“Gentrify your own hood before these people do it.
Claim eminent domain and have your people move in.
That's a small glimpse into what Nipsey was doing.
For anybody still confused as to what he was doing.”
–Jay-Z’s tribute to Nipsey Hussle
Shawn Corey Carter, better known as Jay-Z, recently freestyled on gentrification as a tribute to the late and great Nipsey Hussle. Hussle’s passing in March shook up more than just the hip hop community – it rocked Los Angeles and the hearts of fans all over the world. Jay-Z’s tribute sparked conversations on identity politics around gentrification. Who can and cannot gentrify a hood?
For context, Nipsey Hussle bought a lot of property in his local neighborhood on Slauson in Los Angeles. Nipsey’s legacy includes flipping properties to generate jobs and revenue for folks in his community. He wanted to redistribute wealth in his community through a number of ways, and access to real estate allowed him to do so.
“Closin' escrow twice this month, both commercial units.”
As Patrick Sisson wrote in 2017, “Hip hop is often about place… it is place – often poorly designed, underfunded, and cut off from the rest of the city through bad urban planning and structural racism – that birthed the genre.” From its early history in the Bronx to today, hip hop has celebrated a sense of place, space, and street credibility, “dropping the names of street corners, city neighborhoods, even specific buildings and housing projects to connect listeners with the urban environment.”
The architecture of different communities perpetuates injustices, as pointed out by design justice architect Bryan C. Lee, Jr. Policies around housing in the early days of housing policy work were used to disproportionately keep individuals from specific racial and socioeconomic groups out of certain neighborhoods. This is called redlining, and although outlawed, redlining still impacts the property values of neighborhoods in our society. By providing access to homeownership for more individuals, we at Landed hope to play a part in shifting this longtime status quo.
As we continue to see waves of gentrification in city neighborhoods, entire communities of folks are being pushed out of their homes. This cycle continues to perpetuate itself, and individuals like Nipsey Hussle are leading by example when it comes to preserving their communities through the use of land. In my work, I have spoken with many people who want to use access to homeownership as a way to shift the stories of generations past.
“Culture is the consequence of persistent circumstances and immediate conditions, and for people of color in America, there is power for people in places and spaces where our culture is recognized. Where our stories are told. Where our language is valued. That is not only good design, that is justice.”
–Bryan C. Lee, Jr.
Ultimately, identities are complex. As a fan of hip hop who grew up in a lower socioeconomic status neighborhood, I know my brother and I have made intentional choices about what it looks like to continue to stay in our community and uphold our culture – whether living at our home in South Hayward, worshipping in West Oakland, or bringing business to the local shops around us. It's important to find connectedness and put down roots to bring more balance into this not-so-balanced world we live in.
Artwork credit: 'The Marathon Continues' by Nikkolas Smith.