A highly publicized funeral at The Staples Center; a 25 mile processional to the final resting site; thousands of heartbroken fans from around the world waiting to see him for the last time as he passed by his beloved Marathon Clothing Store – millions more watched online and on televisions. Despite the senseless manner in which he was killed, Nipsey Hussle was far from being “just another rapper.”A breakdown of Nipsey Hussle’s distribution of wealth summarizes his efforts (see figure below). His work was rooted across several industries, including technology, lifestyle, food, real estate, entertainment, and philanthropy. He generated well over $200M in financial investments and also created/impacted over 40K jobs. Hardly “just a rapper,” he proved considerably more productive than several of New Orleans’ French Quarter businesses – combined. To say the least.
Greg Nixon and Kaleb Hill are two of New Orleans’ local entrepreneurs who are vested in the progress and development of their community. Like so many people around the country, Nixon and Hill felt the shock and the impact of Nipsey Hussle’s sudden and unexpected death. They admired the work he did, and have many thoughts concerning the impact that Hussle will have, even long after his death.
Greg Nixon is a retired 3x – World Champion and 2x – US Champion in Track and Field. He was contracted as a professional athlete with Asics for 8 years and has a passion for entrepreneurship. He has spent the past 10 years developing different businesses and he is now developing himself as a future general contractor who specializes in green infrastructure and green building.
Kaleb Hill is owner and founder of Oko-Vue Landscaping Company, which specializes in edible landscapes and stormwater management for commercial and residential properties. Hill is the fourth generation in agriculture. He is working to marry his background in agriculture with stormwater management to address food access for people in underprivileged neighborhoods.
Hill and Nixon share their thoughts on the black community in New Orleans, Nipsey Hussle, and the potential danger involved with going back to your community to create positive change.
What issues do you see that are unique to New Orleans’ black community?
“One thing that I can say that is unique is the number of adults here that are illiterate. This blocks them from being able to have the opportunity to further their education or from getting higher paying jobs. A lot of those jobs have people who may be functionally illiterate. They are working in these entry-level jobs and they stay in that cycle.
When I think about Hurricane Katrina and the projects, a lot of people inherited their parent’s project. They didn’t get a house passed down to them, it was like, ‘here is a voucher to be able to stay in this home that is subsidized.’ It would take a huge shift to get people to see that they deserved better because that’s all they knew.
I just went through an accelerator program with Camelback Ventures and there was a pilot called The Good Jobs Initiative. One of the things we touched on is a living wage, which based on data and the price to live in New Orleans, the minimum wage needs to be at least $15 per hour. So that is one thing I do keep in mind when I create jobs: start them out at $15 an hour.”
“This may or may not be unique but we are one of the few cities in America still operating heavily on tourism. Of course, other major cities have tourism, but they don’t seem to only operate on tourism. Another significant income for this city is imports, which is something this city is built around.
This city is 300 years old and it seems to be still thriving off of old systems. It’s the ‘Big Easy’ and I think sometimes that is taken literally; there is a mental block of accepting ‘this is how it is.’ With my company, Village Enterprises, we want to create more jobs, but we want to use better systems – which is technology.”
You have an intimate understanding of your city, both as black men who grew up in lower-income neighborhoods and as men dedicating your professional mission back to your city. You probably can relate to this dedication in Nipsey Hussle. Many black men took his death very hard. Can you speak on how Nipsey Hussle’s death is different despite his past and despite the tendency for rappers to be killed in their own neighborhood – by someone they knew?
“One of my friends called and told me about Nipsey Hussle dying and I couldn’t believe it. I will admit, I did not listen to his music. I listened to clips of him talking about economy and that is something I feel strongly about. So, I related to him not so much for his background and hustling – I seen how that ends. What stuck with me the most was the fact that he was trying to make change…And a lot of people were guiding him. The knowledge that he had – it’s just not common amongst us. Especially for hustlers because they don’t really think about real estate, I mean, they may own a couple of things. But it may be drug houses and not so much, ‘I am trying to create a job here,’ or, ‘I am trying to buy a whole strip mall and sell quality merchandise out of there.’ So that’s what really hit me. He was so young and he was talking things not really common amongst rappers…he was thinking long-term. He was talking long-term and actually doing it. He was making people think.”
