“God, what sign are you showing me in the life of my brother? I never knew him like you know him. But I know him because he comes from God to make a statement in this world that will live into the next world.”
- Minister Louis Farrakhan (eulogizing Nipsey Hussle)
Nipsey Hussle is dead.
That hurts to say. That hurts to hear. That hurts to read. And I never met him. Most of us had not. We only knew him through his music and his work. He never hugged us. He never laughed with us. We never shared a meal with him and, yet, it feels like the bullets ricocheted through us too. Our palpable grief, to many, makes no sense. Still. Losing him stings. It always hurts when they kill our prophets because it is a painful reminder that they do not want us to thrive…that they do not want us to grow…that they do not want us to rise above it all.
Make no mistake: Ermias Joseph Asghedom was a prophet. His words, set to music, created space to lament the world that is- the world that robs poor Black and Brown people of hope and resources. His work, in his community, pushed us to imagine the world that could be- a world that returns what has been stolen to restore dignity and pride. My brother asked me if we knew what we really had in Nip. I said yes, wanting to believe that we did. But the painful truth might be that we didn’t. Because, though we respect them, we often don’t fully know what we have in our prophets until we lose them.
That is what made the celebration of his life so very special. It honored his authenticity and his realness. It affirmed that we were in the presence, of what Minister Farrakhan called, “a prophetic soul”. Perhaps, that is why there was such discomfort among many Black Christians watching his homegoing service. If we could tell the truth, we are not used to being that close to that kind of radical authenticity.
Growing up Baptist in the South, the apex of every sermon was that Jesus is soon to return. We don’t know when and we don’t know where but the resurrected Christ is coming back for his church- all those who have followed his commandments and teachings. The congregation would often go crazy, shouting and falling all over themselves resting in the blessed assurance that, when Jesus returned, he was coming for them and only them.
It felt good to know that I had a home beyond this one and it seemed that having that home wasn’t contingent on doing any real work to ensure my residence. After all, I’d heard the whispers in church parking lots and over Sunday dinners about the misdeeds of leadership, the antics of church musicians and the hypocrisy of those in the pew. The same people who stepped on my feet and slapped me with their big hats while shouting about Heaven were some of the biggest purveyors of hell on earth.
And, though the hypocrisy was often too much to digest, many of us fell right in line wearing the masks of pretense and counterfeit authenticity. So many of us have been fake so long, we would not know what is real if it introduced itself to us. People like Nipsey make us uncomfortable. Being around them and even being present as they are remembered exposes the fundamental ways we lack integrity and hide who we really are to be celebrated for who we are not.
Nip said he couldn’t find a place for “Right Hand 2 God” within the sequence of his debut album. Instead of scrapping the song all together or putting it on the mixtape he later released, the 3 minutes and 7 seconds became Victory Lap’s bonus track. It’s, both, ironic and appropriate that “Right Hand 2 God” didn’t fit within the scheme of Nip’s first commercial release. Popular consumption can be tricky. You’re doing the ever delicate dance of giving people what they want while remaining true to who you are. Nipsey mastered that in ways people born generations before him could not. And it was his commitment to authenticity that caused us to revere him. That reverence came full circle, at the celebration of his life, where he was rightly inducted into Black sainthood. His prophetic witness was laid bare and counted well done. The funeral of Nipsey Hussle exposed the lie that Christ is not in culture and the only place to fully know God is in the church.
Nipsey’s lyrics did not yearn for a relationship with God; Nip rapped about being one of God’s children. Consistently speaking to the hand that led and covered him, Nipsey embodied a gratefulness for God’s grace. A gratitude different from what we in the church had been taught to show but an appreciation nonetheless. It was his gratitude for God sparing his life that caused Nipsey to be thankful through his actions. Nipsey’s mother Angelique Smith detailed the pain she experienced and how Nipsey worked to ensure that trauma would not hold their family hostage. Nip’s authenticity propelled his own father Dawit Asghedom’s vulnerability to share the pains of leaving his sons in a broken home and becoming a “weekend father” while Lauren shared the ways, each morning, Nipsey would set the tone and intention for their family’s day. His sister Samantha recounted that, in her brother, she never found judgment for her life choices and his older brother and best friend Samiel “Blacc Sam” shared that he invested in his brother’s music career with money he’d made hustling only for his brother to turn around and make him a legitimate businessman. Loved one after loved one testified of the ways Nip broke his family’s generational curses and those within his community. He lived a better sermon than many will ever hear preached.
And that truth is what makes the church uncomfortable. For too long, the church has operated under the premise that it is supposed to function separately and distinct from culture. But the problem has always been found in the contradiction of the church’s movement. To uphold some standard that the church must be distinct and different, the church holds fast to ideology and doctrine that supports its inauthenticity. The church has always known that culture is more authentic and so many of us are tired of the pretense. It is not lost on many of us that, within days of each other, we lost Nipsey and a prominent preacher to gun violence -killed by someone they each knew- and their deaths exposed that one of them was living a different life than publicly portrayed. We must begin to grapple with the truth of the church’s diminished witness as people find themselves more drawn to those living out Jesus’ words than those preaching them. Because we can be ourselves around them. Because the truth of who they are invites us to become more truthful. Because we can cuss as we speak of our love for them and our words will still be divine and the service will still be sacred.
Nipsey Hussle is dead. And that hurts.
It hurts because they took a savior from his people. Ava DuVernay said that, when she first saw Nipsey, he looked like what she thought Christ might have looked like and his sister told us that Nip was their Jesus. No, there is no one waiting for him to resurrect in three days- although we know his spirit is alive and well. There is no one praying to his name but his community and loved ones know he is interceding for them now, as he has always done. Nipsey’s faith, deeply Christlike and deeply African, caused him to want the best for us and to work towards that best while it was day.
What if God came enfleshed to walk among us again? What if, through forty and two generations plus a few more, a brown baby came fully human and fully divine? What if their path took detours that we did not understand or agree with? What if the conviction of their calling caused us to question all we knew to be true? Would we recognize the gift standing in our midst? Would we honor it? Would we support it?
Nipsey Hussle was one of a kind but he was not the only one God sent with a statement for this world and the next one. There are so many Nipsey Hussles in our communities. They fund our projects and initiatives for the kids when we cannot get backing from other institutions- including our churches. They provide the people they’ve known and loved with opportunities for advancement when they could not find them elsewhere. We may not have personally known Ermias Joseph Asghedom but we know people like Nip. They did not use their wings to fly away from us but to help us understand how we can use our own. And it is in their memory and in anticipation of those to come that we must soar.