The Marathon will continue, Wesley Hamilton said, echoing tens of thousands of mourners now pledging to keep alive the transcendent entrepreneurial spirit of rapper-turned-community leader Nipsey Hussle.
Hamilton, founder and executive director of the KC-based nonprofit The Disabled But Not Really Foundation, was among a dozen or more Kansas City entrepreneurs in Los Angeles Thursday celebrating the life of Hussle, who was shot and killed March 31 outside his Marathon Clothing store in South L.A.
“I had to be around that energy,” Hamilton said, referencing the scene at the strip mall where fans inspired by Hussle gathered in the days and weeks after his death. “The blueprint of what he was trying to do in his community is a blueprint that we can take into our communities and do the same thing. It’s heartbreaking but it’s empowering.”
Hussle — born Ermias Joseph Asghedom — capitalized on an emerging rap career at age 33 to purchase a collection of storefronts in his hometown, building the iconic Marathon Clothing streetwear brand and helping to reinvigorate the local economy.
Click here to check out Marathon Clothing.
His death prompted many to use the phrase “the Marathon continues” — the title of his sixth official mixtape — to pay homage to the artist’s community impact and his legacy: some of which will be carried on the backs of key Kansas City entrepreneurs, said Hamilton.
“[Mark Launiu from MADE Urban Apparel] and some other people in the community and I, are hoping to create something awesome, take some things that Nipsey laid out, and implement them in Kansas City,” Hamilton said. “[People] will hear a lot of buzz soon about events that are going to be under the ‘Marathon’ title.”
“All those events will pour back into the Kansas City community,” added Launiu, co-founder of MADE, speaking to Startland Thursday from an L.A. hotel room where he and other Kansas City entrepreneurs were preparing to attend Hussle’s Celebration of Life event at the Staples Center. “We had a conversation here last night until 3 a.m., talking about how much we could accomplish if we put our resources together. We just can’t wait to get home to keep ironing out those details. We have to remember what type of man he was and he was a man of action. So for us to continue his work, we have to start acting instead of just talking about it.”
“It’s a huge thing for entrepreneurs in Kansas City just to be here,” he continued. “This is someone we looked up to.”
Hussle’s message is one that transcends geography and makes clear a need for leadership — especially in the black community, added Hamilton.
“We need leaders like Nipsey,” he said. “We need people who actually came from the street, who have that image that a lot of people would portray as a stereotype and they would fear, but who have a mouth to open up and provide knowledge — knowledge [so profound that] someone else can’t even question how they look anymore.”
“In our community, we have people that look just like Nipsey,” Hamilton continued, referencing the late gang member-turned-entrepreneur’s style. “He built the bridge to show that you can still look this way, but if you educate yourself in the proper way, you gain respect. You have to think [about] how you will be remembered and I think Nipsey understood that.”
Kansas City was among several cities across America that saw its own Nipsey Hussle memorial event arise in the wake of the rapper’s killing. Hundreds of fans joined together April 5 in front of the Champ System clothing and shoe company in Westport to release balloons, said founder Maurice “Champ” Woodard who organized the event with a partner.
“The atmosphere was real joyful,” Woodard said, noting the service also commemorated all of those affected locally by gun violence and featured musical guests, as well as local motivational speaker Ryan Harvey. “I haven’t felt energy like that in the city in a long time, and I feel like it was really something that was needed.”
Hussle’s story paves the way for the combating of gun violence through entrepreneurship, said Kansas City musician and hip hop entrepreneur Kartez Marcel, who works with partner Royce “The Sauce” Handy for the youth-oriented hip hop program We Are RAP, as well as the ensemble group NuBlvckCity.
“[Nipsey Hussle’s death] was like a bomb to the culture. I feel like it woke the whole world up because everybody felt it somehow.”
— Darion Moore, KC entrepreneur and trainer at the Do Work Factory gym.
“It was a great loss in the community and to me personally, as someone who aspired to be that type of person who’s working toward helping people believe in their abilities and creating programs for youth so that they can learn different trades,” Marcel said.
“My brother was a very similar person and he got killed in a similar way,” he continued. “He was doing great things before he passed as well, but there are other people who want to do some positive things just because of this situation. I think his legacy will continue through other artists who were motivated by his music and his heart for his community.”
Success doesn’t always look like working for big companies or even having a college degree, said Native Hemp Co. founder Rich Dunfield IV.
It’s a lesson Hussle embodied, as well as showing a person can transcend past their community and its stereotypes, he said.
“With Nipsey, we are feeding off of his energy to really change Kansas City the same way he changed his,” Dunfield said. “But we know the mission is still not done and that’s why I think he meant so much to us because we still need to do a lot more.”
“It’s a marathon — not a quick race,” Woodard added. “We’re in this for the long haul.”