It has been a long-time coming for the new age pioneer to release his debut album, after a turbulent entry into the game with 2005’s Slauson Boy and the Bullets Ain’t Got No Name trilogy, the West Coast talent reconnected with audiences with his (now influential) The Marathon, released in 2010, it is highly regarded as a rebirth for the rapper but more so by fans who it inspired, followed the next year with The Marathon Continues, which not only established Nip with a solid core fanbase but lined up perfectly for the release of Victory Lap. As a creative, I can only imagine how frustrating it must have been to hold onto to certain songs, awaiting the right time, because for us fans, he dropped the X-tra Laps and the quality lil’ releases on soundcloud, and then in 2013, the next pivotal moment (in music period), with (the now classic) Crenshaw. While he justified his last name with the promotion, independently doing what major labels were struggling with, the music itself justified any price point placed. With fans appreciative of the quality, it only enhanced his movement further. He proved his authenticity with Mailbox Money, a soundtrack to his success, which helped cement his All Money In imprint and Marathon brand, simultaneously raising the bar once again for the music and marketing, whilst increasing the demand to hear him cross that finish line.
[We even got a sequel to Slauson Boy (which people will champion in years to come), and the underrated No Pressure with Bino Rideaux, before the announcement of a partnership with Atlantic records, the first single and the release date of this album.]
With expectations so high, the title track serves as the curtain opening with it’s cinematic feel, the addition of Stacey Barthe’s vocals providing an extra height of emotion upon which Nip’s verse is elevated, “I’m prolific, so gifted, I’m the type that’s gon’ go get it, no kidding..”, he starts off, with a lyrical tapestry of struggle, fighting demons, to adversity and success, as he slaloms between the streets and the music business. Engulfed in the effects of the emphatic intro, the movie begins with Rap Niggas, a track that he had in the holster for a couple years now, the addition of Diddy as Executive producer only enhances the sounds of DJ Khalil and Mike & Keys, contributing to that theatrical production, heard throughout the album. The song itself is a valid statement from Nipsey Hussle, casting himself aside from the majority of (if not all) rappers today, with his credibility as certified within the streets as it is in the boardrooms. The next record is none other than the YG (fo’huniiiid) collab, Last Time That I Checc’d, it’s a feel-good track with the chemistry of the two leading the forefront of gang culture’s positive evolution. Having previously heard them as singles, it was the following that were most intriguing, starting with Young Nigga, sampling one of my favourites in PartyNextDoor’s West District, heavily amped with the iconic Puff Daddy adlibs, it’s classic Nipsey, as he paints the picture of desire and sacrifice, with his own stories of turning his back on the lifestyle in commitment to his career, “out the gate, lost count…many days in the studio we slaved, but this shit we gotta save..”, as well as the more notable story of his brother digging up money he buried, only to find half of it damaged from mould. These nuances of coming from such hardships to his status now is very much the premise of the project.
Thus far, you have probably heard good things about the album, and truthfully, with each listen..it only gets better. From the musicality (with the dope outros) to the content itself, (beyond my bias as a fan) it has really delivered. You have the Kendrick Lamar featured Dedication, which is actually one of the more catchier tracks, and fitting to the overall concept, before the sequel to a fan favourite from the Marathon tape, Blue Laces 2, with his signature flow, over the reworked production, he poetically details how far he has come, “Mogul and they know that, logo on my floormat..”, with his forward-thinking mindset and reminiscent flashbacks, he captivates the listener, with the story-telling on the last verse up there with the greats. More prominent is the assertiveness in his execution, the tone in his voice, if the first part was him chasing his dream, this is certainly him in the back of the Maybach reminiscing. The placement of each song is also to be applauded, Hussle & Motivate not only is descriptive of it’s title, but over the Jay-Z – Hard Knock Life sample, has Nip leading by example, “Lead to the lake..if they wanna fish, Make sure them niggas around you stick to the script, This should be written in stone, You should come visit my zone, Don’t take my word…double check all of my flows”. Sat in the middle of the album, it certainly important to the backbone. Status Symbol 3 might not be the best out of the trilogy, but like the two before, it stands on it’s own, “Wanna change the game…never chase a message, Never stop grindin’…cherish no possessions”, forever dropping gems, the latter part of the second verse really touched, as he raps of the dissatisfaction of harming another and the struggles to remain on course, “Started movin’ at a different frequency and it got me livin’ lavish, All my partners steady passin’…tryna wiggle through this madness, Tryna fight this gravity at time and I swear i could feel it pull me backwards”.
