Nipsey Hussle is a mixtape monster with an insatiable hunger. His Marathon series set the world ablaze and positioned him for a West Coast takeover. His Crenshaw project earned him $100,000 in less than 24 hours when he sold 1000 copies of the mixtape for $100 dollars each. Although Hussle has several W's under his belt, the Los Angeles lyricist had an arduous journey to reach the release date of his first studio album. Hussle signed with Epic Records back in 2008, and stalled out on the label despite generating a healthy buzz in the industry. How could a rapper as polished and proficient as Nipsey Hussle be shelved? There's no doubt Hussle thought the same thing. In the decade since he signed his first deal, Nipsey's been building a cult following that includes several of your favorite rappers. He has been perfecting his lyrical craft and hustling his talent like a prudent boss all these years. The culmination of his years of dedication has led to this moment, Victory Lap.
From the moment the album opens, a sense of epic importance resonates from Nipsey's voice. His delivery has never been frail, but the booming bark of Nipsey's declarations feel more astounding on this project. The bold move of starting an album with the title track could hypothetically destroy the project with improperly paced timing and unorganized conceptual planning. Nipsey masterfully delivers the opposite, and sets the stage for the rest of the album effortlessly. "I'm finna take it there, this time around I'ma make it clear/Spoke some things into the universe and they appeared," admits Nipsey on the intro, proving that his self-prophetic lyrics propelled him to this moment.
Victory Lap finds a way to include the optimal amount of featured artists to help Nipsey paint pictures without making the album feel like a soundtrack full of co-signs. No doubt, enlisting Kendrick Lamar, Puff Daddy, YG and Cee-Lo Green on the album certainly does feel like a move influenced by commercial motives, but Nipsey stands his own against every feature. The collaborations feel less like a business move, and more organic. The chemistry is natural and the delivery is refined. For instance, the Kendrick Lamar-assisted "Dedication" feels like it came together instinctively, and in a way it did. In a video post for Beats1 Radio, Nipsey states, "One of my producers, by the name of Axl Folie, he just snuck the record to Kendrick." He continued on the say that," I told my whole team send the one that I thought he should be on, and they just didn't listen." When Nipsey ran into K Dot at the Tupac biopic movie premier, the two spoke about the record, and Nipsey discovered that his producer didn't send the beat he had originally intended. Instead, we were blessed with "Dedication," which is the Kendrick/Nipsey collaboration we deserve.
"Young Nigga" featuring the name-switching Puff Daddy is another collaboration that functions at a level of perfection. The instrumental eerily creeps along while the bass rattles anything not nailed down, and Nipsey strays away from a traditional chorus and elects to just go in. Puff plays the hype man, a position he shines in while he lets the more lyrically adept artist deliver. Speaking of lyrically adept rappers, the anthemic instrumental for "Last Time That I Checc'd" featuring YG drips in G-funk goodness. YG cleverly takes the last verse, assuring himself the position to murder the song and bury it afterward.
Nipsey shines on his own as well, reminding listeners that this is his victory lap, and that the featured artists are there to simply assist him in narrating his story. The hard-knocking "Hussle & Motivate" employs the same Annie sample the Jay-Z used on "Hard Knock Life," and finds Nipsey cockily sauntering over the banger. "Choppers a throwaway, hustle the Hova way/ That's why they follow me, huh? They think I know the way," opines Hussle while exuberantly comparing his hustle to Jay's.
"Blue Laces 2" is a sequel that sounds like Sunday afternoon in music form. The smooth record is more than just a gorgeous musical composition, it has an epic story behind it as well. While speaking with NPR, Hussle told the story that inspired the creation of the sequel track.
"Lebron James, when he won that first championship, they got footage of him on YouTube in the locker room before the game started and he was playing a song in his headphones. When he took his headphones off, I got the song blast through the headphones and it was “Blue Laces” off the original Marathon. I was real flattered. So I’m like, I wanna make a “Blue Laces 2” on Victory Lap," recalls Hussle.
Nipsey's long-awaited studio album toes the line between classic and contemporary hip-hop. It captures the emotion of now, this victorious moment for Hussle, while still pushing for the permanence of a hip-hop classic. It's hard to tell whether Victory Lap offers a transient infectious feeling or life-long addiction, but this album should age well. The production is masterful, the features are well-placed, and Nipsey raps like he just won a marathon. The race for the victory paid off.