Not since the emergence of The Game on the national hip-hop scene has Los Angeles had such a promising new rapper as Nipsey Hussle. A member of the notorious Rolling Sixty Crips from the Crenshaw and Slauson neighborhood of Los Angeles, Nipsey has–on the strength of two volumes of his Bullets Ain’t Got No Name mixtape series, narrated in a sing-songy flow that recalls an edgier Snoop Dogg–steadily gained national attention. It’s a fact not lost on his musical sponsor, Game, who has brought Nipsey along on his most recent national tour, which stops at the Blender Theatre on Saturday. We talked to Nipsey about his youth, his music, and touring in America’s other badlands.–Chris Ryan
Tell me a little about growing up in LA
I grew up on the Westside of L.A.: Crenshaw district. That area was controlled by gangs and in my teenage years I got involved with that lifestyle. I like to say I grew up better than some and worse than others. I don’t like to tell no sad story about how it was so rough coming up. I had the same drama a lot of young black kids had: drugs, gangbanging, violence. But I also had a love for music and when I saw a lot of my friends, a lot of the people around me going off to jail, music is what sent me in a different direction.
Were you more of a child of N.W.A, or was it more Death Row?
Definitely Death Row. Born in ’85, grew up in the 90’s so definitely Snoop, Dre, a little bit of Ice Cube, but mostly Snoop and Dre. Me and my friend would rap the whole Chronic album. I’d be Dre and the lil’ homie would be Snoop, and then we’d switch off–just rapping along with the words. Half the stuff we didn’t know what it meant, we’d just be saying it. We were just fascinated with the sound.
I always kind of wondered about the way that album, and the Death Row stuff that came after it, how much it impacted people’s lifestyles out there. Like did the lifestyle make the music, or did the music make the lifestyle.
Yeah, chicken or the egg. One thing I can say is that The Chronic really impacted the suburbs. I think that certain areas, like where I grew up, obviously that had an impact on the music, but the music transported that lifestyle all over the map. The kids were a little more impressionable and I think some of those records took ideas about gangbanging and spread ’em around. For us, in South Central, that was like, “Finally someone is talking about us.” But we weren’t infatuated with khakis and Chucks or anything. That was already the style, you know?
The two Bullets mixtapes have a lot variety on them: some traditional LA gangster tracks, some R&B stuff, some club stuff.
My whole intention is to take West Coast music and culture and adapt it and update it to today. The melodies and the concepts are all products of me paying attention to the game. And one thing I’ve learned, just checking out what records pop these days, is that it’s not what you’re saying as much as how you’re saying it. I’m not gonna make a Soulja Boy record because that ain’t who I am. But I might incorporate elements of Soulja Boy’s music into my sound.
“RSC For Life” is about your life in the Rolling Sixty Crips. How did you go about approaching how you were gonna talk about your background in your music?
I just want my records to be sincere. I’m not trying to over-hype myself into the biggest, baddest dude out there. I’m not trying to say I come from the worst place, because that ain’t the truth. The fact is it’s a lifestyle and way of thinking from where I come from that’s real and does exist. It’s different than any place else. And I have a lot of pride in where I come from. And on the other hand, I want change. I want things to get better and I think that kind of push-pull is there on that song. I try to balance that.
I noticed some of the places you’ve played with Game on this tour are Missoula, Idaho Falls, and Salt Lake City. How’s it going out there?
Man, it’s crazy. The shows have been crazy. Just off the mixtapes people going crazy. By the end of the shows people are fans. I mean Aspen, Portland: They’re on the West Coast, but for an L.A. dude it’s like the middle of nowhere. We got U.S. Marshals hopping on the bus in Salt Lake City. We got some of the homies from my neighborhood with us, so there’s a lot of different characters on the road–a lot of excitement out here in the middle of nowhere.