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If there’s one common theme in Nipsey Hussle’s music, it’s potential. Often he speaks about potential earnings, potential personal growth, potential for his friends and family; and potential for his community and the world in general. Everything is about building onward and upward; and the betterment, and empowerment of oneself. Nipsey was clearly looking toward the future. It’s what helped him get to where he was, achieve all that he achieved, and create art in the immaculate way that he did.
Despite its stop and smell the roses title, Nipsey’s Grammy nominated, now final, album Victory Lap reveled the potential in his future. This was not a man who planned on dying anytime soon, even as he was keenly aware that death surrounded him. He had plans, he had more to do, and he was intent on doing so.
The first words Nipsey utters on the album are boastful, but they also feature a promise he’d always made to himself throughout his storied career. “I'm prolific, so gifted / I'm the type that's gon' go get.” From there, Nipsey launches off into a 16-track celebration of his success, and contemplation of his future that was being hailed as a classic even before his tragic demise.
That’s the album in a nutshell. Nipsey shifting between remembering the journey, appreciating the heights he’s reached, and looking forward to the destination. It’s his philosophy, the marathon continues, personified. This theme is probably most evident on the chorus-less, Puff Daddy-assisted “Young Niggas,” where Nipsey pauses midway to contemplate just where his mind-state was -- ironically after being shot -- when he dedicated himself fully to music. From there, he jolts to the successes, and takes some time to admonish himself for losing faith, even temporarily.
Staring in the space that you fishing for a phrase
Uninspired and your mind, still it's all a paper chase
First you over dedicate, then you notice that you great
And you been the whole time then it slap you in yo face
Then you stack it in your safe, got it crackin', it was fate
You the definition, nigga, laughin' to the bank
Later, he says, “This used to be a dream we would chase” before he reminds himself of his humble beginnings in an effort to appreciate his success even more. Eventually, he makes it a point to shoutout everybody else who was on the journey with him, and just when you think he sounds satisfied, Nipsey starts looking onward and upward again. “They told me if I want it, gotta hustle for it,” he says before relaying that he’s still doing that, but, “Only difference now, the money more mature.”
That journey to success makes up the bulk of the album, and so are the reflections of the past that make both Nip and the listener appreciate it all. Now, it’s a frustrating listen because you begin to realize that even though he was finally ecstatic about his place in the universe, he was also looking at more improvement and finding new ways to grow. On “Blue Laces 2,” he discusses breaking ground on a billion-dollar project, on “Hustle And Motivate” he reminds us that he has a lot more to prove, and despite the album’s title and the perception that he’s finally claimed victory in life, he sounds hungry at every turn.
In the past week, the album has transformed without so much as a new note or tinkle being added. What was once a jubilant project that basked in the glory of years of hard work finally manifesting into tangible success has now become a melancholy and sobering swan song. Even the title is fitting: Victory Lap. It's one last time around the track for Neighborhood Nip before he sailed off into the sunset. It becomes a cautionary tale. This, all of this, is what Nipsey was able to accomplish in 33 short years. But, those years could end in the blink of an eye, leaving behind so much unfulfilled potential -- and did.
When it came time to wrap the album up, Nipsey celebrated his success a little more, but stumbled into the realization of some of the pitfalls of success. He turned himself into a cautionary tale by giving himself more room to improve, and highlighting more flaws he felt he needed to compensate for.
Movin' forward with speed, all your morals'll leave
Only focus is cheese, now the forest is trees
Got infected with greed, distort what you see
Your worst nightmare than me, is justifyin' your means
He didn’t want to get boggled down by his success or his money. Nipsey is warning us that, that will distort your perception; and the success could change you for the worst. It was important for him to remain the same person and remain motivated even as he grew.
With Victory Lap, Nipsey crafted a perfect bookend for his legacy, imparting knowledge on his listeners and leaving them with a cathartic glimpse into his psyche as he reached his zenith. It wasn’t supposed to be his final message to the world -- no artist imagines the album they’re crafting will be. But, it’s somehow fitting as one. The last thing he says on the album after warning us about the pitfalls of success was “I put my right hand to God.”
It shouldn’t work like this. It’s almost unfair to the artist for them to gain a greater appreciation for their work after their death. These are the same songs and same messages, even if we couldn’t mine the nuggets out the first time around. But, that’s the beauty of music. Despite the fact that the artist won’t live forever, their legacy will through the records. It’s really the only positive left to glean out of such a depressing and senseless situation. These messages are timeless and Nipsey can speak to us forever, and speak to a whole new host of fans who will stumble upon his gospel as the years go on. Thanks to this album and these lessons, we’ll still have him, even if he was taken from us so callously.
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