Nipsey Hussle’s Victory Lap Has Just Begun

Words: Jasmina Cuevas

Images: Miguel Crespo

Cover/Layout: Jon Powell

RESPECT. Founder: Jonathan Rheingold

Copyright Musinart LLC 2018

It’s been a little over a month since Nipsey Hussle released his debut studio album. While many will wonder why it took so long for this story to drop, I wanted to make sure that I fully sat with and embraced every piece that is Victory Lap. Now that I have completely taken it all in, let’s talk about the best album that 2018 has seen and the man behind it.

Whether you’re a fan of Nipsey or not, you’re familiar with who he is and don’t need much of an introduction. Nipsey’s musical track record speaks for itself, and with projects like The Marathon and Crenshaw, there is more than one reason why fans couldn’t wait to get their hands on Victory Lap. Since its arrival, it has easily become one of the most talked about and listened to albums of this year — yes, I’m aware we’re only three months into the year, but there is no denying the greatness Victory Lap oozes.

If one thing is apparent, it is that “Blue Laces 2” is a top fan favorite. Between the Willie Hutch sample and the third verse that pretty much brings tears to everyone’s eyes, the track can’t be played just once. Honestly, the whole album can’t be played just once! “Young N***a” gives you that boost of energy to go out and get s*** done; that Puff Daddy production was absolutely graceful. “Grinding All My Life” is that “f*** you thought this was?” track; if you ain’t know about Nipsey’s hustle, you’ll know after hearing this song. Of course, the singles, “Rap N***as” and “Last Time That I Checc’d,” set the tone for the album. There is “Dedication,” which features an unforgettable verse from Kendrick (read more about it below). And let’s not forget, “Victory Lap,” the title track that we’ve been waiting for for quite some time.

I can go on and on, but by now, you’ve either heard the album or heard about it…either way, it’s no secret that Nipsey outdid himself.

The other day, somebody asked me why I loved this album so much (“is it because you interviewed Nipsey?”) I can totally understand why they would ask such question, but I made sure to correct them. I simply replied, “Victory Lap is one of those albums that has a song for every stage of my life so far. From the struggles to the losses to the growth to the rewards to the desire to push through, this album exudes every single one of those entities and more. Whether it’s a lesson or a reminder of what I have actually lived, this album covers what’s important. After all, you can’t make it to the final lap without making it through laps 1, 2 and 3. And I’m sure many can relate just as well. So no, it had nothing to do with interviewing him, even though that was pretty dope.”

It’s not only about the new album. Nipsey is truly out here inspiring people to get up, hustle, grind and stay motivated. No ifs, ands or buts. With that being said, dig into what Nipsey had to say about the process of putting the album together, “Too Big to Fail,” and keeping the blinders on during the race below.

Buick Grand National

Nipsey and a couple of his automotive favorites.

RESPECT.: How do you feel dropping, how they technically would say, your first official studio album?

Nipsey: Man, I feel a big relief; a big excitement. This is something we’ve wanted to do since we were kids: put out an album on the mainstream level. Outside of just the debut part, I’m just really excited about the music that we made, and getting everybody to hear it and knowing that this music will be out on a higher platform than all my other projects, and I’m most proud of these few songs more than anything I’ve done. So yeah, just excited. We want to live up to the expectations. I’ve been in the game a long time so I know people got familiar with me on the mixtapes. I just wanted to make a clear step-up on the album, and elevate the sound and just the whole musical experience. Just real excited, and exhausted, and proud of a lot of things.

Image credit: All Money In/Atlantic

RESPECT.: What was the moment where you were like, “You know what, I’m ready to drop this project”?

