Meek Mill opened the tribute by rapping directly to Nipsey, accompanied only by piano. He was quickly joined by Roddy Ricch, currently the bestselling artist in the country, for a performance of “Letter to Nipsey,” before the appearance of DJ Khaled and John Legend for a rendition of “Higher,” a song from Khaled’s latest album, which featured Hussle and Legend. The performance also included Kirk Franklin and a full choir.
The closing verse of the tribute was delivered by YG, a Los Angeles contemporary and close friend to Nipsey Hussle. YG’s participation in the tribute was thrown into doubt Friday after he was arrested on robbery charges just two days before the Grammy ceremony.
Hussle is up for three posthumous awards: Best Rap/Sung Performance for DJ Khaled’s “Higher,” which also features Legend, plus Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song for “Racks in the Middle,” featuring Roddy Ricch and Hit-Boy; the latter track was one of the last songs Hussle released prior to his death, with the single arriving the day after the 2019 Grammys.
In a statement, the Grammys’ executive producer, Ken Ehrlich, said of the Hussle tribute: “An activist, entrepreneur, and rapper, Nipsey Hussle had a lasting impact on not just his community, but also the culture at large. There is no denying the influence he had, and his legacy will be felt for generations to come. We are honored to bring together this amazing group of artists to celebrate Nipsey’s life and pay tribute to his many contributions to music. It’s sure to be a memorable performance.”
Hussle’s manager Steve “Steve-O” Carless said of the posthumous success of “Racks in the Middle”: “I was really shocked by that one because we had no idea that song would get recognized. [Nipsey] was so adamant about putting that song out right after the Grammys last year. The label was concerned that we didn’t have enough time and runway to set it up. [Nipsey] was adamant about bypassing all the traditional [methods], upload protocols with the streaming partners, and [was] all about calling everyone directly because he felt like that record was a moment for his career … and now it’s nominated for two awards at the Grammys. Emotional and gratifying.”