“They tell me ‘Hussle dumb it down, you might confuse ’em’
This ain’t that weirdo rap you motherf—ers used to”
In 2013 Nipsey Hussle hit a new level of widespread recognition when his “Crenshaw” mixtape reportedly made $100,000 in just one night. That’s an impressive accomplishment even for somebody with the word “Hustle” in his nom de plume. How did he do it? He only pressed one thousand copies of the album and sold them for $100 each. One apocryphal tale stated Shawn Carter himself bought a hundred copies for ten grand, a story that quickly circulated online and gave Hussle a reputation as both smart entrepeneur and up-and-coming rapper. None of Nipsey’s hustle happened overnight though despite the impression this news made. He had been rapping and releasing mixtapes since the mid-2000’s, was a XXL “Freshman” in 2010, and based on the buzz he had at the time signed a deal with Epic Records. That deal fell apart without an album being released though.
Eight years later we are FINALLY getting Nipsey Hussle’s first official studio album. It’s understandable that he wants to call it “Victory Lap” given how long it took to cross the finish line and put something on store shelves. The real victory may be his music video for “Last Time That I Checc’d” featuring fellow Cali rapper YG. Crip and Blood meet each other as equals instead of rivals, dipped in their respective colors in a studio painted to match, freely crossing over to each other’s side to show respect. Both men floss their wealth and whips with equal abandon, with Nipsey laying down his hustle game in the chorus.
“Last time that I checked, it was five chains on my neck
It was no smut on my rep
Last time that I checked, I was sellin zones in the set
Make a quarter mill’ no sweat
Last time that I checked, I’m the street’s voice out West
Legendary self-made progress
Last time that I checked, first get the money then respect
then the power and the hoes come next”
The unity shown in the video is impressive. The philosophy of getting ahead without someone pushing him to the mainsteram is equally so. “No co-sign/I ain’t need radio to do mine, I done fine.” A lengthy list of production credits accompanies the song: Mike & Keys, Rance of 1500 or Nothin’, BrodyTheGr8 & Kacey Khaliel. I wouldn’t take a single one of them out of the studio because this track THUMPS HARD. It’s the kind of track that makes me resent the cold winter months of the Midwest, because it’s meant for dropping the top and booming loud as hell, but I’d freeze my ass off doing that right now. Production and guest stars continue to be strengths of “Victory Lap” throughout. Puff Daddy cameos on (but does not produce) “Young Nigga,” Kendrick Lamar reps Compton on “Dedication” and The-Dream guests on the Mike & Keys produced “Million While You Young” just to name a few.
What ties all of the different songs with their different guests and producers together is Nipsey’s vocal swagger. The first time I heard Hussle he instantly reminded me of other Cali rappers I enjoy like the aforementioned Lamar and DJ Quik among others, with a little bit of raspiness that’s not at all irritating. It gives him a built-in “scratchy record” quality, creating a warm and comfortable feeling that he’s been around the block for far longer than his 32 years. Even though first impressions would lead you to believe that he’s just out to get rich and get laid, a deeper philosophy emerges on songs like “Loaded Bases” featuring CeeLo Green. “Can’t buy that bulls–t that they sell niggaz/they bring drugheads and jail niggas/look at all these ways they derail niggaz.” Preach bro.
At this point it’s only fair to note that even amongst our own staff there is a wide variance of opinion on Nipsey’s talent. I’d also be remiss if I didn’t cool down what seems to be a remarkbly hot take on “Victory Lap.” Not every one of these 16 tracks is enough of a gem to take to the jeweler and put a ring on it. “Succa Proof” is just THERE. The track doesn’t move me one way or the other, and Hussle seems to be “yelling” more than rapping, an occasional trap he falls into on songs. I appreciate the emotional intensity but not at the expense of feeling like every bar is punched in one line at a time like an early Eazy-E record. You also can’t help but notice an overall theme with song titles that use double C’s or reference his “Blue Laces.” Hussle presents himself as largely color blind in his collaborations with YG and I don’t take him as set tripping, but I can also see how you might want to be mindful of what parties you’d play his music at. I’d also like to see Hussle rebel more against going with the grain. The opening quote of this review was from the opening and title track of this album, and for me at least it set higher expectations that Nipsey would be unconventional and not follow trends. SOMETIMES he lives up to that potential, and sometimes he just raps about being a self-made millionaire. Hussle, I respect your hustle, but you’ve already shown an ability to bridge the divide between West and East, red and blue, gangster music and the mainstream. Take that skill and build a bridge to even greater heights. I know you have it in you.