Nipsey: I think that… I mean, we was in the studio the whole time so… it was just… it’s hard to describe what the confirmation is. But, when you get a feeling off of it. You could be guilty of being too close to the project and be like, “Yeah it’s tight because it’s me,” but not listening close enough and being critical, and being like “Yeah, if this wasn’t my album, what songs would I forget, what songs would I really listen to,” objectively. When I got to the point where I’d eliminated all the songs that I didn’t love love, and that I’m not just connected to parts of the song, that I’m connected to the whole record, and when I hear it on the album I wouldn’t skip it and I’d come back to it over and over, man…

The whole time I was just eliminating, and I got to the point where there was like 18,19 records that I couldn’t get rid of no more, and I was like alright, let me be more critical then, and go through these 19 and see which ones speak to me, speak to the title directly, and really represent real parts of my life. And then I was able to take off like two or three more, and then after that I couldn’t take off none of the other songs — I was like, “Can’t take this off, can’t take this off, I fo sho’ can’t this this off, this one’s too important to skip,” and it was enough to go, and so I was like, “Alright we got it.” But I don’t know what that process is other than just like, how it makes you feel, and you know how important it sounds and how important it feels when you listen to it. And, when I got to having 16/17 records that were too important to cut any of them, and it was an hour’s worth of music, I’m like, Yeah, we’re good now. Let’s do it.”

RESPECT.: And that’s a hard process too, because you have to be your worst and best critic.

Nipsey: That’s a hundred percent right. And that’s the part of getting ahead. You could do one of two things: you could be like, “It’s too hard,” “I’m gonna love it ‘cause it’s me,” and just not be critical, or you could be like “I’m gonna really take the responsibility to do the mental work,” and that could put you in a loop, ‘cause you gotta listen to it on so many different levels, to each record, and you gotta have a formula that gets your songs up to your standard, and it’s to create it and critique it at the same time. Know what I’m saying? It’s like two different parts of the brain. Being creative, you don’t even think about whether or not it’s tight, or what you like about it, you just go off the creativity, but once you finish recording, and you listen back, you gotta go into critic mode and listen to it straight. Then be like “what do I like about this,” and that could affect your next moment of being creative. You could get so critical that you get “analysis paralysis.” Think so hard that you can’t get nothing done. It’s like learning how to balance that. What worked for me was just going into creative [mode] first, where I just do a lot of songs, then step out of that and listen back, and go into producer mode, and refining the records, critiquing them, finding out which ones got potential. Then going back into creative mode — not an easy thing to do — but it’s like a muscle you can exercise.

RESPECT.: How did you come about picking the artists you have on this project?

Nipsey: The concept was to do the album with no rap features, but my producer heard “Dedication” fully, and he worked with Kendrick a lot, so he snuck it to him — he didn’t even tell me. He just emailed it to him and was like “Listen to this record, it’s from Nip, tell me what you think.” And Kendrick was like “I’mma lay a verse to that.” And I didn’t know nothing about it. I was at the Pac premiere — the Tupac movie premiere — and I seen Kendrick pulling up and I hopped out my car, and I was like “wassup my n***a,” and he was like “Yeah wassup bro, yeah I got the record.” I’m like… alright, for sure? He’s like, “Yeah ‘Dedication,’ you gon’ have an email pretty soon.” And I’m thinking in my head like, wait I didn’t send it to him, but like…. alright cool, you got it. But I figured that my producers had done that because he was always telling me “Let’s put so and so on this record,” and I was just like… I don’t wanna lean on features like that. I want just the actual songs. You know what I mean? To represent the value. But then when Kendrick sent the record back, I was like damn…he’s even talking about a conversation we had that night at the Pac premiere! Me, Snoop Dogg, Top Dawg from TDE, and Kendrick — we had a real convo after the Pac movie went off, just about gangbanging, and street shit in L.A., and just about the power we got as artists right now to affect that. And in the verse, Kendrick talks about that. It was just dope conversation for the project. And even YG, his convo is more like he’s talking to me on the record a little bit. Same with Kendrick, it’s like he’s talking to me, or he’s talking to his homies about me. So even the features are unique in my opinion, ‘cause it’s revolving around the story spiel. It’s not like a generic “Throw a verse on here” so that I could benefit from your celebrity. It speaks to the concept really directly. And as far as the other features — Marsha [Ambrosius], Cee-Lo [Green], Buddy, TeeFlii, etc. — I just really respect their music. Stacy Barthe on the “Victory Lap” record — that’s who’s singing on the first track of the record — I just respect her music. Like I love Cee-Lo’s music. Buddy is a dude from Compton; he’s been working in the same studio as me for the past couple of years and I got to really tap into his artistry and see what he was doing. I just really believe he’s gonna be a star, and is just an incredible songwriter.