The album, like the artist, maintains a strong element of a West coast aesthetic, Succa Proof is one of the more diverse sounds, with the feature of Konshens and J. Black, the more aggressive of records, in comparison to Keyz 2 The City 2, another sequel to a fan-favourite, and again, very different to the original, but that’s the expression of growth, as you have to pay attention to the content, with the inclusion of another LA talent in TeeFLii. It for sure has one of the best outros you ever heard, as the production and his flow switches, and I’m sure many share my sentiments of wishing it was a whole track in itself. Grinding All My Life, another ode to the sacrifice and integrity, “Got married to this game…that’s who I made my wife, said I’d die alone…I told that bitch she probably right”, while the album would not be hindered if this did not make the final cut, the loyalty is always appreciated, as he pays homage with mention of the incident in Vegas, where a hater got stomped out, highlighting their unity. Thus far, the album has been an affirmation of defying the odds, jewels upon jewels of motivation, wisdom and real raps, cultivated together, strengthening the foundations upon which he stands, whilst echoing those principles towards new listeners. The last three songs, much like the individual outros, offer more insight to his musicality, and like the replays of the win with applauds in abundance, really depicts the end of the lap itself, from Million While You Young, an elaboration of the ‘no excuses’ mindset, featuring the recognisable vocals and presence of The Dream, it’s a hard-work pays off story, encouraging you stay true to yourself, “See you gon’ probably fail tryna play us, streets ain’t for everybody..get your grades up”. CeeLo Green has been on some classic tracks and he adds to that list with Loaded Bases, much like the previous, it’s a ‘pressure makes diamonds’ record, much like The Dream, CeeLo’s vocals help contrast against Nipsey’s tone, combined with the music, it makes for a fitting track, down to the inclusion of the crowd cheers towards the end, which start off the final track. Real Big truly captures the feeling that one can only imagine as you conclude the lap, basking in the glory of the accomplishments, soaking in the adoration, and as personal as the victory may be for Nip, the song itself is open for those to aspire towards such moments and share the success. Floetry’s Marsha Ambrosius is heavily respected within the rap world, and has played her part in accentuating the essences in songs for some of the most strong personalities, and it’s just that, with her angelic harmony, floating you to the top of the podium, with the change in music that can be described as feeling your feet firm as you raise up with the medal around your neck.
As if this journey of an album was not enough, the two bonus tracks, which are not only like the post-race interview as this chapter comes to a close, but like an end scene credit, line us up for what’s to come. Double Up sees Nip link up with two underrated talents in Belly and (another future LA legend) Dom Kennedy, with the latter undoubtedly pleasing for fans. The laid-back track is so good that it makes sense why it had to be included in this format, with the catchy chorus and overall cool feel, it could have easily been part of the main body of work. The bonus tracks actually prove just how good Nipsey Hussle is, with Double Up and Right Hand 2 God (sounding like a Championship celebration), being better than many singles of today, strong in substance and instrumentation, strengthening Nipsey Hussle’s artistry beyond just a gangsta rapper.
There really aren’t any criticisms, maybe the LA-theme could have done with a Terrence Martin feature, or how with each project released, there’s a groundbreaking execution, this however has somewhat of the regular model (in regards to the album bundle), and maybe it’s Atlantic handling that, though I can equally argue that it could have overshadowed the music, as it has done in many cases, rarely in interviews, have I heard someone speak on the content of Crenshaw, just the price point and how many copies Jay Z purchased, so this could have been a strategic move in itself.
It’s been a long road to this point, and he did not disappoint, creating a lasting soundtrack of integrity and success, and the motivation like the music transcends to new listeners too, as the increase in production quality helped establish this monumental occasion across not only new fans but genres also. A proud moment for any fan, as we salute the Crenshaw king along this Victory Lap.
I also want to offer my condolences, and pay my respects to Stephen “Fatts” Donelson, a staple in the ‘All $ In’ imprint, a major contributor to the overall operation and success of Nipsey Hussle, who before a business partner, was a friend. While nothing can make up for the losses, no doubt this victory in his honour and long may the legacy continue.