First impressions can mislead. In March 2019 a rapper was murdered in broad daylight in Crenshaw, LA and you could rightly make all the usual assumptions; gang membership, drugs, guns. Gang affiliated rappers live with a level of risk that is beyond most musicians, especially if they are going it alone.
Ermias Asghedom was not your average rapper. He started in the gang trade but eventually levelled across to grow his name as Nipsey Hussle, artist/activist.
The Crenshaw Project
Out of his musical success came a vision to rejuvenate Crenshaw, a sort of reverse gentrification play. He opened businesses locally and partnered with a VC fund to bring companies into a local co-working space. He hired ex-felons to staff his retail outlets and built a clothing brand MARATHON with his brother, Black Sam.
What became clear before Hussle's death was his knowledge of the economic game. For black communities to thrive, they had to do it for themselves and overcome the many challenges they faced, both as individuals and as a collective.
In his down time from the streets, Hussle would write, record, produce tapes and get out into the neighbourhood to sell them. Clips from his early music career drifting around online show Hussle flip between social theory, leadership dynamics and books. Always books.
The Education of Nipsey Hussle
Hussle read and spoke about so many books that not only are there reading lists, but serious book clubs have sprung up across the US where men come together and talk. About books, about life, about putting order on the chaos that often exists beyond the front door.
So how does a 14 year old dropout grow a mini empire that crossed art, business and activism? Reviewing the reading list reveals a curious reader who stretched himself to find an edge, be it in relationships, work or mindset. It reflects an independent thinker, the kind that thrives on making their own way. You can say what you want about rap, but that is something we can all aspire toward.
You can read the full list here. We’re going to profile a few books below.
A guide for men looking to unearth their life purpose. Deida is considered to be an intellectual leader on the intersection of masculinity and spirituality. Examining purpose, criticism, living beyond your edge and finding your mission.
An under-the-radar marketing classic. This slim book is filled with marketing truisms and apply as much today as they did 30 years ago. The narrative about being in a marketing marathon and not a sprint was taken to heart by Hussle, who rebranded his entire public persona around his life being a marathon runner. His apparel company is named TheMarathonClothing. A recommended read for anyone working in business or for themselves.
Contagious - Why Things Catch On by Jonah Berger
In the viral age, Berger’s book offers a blueprint for building a product that will catch on. He argues that a product should be encoded with specific characteristics that make it worthy of word-of-mouth promotion. In Hussle’s case he was inspired by the $100 Philly Cheesesteak formula. Create an over-the-top product and market it with scarcity. Hussle’s idea? 100 copies of a $100 mix-tape that launched him into the national Hip-Hop conversation.
48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene
Another numbered classic, favoured by rappers, MMA fighters and anyone interested in power dynamics. Many of the laws you can see being applied, or mis-applied in our political world today. The twitter account is a laugh but the book is better. As a gang member / activist, you can imagine this book was useful for Hussle. Some of his rap lyrics drop ideas from the book.
For people stuck in organisations or systems that promote group-think over original thought. Adam Grant explores what it takes to be original and stay original. It goes beyond the idea and promotes coalitions, correct timing. Fear must be overcome and leaders can learn how to cultivate the original concepts that will push and grow any organisation.
A fictional story about Dan Freeman, the CIA’s first Black officer. Freeman learns the tools of the trade and then leaves the agency. He teaches others how to use intelligence gathering, subversion and guerrilla warfare against the agency. Writing for NPR Karen Grigsby Bates called it part thriller, part satire, part social-commentary. It is rumoured Hussle was considering making a documentary around the story before he passed away.