How Kendrick Lamar and Nipsey Hussle’s Yearslong Friendship Informed “The Heart Part 5”
But the one in front of the gun lives forever
(The one in front of the gun, forever)
And I been hustlin’ all day
—Kendrick Lamar “Money Trees” good kid m.A.A.d city 2012
“I need a favor,” said Kendrick Lamar.
It was March 31, 2019, a day which will live in infamy, the day 33-year-old Ermias Asghedom, better known as Nipsey Hussle, was suddenly and deliberately attacked in the parking lot at Slauson and Crenshaw. Hussle arrived without security that Sunday to do a quick favor for someone who’d just come home from prison and wanted new clothes. Always happy to help less fortunate folks from his neighborhood get back on their feet, Hussle’s good deed was repaid with a senseless assassination near the entrance to the family-owned business that was his pride and joy, The Marathon Clothing smart store. This cold killing shook the city to its core, cutting down an inspirational figure, a dedicated father, mentor, artist, activist, and entrepreneur hailed far and wide as the people’s champ, The Light of Los Angeles.
That same day, Compton’s own Pulitzer Prize–winning lyrical polymath was in a whole ’nother hemisphere, standing onstage 6,100 miles away from home at the Hipódromo de San Isidro racetrack in Buenos Aires, headlining Lollapalooza Argentina. “Keep them lights up y’all,” Kendrick told a vast expanse of fans numbering in the tens of thousands as he walked in circles, wiping water from his eyes. “Keep it quiet. Listen to me. I need a favor,” he said again, pausing for a long moment to collect himself.
“Before we got on the stage, we got wind that our brother, our warrior, our soldier Nipsey Hussle passed away,” Kendrick explained. An audible ripple of shock ran through the crowd, a small part of the collective paroxysm of grief felt by Hussle’s diehard fans, also known as Marathon members, worldwide. “So we wanna take this time out truly to give a moment of silence,” Kendrick said. “Can we do that?” Sshhhh! was the only audible sound as the massive gathering of South American rap fans absorbed the grievous loss, held their cell phone lights skyward like so many votive candles, then repeated after Kendrick: “We love you Nipsey!”
Since that day, Kendrick Lamar has not spoken a word in public about the man he called “a better Crip” on their sole collaboration, “Dedication,” a highlight of Hussle’s first and only album, the Grammy-nominated masterpiece Victory Lap.
More than three years later, Kendrick Lamar has finally broken his silence on the unspeakable tragedy of Hussle’s murder with his song “The Heart Part 5.” As true Kendrick fans know, “The Heart” series has come to serve as a harbinger that something wicked this way comes. The previous installment, “Part 4,” dropped three weeks before his last album DAMN, and “Part 5” was released last Sunday night, a week ahead of Lamar’s long-awaited new album Mr Morale & The Big Steppers.