“That was a tough one because I can definitely relate to it by wanting to effect change in the area you grew up in. And also, being a popular person – I wasn’t a celebrity while I was competing but where I am from, I am well known. To come home and kind of know there is danger, and family members are trying to keep you from certain places…but at the same time, you as a person are trying to effect change in your city. I never had his past. I never was a part of a gang. I lived a different life. But I still understand the dangers of coming back.
I understand coming back to my neighborhood and people just seen me on ESPN and they want to race me now. They are throwing thousands of dollars to see me run in the street and I cannot do it. I am under contract and I am not willing to do it. So, now I must be ‘too good.’ Now, it’s like, ‘awe, man, you phony. You used to, would have, done it!’ They did not understand what was on the line for me or what my contract said if I go out and get hurt. No one was thinking about that.
I also want to speak on options. It’s sad when you think your only options to become popular is by being an athlete or musician or by inflicting violence on someone – by being a killer. In New Orleans, that’s one of our things. When you kill someone, you become famous, you become popular, you become well known, even when you have got 30 to 50 years in prison. Your name still rings the streets.
We need to educate the mind of our people to think about becoming successful – not popular. That is something that we as a people need to overcome. Nipsey was doing very well because of his successful business moves. His music was more of a platform, but his business moves…what he has done in the last three to five years, was going to surpass his music career. And that is exactly what he wanted.”
Whether you have a $10K value business or a $10M value business: in your opinion, do you go back to the hood to improve it or do you give back from afar?
“For the work that I have done the past six years, I have stayed in the hood. That was the one thing that I did that made the work that I did as far as health care research, unique. Most researchers come in and they leave; they don’t stay in the neighborhood. I actually stayed in the hood. I think in some ways, the way that you move – people respect you… You have some people that want to see your downfall, but you also have some people that will shout them down. Saying, ‘this is what he is trying to do, ya know, don’t mess with him.’
So, I don’t run from it. The people that the message is for, they are going to get it… You will always have someone in the background that doesn’t like you. Petty stuff causes people to fall out… but I don’t want to live a life of fear. I still want to be able to go where the people need me and be ok with it. That was probably Nipsey’s demise because he thought he was safe where he was at. He was thinking, ‘this is where I grew up. I shouldn’t have to be running from where I am from – these are my people.”
“I think, number one, when you are trying to bring change or positivity, I think we should all know by now – it’s dangerous. I definitely don’t want to live in fear. I will want to be more conscious and more wise in what I do as far as my involvement with things and giving back. So, I am not totally on with the idea of giving from afar. I definitely want to touch the people as much as I can. But I also want to be mindful of the danger and knowing that people are still going through a lot. People are still hurting and still in a bad position in life.”
People feel Nipsey Hussle has become immortal, having an impact in death that has far exceeded his impact on life. “The Marathon Continues,” as people such as Nick Cannon and the everyday citizen feel the internal call of continuing the race of what Nipsey was trying to do. Do you have any additional thoughts about Nipsey?
“The energy that he was perpetuating is already in me. The energy is here in New Orleans – it is just a different vessel.”
“I think Nipsey has done a couple of things right. He used his platform in the right way. He used his celebrity. He used his money. He used his opportunity – and you only get a few. Overall, I think it’s important to take advantage of your opportunity in such a way that your agenda doesn’t change. I think when you become popular or money comes through, you have to stick to your agenda. Nipsey: his agenda did not change.”
Nicole Nixon is a dedicated wife and mother who values leadership and business. Motivated by her husband and her son, she is vested in the empowerment and positive commercialization of black men in America.