food & conversation with Nipsey Hussle

words and photos by Andres Tardio

Nipsey Hussle is hungry. On a warm February afternoon, the 32-year-old MC is sitting comfortably outside at Salazar, a Mexican barbecue hotspot in L.A.’s Frogtown neighborhood that was once an auto body shop. Thankfully, there’s a feast in front of the All Money In No Money Out boss, who grew up just a short drive away from here, in nearby Crenshaw.

Born Ermias Asghedom, food has always been an important part of Hussle’s life. As a child, his Eritrean father would cook traditional meals for the family. It’s a loving practice that evokes fond memories to this day. He remembers the little things, scooping up food with a bread called injera, eating from a shared plate, a custom from his father’s homeland meant to strengthen a family’s bond.

“[My father] was really concerned with keeping us in touch with our culture. He would always make sure we sat down to eat and one of the customs is that your parent feeds you your first bite,” he recalls. “He would scoop some [food] up to feed me and my brother out of his hand. That was unique. Eating out of the same plate and sitting down over the food every day, it somehow brings y’all close. It creates a moment to talk and speak to each other.”

“My father was really concerned with keeping us in touch with our culture. He would always make sure we sat down to eat.”

These days, Nipsey is carrying some of those values into his own home. “I’m not the best chef but when I do get the chance, I want us to sit down and eat together because I’ve seen what that does,” he adds. “My son’s mom [Lauren London] is an actress. She works a lot. I’m an artist. I travel and work a lot. We don’t always get to, but anytime we’re in the house together, we try to call a chef or she cooks, and we sit down and eat together.”

Back at the restaurant in a red-and-white striped Guess shirt, black denim pants, and all-white Puma sneakers (by way of his newly-minted endorsement deal), Nipsey has his eyes on the branzino, grilled to perfection with lemon slices and herbs. To the side, there’s a juicy 24 oz. tender bone-in rib-eye, fresh ceviche, creamy guacamole, crispy chips, and some tasty tacos that remind him of his favorite home-cooked meal. “My girl makes bomb tacos,” he reveals, moments before they get on a FaceTime call to bond over the menu. “She sleeps on herself. She don’t think she knows how to cook, but the tacos are fire.”

Despite home-cooked meals, life wasn’t always this good for Hussle. As the sun shines down on the vibrant restaurant, creating light flares around Nipsey, he remembers growing up with a different type of hunger. His mother stressed the importance of education and his father emphasized the need to be informed. But he also came up in the streets of Los Angeles, surrounded by layers of complexity in the 1990s, at a time when “gang banging was at its peak.”

Along the way, he’s faced adversity at nearly every step, turning each downturn into a lesson. “I left mom’s house when I was like 15,” he explains. “That was a pivotal moment, me having to stand up and become a man or what I thought was a man. It was realer than what I thought it was but I had so much pride, I never went back.”

On Victory Lap’s “Blue Laces 2,” he raps: “Dropped out of school, I’ma teach myself / Made my first mill on my own, I don’t need your help.”

Other moments left a lasting impression on him, as well. He recalls his brother’s incarceration, which he lamented for various reasons. “He’s my big brother and my watch guard to a degree,” he says. “I value his opinion. Him being away, one of the key roles that gets played, wasn’t able to get played.”

More recently, he’s been impacted by the death of one of his closest friends, Stephen “Fatts” Donelson. “He was an owner in the company, somebody that’s been down, believing since day one,” he reveals. “Been through all the street shit with us. Anytime he fought, I fought growing up. We rode bikes together. We was like three months from the album release and he got killed. That was really devastating and hard to understand. That was a turning point.”

Through all of his trials and tribulations, Nipsey has learned a lot about himself. “We’re all much greater than what we give ourselves credit for,” he explains. “We’ve been programmed to put limits upon ourselves. I wasted a lot of time and a lot of opportunities doubting myself, thinking twice, half-stepping.” His advice? “Be bold and believe in yourself. Whatever your hunch is, embrace it. When you work hard and you’re fearless, those hunches end up becoming the navigation, the GPS to where you gotta end up and to what your purpose is.”

Perhaps that hunger helped fuel his outlook. It’s reminiscent of a famous Steve Jobs quote that Hussle used on The Marathon’s “Who Detached Us” back in 2011: “Stay hungry.” On Victory Lap, that theme continues with a focus on success. “The album is really a tribute to potential in all of us, to the radicals that embrace their potential,” he explains. “If you needed an extra little push to do it, I would like the album to be that extra push.” ◽️

“The album is really a tribute to potential in all of us, to the radicals that embrace their potential.”