LOS ANGELES – One day before the release of his highly anticipated debut album, “Victory Lap,” L.A. rapper Nipsey Hussle cut the ribbon on a combination co-working space and STEM center in Los Angeles’ Crenshaw district.
The center, partly dedicated to calling attention to the lack of diversity in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields, launched under the name Vector 90. The hope is to serve as a conduit between underrepresented groups and corporate partners in Silicon Valley and beyond.
“Growing up as a kid, I was looking for somebody — not to give me anything — but somebody that cared,” the 32-year-old said. “Someone that was creating the potential for change and that had an agenda outside of their own self-interests.”
Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, decided to be that person for his native South L.A., hoping to bridge the gap between young talent from impoverished neighborhoods and opportunities in Palo Alto.
“In our culture, there’s a narrative that says, ‘Follow the athletes, follow the entertainers,’ ” he said. “And that’s cool, but there should be something that says, ‘Follow Elon Musk, follow [Mark] Zuckerberg.’ I think that with me being influential as an artist and young and coming from the inner city, it makes sense for me to be one of the people that’s waving that flag.”
The inner city Hussle grew up in was the South Los Angeles of the ‘90s, a place where gang culture dominated. Yet he managed to develop a love of music and technology. A deep interest in the latter led him to seek out computer auctions, and he eventually learned to build a PC from top to bottom.
Ultimately, his goal was to combine his music interests with his tech sensibilities — partly because of financial constraints. “I had to learn how to use software early because I wanted to record myself,” he said. “I didn’t have a budget to pay engineers, so I had to learn how to use software myself. Just growing up, being an ’80s baby that grew up in the ’90s, technology was a part of culture, so I was always interested in it.”
This fueled a strong entrepreneurial spirit, leading to a fashion brand, the Marathon Clothing; a top-10 album in “Victory Lap,” featuring guest appearances from YG, Puff Daddy, Kendrick Lamar and the-Dream; and an investment syndicate that includes DJ Khaled and the Lakers’ Luol Deng. Along the way, Hussle pioneered innovative measures in marketing and self-promotion, and caught the attention of some of the biggest names in hip-hop, such as Jay-Z.
“I just want to give back in an effective way,” he said.
The idea for Vector 90 was born during a fortuitous encounter with a stranger seated beside him at a Lakers game. It turns out he was seated beside real estate developer David Gross, who floated the idea of partnering on a project. The following day Hussle and a friend drove to Gross’ office.
That led to Vector 90, a co-working environment that will offer flexible short term leases, daily passes, monthly memberships, private offices and custom build-outs for teams needing bespoke options. The STEM program, which occupies the bottom story, will be open to children’s organizations and individual families, subject to an application process.
“When he explained it to me I was, like, ‘Man, I’m 100 percent with it,’ ” Hussle said.