A Eulogy For The Man Who Shot Nipsey Hussle

We often characterize shootings, especially those in inner-city America, as senseless violence. Describing them in this manner fails to capture the gravity of the event. What is worse, it helps us abdicate our public responsibilities in such matters.

***

Let us pray

Lord Jesus it is you who wakes me up every day

And I am forever grateful for your love, this is why I pray

Eric Holder is alleged to have shot and killed Grammy-nominated rapper and entrepreneur Nipsey Hussle. He has been on my mind a lot lately because he, too, is part of the tragedy. Who is Eric Holder? Why did he shoot Nipsey? Presumably, he was well aware of all that Nipsey was doing for the community, so why did he take Nipsey’s life? What sense was in it for him?

Holder is 29 years old. He has a felony conviction and is now facing one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder, and one count of firearm possession by a felon. If convicted, he may go to prison for the rest of his life.

Those of us who are not from Holder’s city or neighborhood don’t know anything else about him. The only other thing we know is that Nipsey and Holder knew each other and had several encounters prior to the shooting. According to CNN, the shooting followed a personal dispute. But what was it about and why did it have to result in fatal violence?

At this juncture in most people’s reasoning, the killing seems senseless. Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “Our hearts are with the loved ones of Nipsey Hussle and everyone touched by this awful tragedy. LA is hurt deeply each time a young life is lost to senseless gun violence.” When we describe murder as such, we dehumanize people like Holder. Even in such wrongdoing, they deserve more than to be thought of as someone without the capability of a sensible thought or act.

***

I stand before you, a weakened version of your reflection

Beggin’ for direction, for my soul needs resurrection

I wish I could talk to Holder, to learn more about him and to try to understand him. I would ask him to tell me about that day and the shooting. I would ask him to tell me the sense he saw in killing Nipsey.

***

Lord I am not perfect by a long shot, I confess to you daily

But I work harder everyday, and I hope that you hear me

In my heart I mean well, but if you'll help me to grow

Then what I have in my heart, will begin to show

Twenty years ago, Earl Simmons (who you probably know as DMX), another Grammy-nominated rapper, released an album called …And Then There was X. In an attempt to understand Eric Holder, I have returned to that album.

And Then There Was X tells tales about robbing and killing foes in the drug game, wrapped in a blues impulse. DMX's songs, which are, in some ways, responses to extreme and concentrated structural disadvantages, point to how violence becomes normalized. The first song begins with X yelling, “This is life; this is what I know. So, to me, this is life.” Then, in the first two verses, he tells us stories about robbing a corner store and casing a liquor store, all of which involve shooting at others who are Black and poor. And then, as he often does throughout the album, in the third verse, X reflects on why he’s committing these acts of violence. The end of the third verse of his third song goes as follows:

A n— got feelings, I just put them aside

And when it’s time for me to do my job, I just ride.

I don't get much sleep (uh) my soul's tormented

I wish it was a lie but everything I said I meant it

I know I'm doing wrong and everyday I beg the Lord

To forgive me for f— with the, double-edged sword

S— ain't goin’ too well, BUT THAT'S MY LIFE

I know I'm goin’ to hell, BUT THAT'S MY LIFE

Sometimes I think what will I do, WITH MY LIFE

Kill n— kill this IS MY LIFE

The stand-out track, for me, is “Here We Go Again.” It tells the story of a hustler who contemplates killing a mentee who “keeps f—g up, big time.” I won’t ruin it for you; go listen. The message reflects the findings of Elijah Anderson, a sociologist who studied violence in the inner city. Abiding by what he calls a “code of the street,” young people living in poor inner-city neighborhoods often have few other ways of building their sense of self, so they resort to violent aggressive acts. The socio-economic context of life has made gun play the most viable way to command respect and dignity for oneself. The entire country is culpable in this because we leave them to bear the brunt and stress of unending systemic inequalities.

In the absence of being able to talk to Holder, X’s music, as well as sociological research on inner-city violence, lets me understand a bit about the sense in what often seems like senseless violence. We may never know about the personal dispute between Hussle and Holder. We do know that Holder probably felt the need to prove himself or earn the respect of someone. And he resorted to one of the few avenues available to him.

***

If what you want from me is to bring your children to you

My regret is only havin' one life to do it, instead of two

Amen

Nipsey Hussle, I pray you rest in peace. Ms. New New, I pray for you as you grieve.

Eric Ronald Holder Jr., I mourn you too and your actions. America killed you, way before you could live.


About the Author

Joseph C. Ewoodzie is a sociologist who focuses on race and ethnicity (especially blackness), culture, urban life, poverty, and social theory. He teaches sociology and Africana studies at Davidson College. He is the author of Break Beats in the Bronx: Rediscovering Hip Hop's Early Years.

Fans wearing rapper Nipsey Hussle T-shirts await his funeral procession in Los Angeles, California on April 11, 2019 (REUTERS/Patrick T. Fallon).