The way that bullets cheapen life is never made clearer than when a celebrity or a loved one is murdered. Nipsey Hussle felt like both to so many of us. There is a sad juxtaposition exposed in violent murderers, and it is truly jarring. This grand, wide, and impactful human life was worth no more than the weight of lead? Not since Tupac Shakur’s murder has violence impacted so many on such an emotional level. The range of feelings elicited by Hussle’s death is astounding. From rage-fueled conspiracy theories to the disgust we feel in finding out a Black man pulled the trigger, mass trauma indeed engulfed the ‘hood on March 31st. We may take years to recover.

At the time of writing this, no conspiracy behind Nipsey’s death has been proven, though rumors on the internet abound. Some say the alleged assassin, Eric Holder, was paid to end the rapper’s life. For the sake of staying intellectually honest, we’ll deal with the facts as we know them. What we do know is that jealousy played a key part in the equation. Holder, fancying himself a rapper, was far less successful by comparison. In the pecking order of the ‘hood, being labeled a “snitch” put him squarely at the bottom of the food chain. How one behaves out of envy can be inextricably linked to the mental health of the one afflicted with said envy. Whether or not Holder was diagnosed with a clinical mental illness is not what I call into question here. It’s the collective psyche of Black men, systemically emasculated, and how we’re conditioned to assert our manhood.  

Rapper T.I., in an interview shortly following Nipsey’s death, said that some of us operate on a low vibration. Those of us who do “vibrate low” tend to project our unworthiness and inner sickness outward onto the world around us. If someone shines brightly in our presence, it triggers us the urge to bring down that light that reminds us of our own dimness. Upon hearing this, I could not help but reflect on the spiritual implications of T.I.’s words.  

If jealousy is indeed a lower vibration, it is surely one that all of us have been subject to at one time or another. To act as if this were not true is to deny the emotional reality of the human condition. We’ve all felt it, including myself. As an adolescent, envy was familiar to me. Being an unpopular teenager, being at the bottom of the male hierarchy filled my mind with violent scenarios. I remember ruminating on dark fantasies in which my fists would bring down another young man that the pecking order had placed above me. I remember wanting that oh-so-precious alpha male position – the more dominant the alpha the more tempting the action to bring him down to my level.  

Consequentially, I manifested situations to warrant my feelings of being less-than, until life matured me out of it. The question is…what if it hadn’t? What if life took away my father, left me to the streets, and diverted my attention from learning to survive? A piece of me looks at Nipsey, and especially his assassin and thinks, “There, but by the grace of God, go I.”  So much of our circumstance is out of our control, and if you should forget, murder will sharply remind you of that.  

This leads me to wonder how many African people has centuries of systemic racism left trapped in a lower vibration. Certainly, all people can manifest higher and lower vibrations. What seems to be unique about Black folks is the amplitude we bring to the “vibes” we broadcast. By this, I mean to say that when Black people manifest higher vibrations, it seems we are borderline messianic. The trope of the “Magic Negro” appears at times to be based in the reality that if Black people emit vibrations of love, joy, charisma, and hope, it can almost change the temperature of the room. It can imbue us with a soulful radiance that, when elevated to the world stage, can change the course of global events. But when our vibes are low, the destruction we are capable of seems to be borderline demonic. When our dial is set to “kill mode” there seems to be a ruthless efficiency to our ability to murder seen in young men from Chicago, to L.A., to the child soldiers in various African conflicts.  Indeed, a low-vibing brotha with nothing to lose can influence an entire community to lose hope in themselves.  

I heard an elder say that the Black man is indestructible, but self-destructible. He said that the oppressor tried everything to break him. The oppressor threw him on a slave ship, put him on a plantation, lynched him, sick dogs on him, sprayed him with water hoses, raped his woman and stole his children, and somehow, he survived. But, somewhere along the way, a deviously clever oppressor figured something out. He figured out that if you turn the raw, blunt force that the Black man used to survive and turn it against himself; you could implode the Black man from within. How many funerals have we attended that painfully validate this ender’s insight?

When we look at the miraculous resilience of Black folks, we forget that it came with a cost. A dark shadow followed the survivors of the slave trade. Yes, we made it through some of the worst treatment ever inflicted on human beings. But upon close inspection, those of us who survived could endure long bouts of grief and misery. Survival selected the Black folks who could stomach lower vibrations for longer periods of time. Those of us who could not persevere through extreme emotional distress were weeded out. Certainly, we alchemized this pain into music such as the blues, gospel, jazz, and hip-hop.

On the other hand, this kind of extended sadness, toil and strife are experienced as normality for most of us. The problem is, when you sit in feces long enough; it no longer stinks to you. It’s like living in a dirty house: you stop seeing the filth until company comes over, or the roaches and rats remind you to clean house.  

On a spiritual level, we’ve normalized an unhealthy amount of negative energy. It shows up in a variety of ways, from cancer to toxic relationships. It can also show up as violence, especially in young men.

Gangsta culture feeds on a destructive energy that festers in our community as a result of systemic white supremacy. Murderers like the one that took Nipsey Hussle are like the roaches that remind us of the stench we’ve grown to ignore. It’s time to ask ourselves some hard questions about the conditions we allow our children to inherit. Is survival of American slavery and white supremacy all that we are leaving our babies? The young men with warrior spirits are actually a God-send. Our people need brothas not afraid of a good battle. But, if we don’t find a constructive way to direct the warriors in our tribe, the community will be their targets.  

On the other hand, the oppressive forces in the world know the power of these young brothas. The Black Panthers reminded them. The Haitian rebellion terrified them. Nat Turner had them spooked.

Muhammad Ali had them awed. Malcolm X had them speechless. When Black men access the force of their higher vibration, they become something akin to messiahs. Take an inventory of how many Black men achieve legendary greatness in their chosen fields, and consider the statistically unlikely nature of it.  For such a small intersection of humanity, Black and male, it is mathematically improbable that we create so many world-changing, myth-busting, history-making humans. Aside from the aforementioned Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali, consider the greatness of Bob Marley, Nelson Mandela, Marcus Garvey, George Washington Carver, Haile Sellasi, Barack Obama, Tupac Shakur, Luther Vandross, Marvin Gaye, Prince, Patrice Lumumba, Michael Jordan, Jimmy Hendricks, Jomo Kenyata, Michael Jackson, Martin Luther King, Jr., Usain Bolt, Mansa Musa, Hannibal Barker, Ramses the Great, Moses, Frederick Douglass, Stevie Wonder, the original Buddha, and a strong argument for Jesus Christ, Himself.  

For what he gave to his community, and the path toward substantial change he was on, I’ll put Nipsey Hussle in this group. Ermias Asgedom, son of an Eritrean father and a Black American mother, embodied the Pan-African spirit of a people returning to greatness. At his funeral, Nipsey’s fiancée Lauren London gave a stoically tearful tribute to her fallen love.  She reminded us at the end of her speech, in the words of Nipsey Hussle, ‘The Marathon Continues.’ Our march to freedom is not a sprint.

If one runner falls, we pick up the baton and keep striding. Certainly Nipsey’s East African heritage programmed in him the spirit of endurance. Let his life serve as a reminder that liberation is an endurance struggle, and if God has anything to do with it (and He does) we’ll make it to the finish line of freedom.