Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle has been buzzing around the underground for a handful of years, but his most noteworthy moment came last October, when he announced the latest in a long line of mix tapes, “Crenshaw.” Along with the standard free release, Hussle made headlines with his plan to sell 1,000 hard copies of “Crenshaw” for an eye-popping $100 per copy.
For Hussle, the high price tag meant more than just a signed copy of an otherwise free mix tape: It meant “revolution [against] an industry that has tricked us all into making products that have no soul.” It may have seemed like lofty posturing or a marketing gimmick, but his fans didn’t care: Hussle reportedly sold all 1,000 copies in less than 24 hours (even Jay Z reportedly bought a hundred).
Although Hussle never asked the crowd at Saturday night’s Howard Theatre concert for a receipt, it certainly seemed as if everyone in the packed house had shelled out a C-note for “Crenshaw.” His 40-minute set saw the crowd bobbing their heads, waving their arms and singing along in an undulation of adoration.
Hussle didn’t even need to do much to work the crowd into a frenzy; there was no effort to hide the fact that he was rapping over background vocal tracks, and his languid movements were reminiscent of another lanky rapper from Southern California, Snoop Dogg, to whom he’s often been likened. Still, Hussle “turned up” when required, often laying out his tales of gang life, conspicuous consumption and industry iconoclasm a cappella, and twice asking for (and obliging) requests from the audience.
With lighters, cellphone screens and bottle-service sparklers breaking up the haze of what seemed to be second-hand marijuana smoke, Hussle ran through his catalogue, mostly focusing on his last two mix tapes. By 2:15 a.m., when he played his debut single, “Hussle in the House,” the audience was amped up. Another entry in the long line of West Coast rap songs based on the familiar squeal of the Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm,” the song is a crowd-pleaser, whether you recognize the sample from a song by N.W.A., Snoop, Kendrick Lamar or — admit it — Kris Kross.
A few minutes later, Hussle thanked the crowd and briefly exited the stage to a chorus of groans, but was back almost immediately to encore with “Crenshaw” cut “1 of 1.” Before Hussle stage-dived into the appreciative crowd, the house sang along with the song’s chorus: “You’re looking at a one-of-one / I’ll show you how this s--- is done. . . . Just look at what I’ve become.” Die-hard fans have been watching Hussle for years, and with debut album “Victory Lap” finally due this year, the rest of the rap world might see his namesake grind in action.
Kelly is a freelance writer.