lap. I’ll keep running in the wind he left us in, bruised weary at a world that knows violence, strong enough to love the ones caught up in it, committed to live honestly and play my part to fix it.

If he’d lived, he was scheduled to host a conference today with the L.A. mayor on ending gang violence through youth outreach and empowerment. A few hours before he died, he posted this to Twitter: “Having strong enemies is a blessing.”

Novel Count: 35,930

Currently Reading: The Sense of an Ending, Julian Barnes

Support Relief for Family Suffering at the Border  – RAICES DONATION CAMPAIGN

But I’m knowin’ that this game to be changed
I should be afraid of afraid
I’m just tryna live up to the meanin’ of my name
I’m just tryna live up to them [people] in my gang
I’m just tryna live up to my moment on the stage
I’m just tryna live up to the truth in my pain
And the power that it gave me on the youth of today

Nipsey Hussle, I Do This

4 thoughts on “Coffee Log, Year 2, Day 38”

  1. What a tribute to a boundary pushing artist. I have long been a rap connoisseur which I know is odd for a Caucasian former upper crusty from the southern burbs. I will never forget the first time a friend loaned me a 2 Live Crew tape then came Ice Cube. I used to sit transfixed watching Snoop’s latest video and Queen Latifah and Missy Elliot. Even though we were from totally different worlds, I felt we shared an angst. An angst that comes from being in a world you don’t get, a world you want to change, that sandpapery place you exist in when you don’t want to become what you’re slated to become. I felt we were trying to get off of the same conveyor belt on an assembly line to nowhere and they were actually singing about it. I have not heard Nipsey’s music, but after reading your post, I certainly will look him up. Thanks for helping to commemorate those who still push the envelope even until it rips in two.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. We’ll have to share some hip hop recommendations sometime, Suzanne. I have complicated feelings about being a white hip-hop fan but I similarly feel a connection in the rebelliousness expressed in a lot of hip-hop. I’d be very interested to hear your thoughts if you get around to listening to Nipsey. “Sandpapery place” is my favorite image of the week.


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