The word “classic” gets thrown around a lot these days. Big K.R.I.T. had an entire interlude dedicated to the frequency that hip-hop heads toss it out there. If something sounds different than what’s popular, it gets called a classic. If it elicits strong emotions from the jump, some people’ll call it a classic. I’ve been guilty of it at times after immersing myself in an album, only to ultimately change my tune. Look at my initial review of The Weeknd’s latest album, for instance. If you asked me to discuss After Hours today, I’d say “it’s cool, but it doesn’t exactly meet its lofty goals.”
With that in mind, Nipsey Hussle’s 2018 album Victory Lap album is an undeniable classic, from top to bottom. There’s no debate to be had, from my standpoint.
As I mentioned in my eulogy to the rap legend last year, I wasn’t Nip’s number-one fan. I didn’t always agree with him. That doesn’t exactly matter here. I know good music when I hear it. Victory Lap is, if absolutely nothing else, a collection of amazing music. However, it is more than just a collection of amazing music.
Each track on Victory Lap is carefully crafted, from the “Hard Knock Life”-sampling “Hussle and Motivate” to the trunk-rattling West Coaster “Last Time That I Checc’d” featuring YG–and its accompanying video (above). The album starts big and ambitious, ready to both give new listeners a reason to pay attention and old listeners a tentpole of excellence to hang their hats on. As the album progresses, listeners get a brilliant mix of introspection and Blackness. We get to, for sixty-five-and-a-half minutes, let this man’s teachings, knowledge and concern give us musical shelter but also protect us against the perpetrators and the willfully ignorant. It’s not often that someone’s last album brings in new fans, but Victory Lap did just that.
For me, hearing Victory Lap was something I had to do when it dropped. I’d kept up on Hussle’s career to that point and wanted to see why Twitter had gone bonkers over it. I owed it to myself as a purveyor of dope music but also as a fellow Black man. So almost two-and-a-half years later, for the first time since his death, I revisited the album.
In a few words, it holds up even better in 2020 than it did in 2018. That could be because the world has gone to hell in a handbasket in some ways and we want/need something tangible to grab onto, hope-wise. It could also be that Nipsey just gave us a timeless project in Victory Lap. I think it’s a combination of both of these. Nipsey had wise-beyond-his-years lyricism and subjects in Victory Lap and his untimely death made people realize that he was right about building up our own communities and personal wealth (financially and otherwise), embracing our Blackness, but never losing our faith.
Nipsey Hussle was a lyrical man, but he didn’t beat us in the face with his skill–nor his theories and teachings. He was conscious and spoke on elevation (including opening his shop). However, he never became overbearing on Victory Lap. That’s refreshing from where I’m standing, since many “conscious” rappers become preachy and meandering as their projects go on. He embraced his past, but also aspired for his future and the future of his children, family and friends. In short, he was complete and completed on this project. It’s an fitting end to his musical story. The album is a beautiful bookend to who the man, the father and the musician was in life. He finally achieved what he set out to back when he first came up. The marathon he ran for all those years hit a pinnacle on his victory lap.
Don’t misconstrue my words: it’s unfortunate that Nipsey Hussle was murdered. It’s a terrible thing, as I said throughout my “Rest Easy, Nipsey” piece after his death. That said, to conclude a career (even if forced to due to unforeseen circumstances) on your best project is something that’s rare. It’s something that should be applauded and lauded. He didn’t waste a single breath on the project.
His words have impacted–and will continue to impact–many artists, fans and non-musical people. If you’ve yet to experience Victory Lap, you owe it to yourself to do so. It’s a classic in every sense of the word, from production to lyrics to topics. And it’s not just a classic for the 2010s.
For me, it’s timeless as the marathon continues.