I was on a plane returning from an invited lecture at Columbia University when I learned about Nipsey’s death. The talk went well, but it was bittersweet. My work is rooted in the social and political dynamics of Black inner city life. These social dynamics are beyond theory and have very real consequences on the phsyce and bodies of the Black Americans who inhabit these spaces. I grew up in these environments, so these dynamics are inscribed in every fiber of my body. As such I’ve been questioning the ultimate efficacy of the work that I do. Publishing and giving talks is cool, but who am I actually serving? I’ve been feeling a sense of failure for continuing to simply speak truth to power, when my goal is to transform it.
Nipsey’s death brought all of these feelings home as provided a good model of one can use your talents and platform to serve their particular community. Nip used his conversational, yet rhythmic delivery to amply the violence, vulnerability but also the victories of inner city life in America. And he did it in a way that was unfiltered and uncompromised. His words illuminated the light at the end of the tunnel of ghetto precarity while helping us navigate our way through it. He was honest and self-reflexive. He criticized the outside powers that generated instability in the hood, but also acknowledged his complicity in these struggles.
Nipsey was more than words, more than awareness. He invested in his community and built with his people. And we loved him for it. He wasn’t simply the product of outside taste makers, his rise was ground up, secured by the community that the sought to serve.
Spice 1’s words continue to tragically ring true: “The trigger gots no heart.” Nipsey’s death by gun is the most recent in a legacy of hip hoppers dying by gun violence. But, this is not even a hip hop story. Homicide is the leading cause of death for Black men in Nipsey’s age group. The bullets aren’t prejudiced either as they’re hitting Black dudes from all walks of life. Gun violence is a plague in our communities and it’s going to take a collective, multi-angled effort to stop it. But, Black dudes largely lack the “sympathetic victim trait,” so I’m not so optimistic that this will ever happen.
Nipsey’s being mourned now, but the tide will turn in a few days as his faults with take centerstage. Those of a certain complexion are reduced to their worst, they’re reduced to the earth.
I’m writing this out of frustration. I’m mad that one of our greatest evil’s took another one of our greatest voices. I’m mad that his family and community has to feel this pain. I’m mad that we’ll move on from this in a few days. And I’m pissed at myself for not doing my part to secure a better future for the communities that produced me.