For the Culture
Yo, it’s Nipsey. I got something on my mind. Got a couple of minutes? I want to tell you a story about Crenshaw. My culture.
If you know me, you know I’m not out here writing articles on the daily. I’m making music, and there’s not enough time in the day to do everything I’m trying to do in my career. The way I see it, life is a marathon. I was freestyling to a Snoop CD when I was nine years old. I didn’t get my first studio record ‘til 2018. I’m 33.
All good. TMC, baby. The Marathon Continues.
This being a sports publication, you might be sitting there like, Nip, what’s this got to do with sports? You ain’t an athlete.
I don’t want to go on a tangent, but … bro. Before I got heavy into music, I hooped. I had game. I coulda gone pro. I coulda gone down the Master P route, you know what I’m saying? I swear on my granny.
But back to the lecture at hand. I’ll tell you how my story is tied to basketball. There’s a short version and a longer one.
Here’s the short version. I just built a brand new basketball court at my old elementary school, right across from my granny’s house in Crenshaw. It’s the same court where I used to hoop as a kid. Basketball and Crenshaw — you can’t separate them. It’s all part of the culture that made me. Same way hip-hop is. Same way Impalas and El Caminos and El Dorados is. The Rollin 60s. Purple Kush. Death Row Records. Same way palm trees is, you know what I’m saying? It’s all part of the culture I was steeped in. Puma is my partner on the basketball court project, and they’re a good partner. They understand their obligation to the communities that support their products. I went to them and was like,Listen, we need to be present in the community. These kids’ court is dilapidated. These kids deserve better.
I had been one of those kids, you know?
Basketball and Crenshaw — you can’t separate them.
Now we already on to the longer version of the story, if you still with me. Stick around ‘til the end, it’ll be worth your time. Would Nipsey steer you wrong?
Think of a movie — one of them Hollywood movies about inner city L.A. O.K., got that in your mind? You seeing L.A. gang culture, huh? Drive-bys? You probably are. What Hollywood exports to the world about L.A. is only one part of it. And it’s real. The violence and shooting and killing, that was part of my life. It’s real. But yo.
It’s not the whole story.
Crenshaw, L.A. culture, hip-hop, hoops … it ain’t a movie. My life ain’t a movie, and it ain’t for the kids coming up today. It’s real life, and it’s a whole mix of things, the good, bad and ugly. It’s a community. Real people. There’s love. There’s family. There’s music. There’s challenges, too. It made me who I am. Straight up. That’s why I’ll always be a part of it.
First things first: If you want to know about Crenshaw, you gotta get to know my granny. My granny is a G.
Bro, in a neighborhood with actual gangsters, my granny’s more of a G than all of ’em. Her preferred weapon was a type of love and calm that was so big, it could consume the toughest O.G.
That’s the culture, too. Granny’s the culture.
I gotta say a few words about her influence. Before we ever had our own house — me, my mom, my brother and sister — we lived with Granny, so she’s been like another mother to us. She was all about spreading love. Everybody she’s ever met, they love her instantly, and she don’t have no preprogrammed way of dealing with people. She’s just got a big heart and a natural sincerity about her that makes everybody feel safe and comfortable around her, you know what I mean? She taught us that love and family was the heart of Crenshaw.
I remember she always used to wake up before us. I’d come outta my room and she would always be in the kitchen cooking breakfast. The house always smelled like coffee and cinnamon. There was so much peace in that house.
Her peace set the stage for my music, I believe that.
If you want to know about Crenshaw, you gotta get to know my granny. My granny is a G.
Granny’s house was like my first studio. I was nine years old in my bedroom the first time I laid down a freestyle. DJ Quik and Snoop and Eminem — them three was big for me at that age. A light bulb went off for me, like,Damn, these dudes really good at putting words together.Like a lot of Crenshaw kids, I was never supposed to have success. I ain’t have no line to Dre. No rich uncles. No musicians in my family. I only had the culture. I’d play Tha Doggfatherand use the same flow that Snoop used and just write my own words. I filled up notebooks with lyrics. I drew all over the covers of those notebooks because I wanted them each to look like a piece of art. Art inside and out. My mindset was that if someone picked one up, I wanted them to be like,Yo, I’m ’bout to read something interesting in here.