RESPECT.: How did you get to the stage of comfortability that you were able to write the last verse on “Blue Laces 2” down and put it into the track?

Nipsey: It wasn’t really nothing I wrote, I just remembered it so clearly, it kinda just came out as it happened. I rapped it the way I remembered it. And then when I heard it back I was like damn, this is really powerful. And everybody that heard it was like yeah…this took the whole s*** to the next level. I wanted the album to revolve around stories — real stories. I don’t believe in telling war stories for the sake of telling war stories. It was a real experience. A real emotional rollercoaster. Even cracking jokes with the homie while he’s bleeding and trying to keep his energy light. Like, “Chill out bro, you ain’t gon’ die, n***as gon’ think you hard now.” And so, I just felt like the beat and the feeling of the song, and the original song being called “Blue Laces” (which is gangbang lingo), and I just felt like it made sense in hindsight. I didn’t plan on saying that in that record, it just came out like that.

RESPECT.: I agree with you when you were saying how it just sounds like you’re rapping it as it’s happening…like, you got a mic in the car with you and it’s just like I’m watching it as I’m hearing your lyrics.

Nipsey: Yeah, that’s one of the moments on the album that I’m anticipating. I’m anxious to just see the reaction. You know. I know when I hear it it’s like damn, this is why I love Illmatic. Nas talking to the little kid on the bench in the third verse in “One Love,” and I could see that. Telling him how he had that shootout on the roof and he gave him some jewelry and he showed him a gun and he was hitting blunt; I could see the whole scene. I think this is one of them moments [where] I’m anticipating the feedback and the reaction when people hear that. That’s one of the peak moments for me on the album.

RESPECT.: I wanted to touch on Too Big to Fail, the STEM program. I think the initiative behind it is absolutely amazing. Why did you wanna do this?

Nipsey: I think that just naturally I’ve seen the impact of being tech privy, and being able to embrace technology by just being able to record myself and being somebody that wasn’t scared to learn Pro Tools, and embrace the technology in different ways and learn our own music and embrace it over the years. So from that level, it’s natural to want to express how important it is to not be completely… “not a native” to technology. I wanted to be able to express how important it is to embrace it early. And also, the idea came when I was at a Laker game. I was courtside and a dude was sitting next to me and the first two quarters he didn’t say nothing to me. Then, after the tequila kicked in and everybody got a little loose, he started talking to me like “Wassup man, I’m Dave Gross, I’m from L.A. I’m a real estate developer, and I’ve got a concept I’d love to run by you. I don’t know why we were sitting next to each other, it must’ve been random fate, but you were one of the people I wanted to target, so you should come by the office tomorrow morning, in Calabasas.” I’m like, “Yeah I’ll pull up man.” So I pulled up and he showed me the blueprint and he explained everything to me. Everything he was saying as far as why, I already felt that and believed it, and I knew it was true, just based on my own understanding. But his actual detailed plan on how to go about building a pipeline between the inner-city and the Silicon Valley and the opportunities that are gonna present itself in technology over the next 20-30 years, if we don’t have these skills early then we’re not gonna be able to compete. We’re gonna be out of the whole opportunity. So when he showed it to me, I was like this is crazy, how can I be involved?

And he’s like, “I want you to partner up with me, and we’ll go through your area and we’ll find a location that makes sense, and let’s build.” Since that day, everything has just been working mysteriously — actually I’m not even gonna say mysteriously, but rather spiritually. The city got involved, randomly, ‘cause they’re building a train down Crenshaw, and we got our store on Crenshaw, so they’re using us as an example of what they wanna see in the area now — they wanna see homegrown entrepreneurship. So the city council reached out and I brought Dave and the city councilman together, and he helped us with zoning and just with getting the city behind it and making it a bigger move than just entrepreneurial. We got the actual city of Los Angeles [behind] us, and working with us and it’s just been incredible how everything has fallen into place. The space is built now: it used to be a Wonderbread factory in my neighborhood that was in the industrial part, and we renovated it. 5,000 square feet, we had entrepreneurs already locked in, and eventually they were working on concepts and using the space. So just the timing and how everything lined up it’s just… man, it was bigger than us. Dave Gross is somebody who, since we met, we’ve been building on so many different levels, and he’s just been able to educate me on finance as somebody who went to Wall Street, and went to Ivy League colleges, but also came from inner city L.A., had brothers that was in the street, went to jail, one of his brothers recently got killed. So his experience is as authentic in finance as it is in the streets. So it’s a unique space he sits in. Just the convos we’ve had and the vision for what he wants to do is just really parallel to what I wanna do, and we sit on different ends of the spectrum. I’m an entertainer and artist first, and he’s an investor and entrepreneur and adventure capitalist and a real estate developer, but the union of what we both bring to the table has been really, really powerful. The idea is so powerful and it’s emotion. Thank God everything was executed really smooth.

