Growing up in the streets of the notorious LA neighbourhood of Crenshaw came Nipsey Hussle, who after more than a decade in the rap game faced with trials and tribulations, has finally released his debut album “Victory Lap”, filled with gripping street tales, thumping club bangers and motivational music for the soul. Encapsulating the spirit of LA he enlists features from natives such as YG, Dom Kennedy and Kendrick Lamar, and Hip-Hop heavyweights like Puff Daddy and Cee Lo Green, among others to create an album that can only be described as West Coast rap at its finest.
“They tell me Hussle dumb it down, you might confuse ’em/ This ain’t that weirdo rap y’all motherfuckers used to”
Releasing the LP as part of a multi-album partnership deal between his independent All Money In label, and Atlantic Records, this is not Nipsey’s first entry into the crazy world of label politics. In 2008 he signed to Epic Records following the success of two mixtapes which started his incredible mixtape run, “Slauson Boy” and “Bullets Ain’t Got No Name Vol 1″, but due to forces beyond his control things didn’t work out leading to him negotiating his way out of the deal in 2010, with his name still rated highly within the industry after more well received mixtapes and singles with artists including names such as Drake, Snoop Dogg and Lloyd, and a spot on the 2010 XXL Freshman List. These feats may not be important to some people, but it’s vital information when understanding the magnitude of this album and the work put in to get to this point.
For those paying attention, Nipsey has always been musically astute, becoming a mixtape veteran in his decade long career with a total of twelve tapes to his name as a lead artist, including 2013’s “Crenshaw” where he sold 1000 physical copies for $100 as part of a Proud 2 Pay campaign of which Jay-Z bought 100, showing respect from one hustler to another, while netting the California Crip $100,000 in just 24 hours. But it’s behind the music where his hustler mentality really shines through with his various business ventures from owning a hair shop and investing in cryptocurrency to opening a smart store named “The Marathon” after his mixtape series of the same name.
“This ain’t entertainment, it’s for them niggas on the slave ships/ These songs just the spirituals I swam against the waves with”
When looking at all he has endured since the initial announcement of the album in 2012, “Victory Lap” seems to be a fitting name. As an independent artist Nipsey’s built his brand from the ground up to the point where he’s now releasing his album on his terms, in his way, with all the perks of being a signed artist, something that should be commended, and the music speaks to that journey. Kicking off with the title track, Stacy Barthe‘s vocals provide the perfect platform for Nipsey to spit his story, setting the tone for the rest of the album, and creating an intro track to rival the likes of Meek Mill‘s “Dreams & Nightmares”. Following this is “Rap Niggas” , an aggressive thug cry aimed at setting himself apart from whoever may be considered to be his equal or in his lane, and once you’ve got past the first two tracks he’s got you locked in to the rest of the album and it doesn’t disappoint.
The YG-assisted “Last Time That I Checc’d” will surely become a West Coast anthem, perfect for cruising around in the traditional 1964 Impala, and songs like “Young Nigga” (feat Puff Daddy), “Hussle & Motivate” (which employs the same Annie sample the Jay-Z used on “Hard Knock Life,”), and “Dedication” (feat Kendrick Lamar), with the addition of “Succa Proof” (feat Konshens & J. Black) probably provide the most replay value on the album. Songs such as “Blue Laces 2”, “Status Symbol 3” (feat Buddy), and “Keyz 2 the City 2” (feat TeeFlii) on the other hand provide welcome sequels for fan favourite tracks, and although the list of features may seem like a lot, the album never feels overcrowded or forced with every feature adding something to the song they’re on. At 16 tracks long some people in this microwave era of rap might feel as though the album runs out of steam towards the end but those that value rap from an older generation will appreciate the run time.
“It’s a couple niggas every generation/ that wasn’t supposed to make it but they decode the matrix/And when they get to speak it’s like a coded language/Reminds niggas of their strength and all their stolen greatness”
As a gangster rapper it would be impossible to expect Nipsey’s debut album not to be filled with stories of gangland survivalism, like when he dug up $100,000 his brother buried in his mother’s back garden for safekeeping only to discover half the money had gone mouldy, or when he had to take the wheel after his boy got shot in order to save his life. But what makes the album stand out from a content perspective is the focus he puts on his pivot to legitimacy, on how he flipped Cripping on Crenshaw into a lucrative indie-rap career and then flipped that into an entrepreneurial enterprise. Not only does he rap about how he did it but he encourages his listeners and fellow gang bangers that they can do the same, spitting game on how to go about it, similar to what Jay Z did on “4:44″. Musically the album is gorgeous, with scene setting intros and outros that evoke the feeling of classic West Coast rap in the vain of The Game or Snoop Dogg. After justifiably doing well on a commercial level, reaching number 4 on the Billboard 200 charts, I don’t think it would be wrong to say that Neighbourhood Nip has produced a modern day classic, living up to his claim that he “ain’t nothing like you fucking rap niggas”.
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