Creativity was the culture. Basketball was the same way. All I did was hoop as a kid. The court at 59th Street Elementary, the same one I’m redoing this year. The court was run-down, the backboards had holes in ’em, the blacktop was uneven. But we made it work. Remember the movie The Sandlot? We was the basketball version of that. We played 24/7. It’d be me and my brother, Sam, and we’d meet up with a couple of our homies: Tiffany, Chris, Bryan, Jermaine, and any one of our neighbors that live down the street from us. We banged blocks, so we challenged kids from other blocks to play us. We were the 60th Street crew. We’d play the 57th Street kids, or whatever.
Some of the best times of my life. And throughout it all, man, we had a soundtrack. Our own L.A. soundtrack.
I wouldn’t be nowhere today without it.
I remember loving lowriders as a kid. El Dorados, El Caminos, Impalas, Monte Carlos. Before we could drive, a bunch of us kids would be chasing lowriders down the street, yelling out, “Hit a switch! Hit a switch!” It wasn’t just about the cars themselves. Part of getting in your car was playin’ music — you didn’t even have to be going anywhere in particular. You were cruising. You might have a little bit of Kush rolled up, and you got the windows rolled down, and you’re enjoying the weather, bumpin the latest Death Row record.
Let me stop and remind you about Death Row, and what it meant.
It’s like this. You didn’t have to spend $16 at the Wherehouse to hear the new Death Row record. You didn’t choose Pac or Snoop or Dre. It came to you, outta every car and every house on the block. It became part of you and part of everything you did. It was with you on the boom box next to the court, it was with you at parties and it was with you in the car. I started listening to Pac and Dre, and Nate Dogg and Warren G, and it led me to Biggie and Jay-Z. Death Row was the bridge.
It was the soundtrack, but it was bigger than that. It was how we saw the future. I’ll tell you what I mean. People always ask me how my music was influenced by West Coast rap. My answer catches people off guard. They think I’m ’bout to talk about hooks and melodies. Nah. Beyond that, L.A. rap taught me what a complete artist was. Them dudes weren’t just rappers. They was autobiographers, with a full array of emotional subject matter. They was telling deep stories in their music. Stories about being human, about being a man. Stories about me. You know what I’m saying?
The records banged, too, don’t get it twisted. And Pac was the leader of that. We’d be at the basketball courts or wherever, bumping Makaveli, and what I heard wasn’t club bangers. I heard a man speaking to me. He was bigger than a musical category.
That’s a big reason I’m always coming back to Crenshaw, and why I’m doing this basketball court project. This project is just the beginning. It’s just one thing. But it’s a reflection of where my mind’s at and where my heart’s at. I understand my obligation — I got an obligation to my community first, my family first, to hoods like L.A. all around the country who live for the culture. That’s part of the game, the way I see it. I have a duty to justify the seat that I’m sitting in. Nobody has any success on his own.
In Crenshaw, we got a thing we say.
You never turn down a fight.
You just don’t. You don’t. But when I was younger, I only thought about it on one level. It was about survival — it’s like, if somebody asks you for a fight … you fight. You don’t turn down an invitation. For better or worse, we all grew up knowing that you had to embrace all challenges, whether or not you thought you could win. Even if the dude’s bigger than you, even if it was two or three of them, you don’t run. Maybe you take your ass whupping. You don’t have a choice. It’s the principle of it. You stay and you fight.
I’m older now. I can’t even count all the setbacks I’ve had. I’m looking at my journey and, man, I’m seeing another meaning to it. I coulda hung it up a long time ago. Bro, I been dropping mixtapes for decades … out here making music and people not knowing who I was. I was about to put out a record in 2009, but it still took nine years for Victory Lap to finally come out. People was saying, “Wait your turn,” or, “Not right now,” or, “Who are you?”
It was the culture that taught me to keep going. To bet on myself. As an individual, as an artist and as a leader of a crew — I carry that mentality with me wherever I go. It’s not just me, it’s a lot of us from L.A. It’s the mentality of, We ain’t turning down nothing. We here for all requests and invites. We not making excuses. We going forward.
That’s always been the culture. Success ain’t about winning, just like losing ain’t a sign you’re not successful. Real failure is getting knocked down and not rising again. The hustle has always been about fighting the best fight, you know what I mean? I had a big brother who was a hustler. My crew’s hustlers. Crenshaw makes hustlers. We respected the game the whole way, and it got us here. And we still making progress. I’m proud of that.
We have an obligation to pass it on, in music and how we live our lives. Crenshaw made me. So I’ll always be in Crenshaw. Always fighting.
The work ain’t done yet. The marathon continues.