Nipsey Hussle
via Nicholas Watkin / @NickWNYC

Emerging in the past few years as one of L.A.’s most prominent rappers, Nipsey Hussle has always been very business-minded. Whether it’s launching his career, those of his labelmates at All Money In, or his Marathon clothing brand and retail store, this mindset has allowed Nipsey to advance his career, as fans patiently awaited his Victory Lap album, which is almost here.

Dropping on Feb. 16, Victory Lap is set to be the Crenshaw rapper’s most ambitious album, which he created over a four-year period, after being announced in 2013 prior to the release of his acclaimed Crenshaw project. His first two singles — “Rap N*ggas” and “Last Time I Checc’d” — have both logged in over seven million views, and nearly five views on YouTube, respectively.

But beyond the simple view count, the lyrics make it clear that Nipsey’s years of grinding his way up to the top of the industry are paying off. In “Rap N*ggas”, the artist proudly proclaims that he owns the rights to his own raps, while “Last Time I Checc’d” has him professing how he has retained his wealth, where so many others in the rap game have easily squandered there’s.

Prior to the release of Victory Lap, we had the privilege of speaking to Nipsey Hussle himself about everything from his partnership with Atlantic Records, which was integral to the album’s creation, to the five-year development of the project and his many business ventures.

The following Q&A has been condensed for clarity.]

How has the album roll out been going so far?

Ah man, I feel good about it. You know, we got two of the singles out. Two videos out. We got some stuff in the pipeline that’s gonna be really dope once we announce it. So, it’s looking really good. We getting really excited about getting this project out.

As you already said, you’ve dropped a couple of singles. One of them is “Last Time I Checc’d” with YG and the other is “Rap N*ggas,” how has the reception been toward those singles?

Man, we’ve been overwhelmed. Everything has been positive. Everybody is really taking well to the records. We put them in the order we put them in for a reason. The first record was something I wanted to wake the streets up with make a statement. And then, “Last Time I Checc’d,” I think was a step up, in terms of being able to live on radio and the actual visual production on it. And, we gonna keep stepping forward. The next thing is gonna be, I believe, another step up. It’s dope man, it’s been a long time coming. I think my whole fanbase has really been waiting on an album since I started making moves. To get it out this way, through our new partnership with Atlantic, the music, I’m really confident in it. I feel like it’s the best music I’ve made. I’ve been playing it for key people — who’s ear I respect — and everyone’s been blown away by the music.

You like to surround yourself with intelligent and experienced people in the industry. How vital were they to the Atlantic deal

Definitely. Just get counsel from them. Get counsel and get opinions on their point of view on what my vision and my plan is. I kinda just run it by people who have just been successful in the category I’m trying to succeed in. That definitely had a lot to do with me partnering up with Atlantic to get the terms that we landed on. I just asked lawyers, executives, artists that have really achieved on that next level. We took the info in, meditated on it and made our decision.

Are these people you’ve known throughout your entire career or are they people you’ve met along the way? 

All different actually. Certain people, we became peers and then friends just through music. Other people, I’ve been knowing before music. I’ve known them, they’re really intelligent and they got a valuable perspective. Just people who’s input and who’s opinion is of value, whether they do music, whether they on the legal side, [or] whether it’s just people that got a good consistent opinion in the barber shop. Just a collective feedback of what you’d like to see and what do you think is your opinion from the outside looking in. And then, some of those people have been really successful artists-turned-businessmen in the game. Just like a combination, like a counsel that I’ve built.

Would you say that team building is important in your career?

Most definitely, it’s not a solo act. It’s not something you can pull off on your own on the level that we wanna take it to. It’s something that takes a team. Whether you actually have paperwork and they locked into your actual moves or it’s just people you resort to for opinions. It’s definitely important, because I’m inside of the bubble of this, so sometimes you need eyes to see out. Sometimes you gotta get the outside looking in perspective. Team is one of the most important parts. Jordan ain’t do it by himself. Kobe ain’t do it by himself. Even Floyd Mayweather, it’s a one-on-one boxing match, it’s a team. The trainers, everybody behind you. It’s a team effort.

As you’ve said, Victory Lap is your best work to date. What is different about this album? What helped you put 110% into this album, which you couldn’t do before?

A lot of things. Before I was dropping projects every nine months to a year for a lot of reasons. Touring was a big part of it, keeping the touring consistent. To be able to tour, you gotta drop. You gotta have music out every year. There’s nothing wrong with it, I feel like we have classic mixtapes that really made an impact. But to really dig in and make the priorities, making the best piece of music that you can make and putting everything else second to where if we don’t go on tour this year, it’s cool, stay in the studio. The main priority is to take the music to the next level. Being able to really pay producers at the rate they wanna be paid at, so they can stop what they’re doing and focus. Easy rates are different from making up rates. Being able to use samples that we can clear. We got a partner now, a major label partner that can really work on clearing samples for us, getting big features in. A lot of times certain levels of artists [for features], they’re a fan of the music, but they’re like, “Imma wait until the album” to do the feature. [Big name feature artists] gotta keep their delivery consistent, so you might have a lot of support, but a lot of them are gonna be waiting for your album to show up and do records with you. Even outside the rap features, we got some dope songwriters and R&B artists that feature on the project as well that give added value. Again, I never spent this much time on music, on one project. I never made this many songs in the creation process to narrow it down to 16 records. We probably made 200 songs. It was really high standard and a lot of pressure put on, even for one of those slots. Obviously I’ve been in the game making music and I learned a lot from projects I released, so I was able to channel all of my collective experience into one album.

The label is really supportive, they’re letting me just be an artist for like two and a half, three years. Everybody was real eager to get the record, but this project is so important for a lot of reasons. We’re not going to go until I’m 100 percent confident in every line, not just every song. Everything I said, you can mute the beat and understand all these words because it’s that sincere and means that much to me. I really micromanaged the production, from the foundation of the chorus all the way up to the mix and master.

You said Victory Lap was five years in the making. What inspired you to make the album back in 2013?

The main thing I’ve been branding is the idea of “The Marathon.” I built a clothing store, a clothing brand. I want to close that chapter for the album. When I got out of Epic in 2009… back then there was a lot of expectations for the album. I had to remind myself that it’s a marathon. It’s about the overall vision of the artist. At the end of the day, I want to make sure I’m confident with what I wanted to share. Delivering on the original game plan, coming out of the streets and taking my career to the highest level.

You mentioned that deal with Epic Records. How did that experience help you with you new partnership with Atlantic and how you get where you are today?

I learned a lot about the mechanics of a major label. What moves to make. The people I surround myself with. I now have a team that help me make sure we keep pushing forward, and make sure we deliver on the product.

Victory Lap is slated to drop this week, on Feb. 16. You can pre-order your copy now via Apple Music.