It’s taken Los Angeles MC Nipsey Hussle longer than most to create his moment. The seasoned mixtape veteran has been on the indie-rap circuit for almost a decade and was once touted as a future star. When fame didn’t come, he made his own seat at the table, infamously selling copies of his Crenshaw tape for $100 each and getting JAY-Z to endorse him and buy 100 of them. He parlayed his rap successes into local business ventures—including a hair shop and a “smart store” for his clothing line—and became a hometown hero who turned his talent into a small merchandising empire. Victory Lap, his first album on a multi-project deal with Atlantic Records, is more than six years in the making. It is formally his “debut album” but functionally his big cash in. Bridging several generations of West Coast rap, Victory Lap uses his cache of war stories to power the most gripping entry in his catalog, recouping an investment.
His raps are still riddled with flashbacks to gangland survivalism, but he’s focused on his pivot to legitimacy, how he flipped Cripping on Crenshaw into a lucrative indie-rap career and then flipped that into an entrepreneurial enterprise. Black capitalism is foremost on his mind these days; he wants to build up his community and get others to follow, advocating for the grooming of more strong black men. But Nipsey’s ambitions can be more problematic than they seem on the surface: He has used his enthusiasm can to fuel homophobia, denigrating many of the men he claims to want to empower. There are nuggets to take aways from his lectures, but the primary lesson to be learned here is just how ingrained “toughness” is in representations of manhood.
As statements go, Victory Lap is more of a remembrance than a celebration. From digging up $100,000 his brother buried in his mother’s backyard for safekeeping only to discover half the money had molded to fighting off surprise challengers trying to steal jewelry from his entourage in Vegas, the album painstakingly documents the life of a reformed bruiser turned hood economist. Self-taught and self-funded, Nipsey fought to escape the cycle of an existence measured only in summers—time spent as “the man” on the block or serving sentences in the pen. He has been chasing sustainability since he was a teenager, and now that he has it, he’s appreciative, relieved even. He doesn’t just bask in his moment, though, he challenges others to pursue the same goals, as on “Million While You Young,” which equates money with salvation (“I can tell you niggas how I came up/Similar to climbin’ out the grave, huh”).