It’s a long drive from South Los Angeles to Pittsburgh. And it’s a cold drive.
Fortunately, hiphop artist Nipsey Hussle is up for the trip which is bringing him to The Altar Bar in the Strip District for an all-ages show tonight.
“Seems like we got perfect timing,” Mr. Hussle laughed during a cellphone interview from his tour bus barreling through the Midwest. “The majority of the stops have been in the 0- to 10-degree margin. I checked the weather before we hit the road and I knew it was going to be cold, so I’m dressed the right way. We should be all right.”
It’s the “Crenshaw Proud 2 Pay Tour,” bringing Mr. Hussle’s positive message of a young man emerging from the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue in one of L.A.’s toughest neighborhoods. It’s a message that you might not expect to translate across middle America — but it does.
“It’s one of the things that is … I don’t want to say surprising … but refreshing,” Mr. Hussle said. “You know, like in Chicago [where he performed Friday night]. It was a sold-out venue. And other places in the Midwest where they have their own culture, distinctly, [but] you wouldn’t have known we weren’t in L.A., you know what I’m saying? People were shouting out every word.
“Everything is going good. All the venues been turned up, the energy is high every night. People been coming out, showing love, the merch is doing great. I’m enjoying myself, man. I couldn’t ask for more.”
Making his first visit to Pittsburgh, Mr. Hussle expects a similar reaction to his music tonight.
“It’s the human quality that connects, goes beyond the regional culture,” he said. “I think it’s the human quality of standing tall, being persistent, chasing your dream, having faith, believing in yourself. Those really resonate with the people and my music.
“When I first came in the game, I came from such a real place with a real situation going on — I really wasn’t conscious of a positive or a negative message. I was just reporting on reality. But as I became more successful, I started to see how powerful these words and these songs are, and I wanted to make sure that if I did have an influence, it was going to be a positive one. I ain’t no preacher. That’s not my job. I just want to motivate in a positive direction. Make people believe in themselves and the power that they have.”
The start of his path was cleared by pioneers such as Snoop and Dr. Dre. But Mr. Hussle is heading in his own direction.
“Anything great, if you want to innovate or push anything forward, you have to take risks. You can’t play it safe,” he said. “I don’t think people are inspired by that. I don’t think that people come to music for that. They come to see a little bit of a chance being taken. I like to say, ‘Scared money don’t make money,’ you know? It’s about calculated risk.
“With me, I came from Crenshaw and Slausen, and I stopped hustling, I stopped gangbanging to do music. It was all just following an instinct of mine and believing in a hunch. My thing was, I would hate to get to the end of my life and never know if I could have done it or not. I always had the passion, and I didn’t want to be the guy who didn’t find out. I’d rather fail trying. I’m not going to let fear of failure or fear of looking crazy stop me. We’re all capable of doing anything we want to do.”
One of the risks he took was charging $100 for a hard-copy CD of his album “Crenshaw,” which he’s promoting. Containing pictures and access to a concert, he proudly proclaimed it “the world’s first $100 album” as part of his “Proud to Pay” campaign.
“We sold a thousand units the first day,” he said.
He credits that success — and all his success — to the empowering message of his music and the way it has connected with fans.
“I think people really get something from the message,” he said. “People in the city who hear it and say, ‘I was gonna kill myself,’ ‘I was drop out of school, but I heard [you] and the message and it got me through my rough time.’ Because it’s not all peaches and cream, it’s not all parties and champagne. It’s struggles sometimes, and it’s fear sometimes. But I never quit and I never will, and I think people hear that and they think, ‘Well, he didn’t give up and experienced success. I’ve got to stay down during my hard time and it’ll get greater later.’”
It gets greater later tonight at The Altar Bar. The doors at 1620 Penn Ave., open at 6 and opening acts Erk tha Jerk and Mack Breezy start around 7. There’s a $25 cover.
Dan Majors: firstname.lastname@example.org.