RESPECT.: And I think you have been on that wave prior to this program coming about, because you opened the Marathon clothing store and it’s not just a regular store, it’s a “smart” store. And people come through, it’s chill vibes, buy clothes, and then they can preview exclusive content, so I think you were on that wave already, and this is just a third tier type thing. So I see for sure that you’re more about the people than maybe people would imagine and what not.

Nipsey: Yeah I just… you know. I look at the potential of what we can do, just as artists and how influential hip-hop is, and then to see us doing some of those things that I felt we had the potential to do is really inspiring to me and it’s really… man. It just motivates me to really believe in our power to really execute radical ideas and really be effective on levels that we might not have been expected to hit on. But you know, I believe this rap music and hip-hop is a powerful thing, and just culture, and the influence we have especially coming from the streets. You got so many people that aren’t easily inspired, because their biggest thing is “you don’t know what I’m going through. Yeah, you could be successful, but you don’t come from what I come from.” So sometimes that’s seen as an excuse in somebody’s mind like “Oh they have more resources.” But when you come out the streets, you’re able to really show people like, that I’ve been in a county jail, I’ve been arrested 20/35 times, I’ve been through shootouts and I’ve been through the dope game, but it’s possible. Whatever you’re going through this shit is possible. I think that makes it even more powerful. Not to say that we want people to go through those things in order to validate their stance, I’m saying that based on it being a reality of life and of the story that I’m telling, it inspires a different type of person, you know?

The Marathon
The Marathon Continues
Mailbox Money

Marathon-era classics. Image credit: All Money In

RESPECT.: I know people have gone through different struggles, especially the struggles you’ve seen, they just want somebody to relate to. They don’t want somebody talking down to them. They just want somebody that they can relate to and be like, “He’s real. This isn’t just a story he’s telling.”

Nipsey: I agree. And I think it puts the pressure on them. It’s like “Alright he did it, I can do it.” It ain’t too many examples, but the ones that did, that’s my case study. I could follow whatever that path was and end up somewhere in the ballpark, you know.

RESPECT.: So after all the Marathons, you finally hit the Victory Lap, so does this mean “the race” is over or is there something else coming?

Nipsey: I think the music brand of the Marathon, we’ll close it out with Victory Lap. But my store is the Marathon store, my marketing company is the Marathon, so it’s bigger than just music. It’s like a trilogy of music releases, you know The Marathon, The Marathon Continues, and then Victory Lap, so I’m gonna close that out with this one, then I got a different concept for my music titles and where I wanna go next musically. But the idea of just running your own race, crossing your own line, and not being so concerned with everybody to the left and to the right of you, more so just being concerned with executing your vision. That came from out the streets, more so than anything, I see people be so influenced by someone else’s level, you might’ve been a young n***a that was selling dime rocks, and n***as had bricks, and n***as had cars already, and n***as had spots and were just so far ahead of the game, and I think people jump out of their character and try to rob a bank. Or try to catch up and end up working themselves for lack of patience. So one of the things that I realized was that it’s a marathon, and you might’ve been looking at this dude like, “Damn he’s so far ahead of me,” but two years later, the marathon’s slow and steady, you end up where he was at or even further, or even so far ahead you’re like, “Wow, I can’t even believe I thought there was competition at one point.” So it’s just about a level of being a real n***a. You run your race you could put your blinders on and don’t worry about what everyone else is doing and just do what you doing, and that’s respecting the game. So I feel like that’s bigger than the music.