Don’t Let the Water in the Boat: Thinking of Nipsey Hussle Two Years Later
“Don’t let the water in the boat,” Nipsey Hussle told me on February 22, 2018, six days after the release of his album Victory Lap. “The boat’ll never go down if you don’t let the water in the boat.” It was advice he shared with his daughter sometimes, wise words to hang onto when facing any kind of adversity.
“And that’s just water,” he said. “You know what I’m sayin’? That’s just rough seas. We got a destination. We tryin’ to get across the ocean to the other country, or to whatever land on the other side of this water. All that other shit, you go straight through the waves. Just don’t let the water in the boat.”
Thinking of those words, the image of Hussle in the “Victory Lap” music video comes to mind: standing in the prow of a fishing boat off the coast of Tulum, Mexico, puffing on a cigar, hanging onto a rope with one hand as the wooden vessel bounced on the waves.
It’s comforting to think of Hussle’s victories on a day like March 31, the anniversary of an atrocity. Two years after his senseless murder, the pain hasn’t gone away. The city of Los Angeles is still reeling. It’s hard to imagine what Hussle’s family must be feeling on days like today.
“As a father, I wish my son was still here with me,” said Dawit Asghedom, shortly after Ermias was laid to rest at Forest Lawn Cemetery in Hollywood Hills, the final resting place of Michael Jackson, Walt Disney, John Singleton, and Rodney King. “But also he’s not died in vain. People recognize what he planned to do and what he has accomplished at a young age, at only 33.
“Nobody imagined how much people loved him, the support they give him. There’s no words to explain. Starting from the Marathon store to the Staples Center and when we marched through the streets. It was incredible.”
All the memorial services around the world are just a testament to how many people he touched,” his beloved big brother, Samiel Asghedom, better known as “Blacc Sam,” told me. “It’s a testament to the message and what he represented and so many people that he inspired and touched. He was a true people’s champ, man. The story, just making something out of nothing.
Grief comes in waves, like rough seas that threaten to splash into your boat if you let it. Still, Hussle’s legacy lives on — and his remarkable accomplishments endure.
“And inspiring and never thinking he was bigger or more special or better than anybody. Just staying and showing people that if you believe and stay the course, you can always achieve. That’s what everybody in every community and every area in the country loved and respected and valued about Nip. They’re showing their love, and it’s humbling.”
“I feel like it’s beautiful that so many people have been able to connect with such a special, chosen person,” said his younger sister, Samantha Smith. “It just confirms the person that he is. I already knew he was this type of person, so I’m just grateful that the whole world knows he is.”
Grief comes in waves, like rough seas that threaten to splash into your boat if you let it.
Still, Hussle’s legacy lives on — and his remarkable accomplishments endure. “We was able to become real successful in the mixtape space,” Hussle told me that morning, just over a year before his passing. “We established businesses and built an ecosystem around the music with the Marathon Store, with the Marathon Clothing, with the Agency. So I just think one of the things it means to me now, when I think about it, is being able to stand up in the game. Being clear that Nipsey Hussle has a clear lane in the game — and built it, and took the stairs. Had opportunities to be assisted, but chose to do it on our own.”
“The meaning of Nip Hussle has taken on universal resonance and meaning now,” said David Gross, the L.A.–born real estate investor and developer who backed the Asghedom brothers’ acquisition of the plaza at Crenshaw and Slauson, carving out a foothold for them to lift up themselves and their community.
“People around the world get what he was.”
Today is a day to pause and reflect on the legacy of a great man — but it’s impossible to overlook the sense of loss.
“After Nipsey got killed, it feels like the love is gone from over here,” says his high school classmate Ralo Stylez. “I know I’m probably biased because that’s my n — — -, but it’s definitely never gonna ever be the same over here. There’s a void. It feels like the love left and like the lights went out.”
Don’t bother asking Ralo what happened to Nip. “I’m not willing to lose my life to answer that question,” he says. One thing is for certain, Nipsey Hussle did not die in vain. The evidence of his impact is everywhere. Along with Tupac and Malcolm X, his image has become an emblem of liberation. Ralo wonders what Nipsey’s thoughts might be on the nationwide uprising of 2020 and demands for racial reckoning. “I yearn to know what he would be doing right now — him and Kobe,” he says. “Two of the most inspirational people in our city. Two of the role models. Do you know what it felt like being around individuals out of the Black community at that time? Everybody’s head was down. It’s like the wind was consistently getting knocked out of us. And then this coronavirus. We can’t even breathe.”
“For him to lose his life in the place he gave so much to, it’s a life lesson for everyone,” says Master P, the New Orleans music mogul whose No Limit empire changed the game for independent rap labels, inspiring Hussle’s All Money In movement, among others. “You still have to be able to understand the environment you are in because there are demons out there.”
“Me and Nipsey got different mind frames,” said Meek Mill in an interview with Charlamagne Tha God. “I think we was alike in certain ways, but we got two totally different mind frames. Me, you ain’t never see me back in the hood without a pistol around, close — and I’m talking about in a legal way,” said the Philly rapper, who wears a chain honoring Hussle and Lil Snupe, an artist signed to Meek’s Dreamchasers imprint who was murdered in 2013. “No young kings should be gunned down in the hood. He’s a legend just for that. You made it out, and you got gunned down by a lowlife. You a legend; you showed kids that you can make it out, and someone where you come from will pull you back and take your life. I guarantee you that Nipsey probably touched hundreds of millions of children from the ghetto. They know deep down that they will have their life took if they try to pursue their dreams to stay in the hood. Just that message alone.”
Nip’s day-one homie Cuzzy Capone isn’t ready to give up on the hood, but he too has been shaken by the loss of his friend. “You’ve got to really handpick who you’re fucking with, and make sure they’re in control of their own life,” he says. “Make sure it’s nothing really tailing them because that shit . . . You see where it ends up at.”
Losing a father, a brother, a son, a husband, an employer, an inspirational role model is a pain that never goes away. It’s difficult to accept that Nipsey’s reward for believing in his community was to lose his life in front of the place that he built. In “What It Feels Like,” Hussle’s recently released collab with Jay-Z, Nipsey refers to himself as “Young Malcolm,” embracing the role of being a leader and understanding the risks involved. If Hussle’s work does not continue, his sacrifice will have been in vain. And that would be an even greater tragedy. That’s why it’s so important not to let the water in the boat, to stay focused on the destination. To build on what Hussle started. For that reason alone the Marathon must never stop.
Rob Kenner is a founding editor of VIBE and the author of The Marathon Don’t Stop: The Life and Times of Nipsey Hussle (Atria Books). A similar version of this story appeared on BET.com