Remembering Nipsey Hussle: one degree of separation

Jeffrey Bissoy interviews Nipsey Hussle at BITCON
MPR News reporter Jeffrey Bissoy (right) interviews hip-hop artist, entrepreneur and community activist Nipsey Hussle at the Blacks in Technology Conference (BITCON) at the Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. (BITCON)
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Jeffrey Bissoy interviews Nipsey Hussle at BITCON 2018
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I wasn't supposed to meet Nipsey Hussle … let alone interview him. It was October 2018, and Blacks in Technology was hosting its inaugural conference (BITCON) for black technologists in the Twin Cities. As an MPR News journalist, I was invited to participate in the conference — interviewing panelists and guests about their time at the conference and their hope of afro-futurism at large.

And then, it happened. I had just wrapped up an interview with a panelist and was starting to pack up to head home. In fact, I was headed to a haunted mansion with some friends I hadn't seen in a while.

As I'm leaving, I see my MPR colleague, Nate Vanderlaan, running towards me. I asked him, "What's up?" and his response completely took me by surprise. "Yo Jeff, you think you got time to interview Nipsey Hussle?"

I shouldn't have been as torn as I was; I mean, this was an opportunity to meet AND interview Hussle the Great. At the same time, though, I didn't want to skip out on my friends, who were already waiting on me.

After deliberating for a few minutes, I finally told Nate I'd do it and texted my friends the situation (as you can imagine, they were geeked). I'll be straight up: I was nervous as hell. I've been fortunate enough to interview some big names in my young career, but none were making the impact in black communities like Nipsey was. On top of that, like most of America, I was cranking his latest Grammy-nominated album, Victory Lap, on repeat.

To fully understand how special it was to meet Nipsey Hussle and just how impactful he was to the black community, consider the words of Elizabeth "Liz" Cotton. Liz is the National Director of Strategic Partnerships of Blacks in Technology, and she is a native Angeleno born and raised within one mile of the Crenshaw Mall, where Nipsey Hussle operated his flagship Marathon Clothing Apparel store — and tragically, where he was killed on March 31.

Nipsey Hussle with BITCON's Liz Cotton
Nipsey Hussle with Liz Cotton, National Director of Strategic Partnerships of Blacks in Technology, at the Blacks in Technology Conference (BITCON) in St. Paul, Minn., on Friday, Oct. 12, 2018. (photo courtesy BITCON)

"I originally heard of Nipsey Hussle through reports of his music shows that were always heavily attended throughout Southern California," Liz says. "I would hear snippets of his music as he was regularly featured on singles with many famous L.A. rappers, singers, and producers such as YG, Joe Moses, Dom Kennedy, TeefLii, and DJ Mustard."

She adds, "While he was continuously making hits and adding to his discography, the messaging of success that was ever apparent through his music was reinforced by his growing business activities in the South L.A. community."

While his music had reached local and national success, it was Nipsey's community work and ability to work alongside city influencers that truly caught Liz's attention. "As I began taking meetings with L.A. officials, Council Members, and Assembly Members, I noticed that Nipsey Hussle was taking similar meeting with the same officials," she recalls. "This raised my brows because you rarely see anyone under 35 at City Council Meetings, and for a hip-hop artist to understand the inner workings of politics and policies and how it can propel your business and agenda was quite impressive."

For real though, given all that Nipsey has given back to the community, how the hell was I supposed to interview Nipsey??

Clearly, I was caught off guard, but I tried not to let the moment get to me. I sat in the back of his panel, listening attentively to the answers he gave to the moderator. I took notes on how he spoke about how he finessed the marketing game, why he decided to invest in cryptocurrency, and his motivation for giving back.

When it was my turn to speak to Nipsey, I worked my way to the stage as the auditorium emptied. It was just me, Nipsey and his bodyguards, a few Blacks in Tech folks, some videographers, and some of my MPR colleagues. The nerves kept rising until Nipsey dapped me up and said, "What's up, man?" Somehow, I managed to keep my cool and responded, "I'm good, just honored to meet you."

I warmed up to him by talking about Victory Lap. I told him that he was pioneering a wave of elder statesmen in hip-hop coming back to the booth to flex on the youngins. Around the time Nipsey's album came out, Jim Jones, Lil Wayne, Jay Z (with Beyoncé), Jim Jones and Eminem all released albums that put OG's back on the map. Nipsey appreciated my comment and told me he hadn't thought of it like that.

From there our interview commenced. We talked about cryptocurrency, music, marketing, the importance of buying black and investing in technology to ensure the future of black people worldwide.

Of course, I had to ask Nipsey about his advice for young black professionals on their hustle, to which he replied, "What's different about right now is everything ever learned, everything that we ever learned as human beings, you can go online and tap into it right now. The whole collective is right there and we ain't had that. No generation had that. What we made up for lack of info was we worked super hard … when you mix that with the info, that's the advantage that this generation has got over us."

Unfortunately, the brand new hard drive where the full interview is saved had crashed (BITCON and Youth Lens 360 are working hard to retrieve the files), but the good news is that we do have these precious four minutes from our conversation.

I wasn't supposed to meet Nipsey Hussle, yet somehow the universe made that fateful day happen. I want to take a quick moment to once again say thank you to Liz Cotton and all of BITCON that helped to bring Nipsey to Minnesota. It wasn't an easy feat. Despite the controversies that often surround Hip-Hop artists of Nipsey's ilk, Liz believed that his unique message, his way of connecting with people and his futuristic vision were all necessary to have at BITCON's inaugural Blacks in Technology conference in Minnesota.

What convinced Nipsey to come to the Twin Cities wasn't just the fact that his words would influence hundreds who would go on to influence thousands. In coming here, Nipsey was paying his work forward for a younger generation of black people coming from unconventional backgrounds.

As a young black journalist in the Twin Cities, whose roots stem from Cameroon and leaves blossomed on the East Side of St. Paul, Nipsey instilled in me a blueprint to follow. Through his lyrics and actions, he taught me that while personal and individual success was important and a necessary part of life, uprooting our black communities was tangential to that growth.

In the last year, Hip-Hop has lost two giants in Mac Miller and Nipsey Hussle. Easy Mac nourished our hearts and souls, while Hussle the Great nurtured the mind and focus. Where they both intersected was at the heart. Both of them taught us the importance of love; love for ourselves and love for each other.

As we remember and honor Ermias Joseph "Nipsey Hussle" Asghedom, I pray that we all continue to spread that love and commit to improving ourselves and our communities.

Jeffrey Bissoy is an assistant producer at MPR News. Born in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and raised in The Twin Cities, Jeffrey has grown a passion for representation and identity, Hip-Hop, and the impact of sports on society. He's also the host of two podcasts — Maintainin' and The Come-Up — the former examines the nuances of the young adult experience, and the latter stays current with the weekly drama of the NBA.

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2 Photos

  • Nipsey Hussle
    Nipsey Hussle greets kids at the Nipsey Hussle x PUMA Hoops Basketball Court Refurbishment Reveal Event on October 22, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Jerritt Clark/Getty Images for PUMA)
  • Nipsey Hussle
    Nipsey Hussle performs onstage at the 2018 BET Awards at Microsoft Theater on June 24, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for BET)

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