After over a decade in the game, Slauson boy Nipsey Hussle has dropped his debut album, Victory Lap, to rave reviews.

In this exclusive interview with EBONY, the Cali-bred MC talks musical progression, finding a true comrade in Compton’s YG and Diddy stamping his debut a classic.

Can you break down the irony of titling your debut album Victory Lap?

It really speaks to the marathon it took to get my debut album from my own label and a major, as a joint venture, finally out there. I always had a real specific business objective about how I wanted to go about putting my album out, and I knew that once you lock in at a label you’re kind of stuck in those arrangements. I wanted to be able to go in as my own company. That took a lot of work outside of the album, including a lot of mixtapes and a lot of touring.

At this point in my career, with this being my first album, the title speaks to me accomplishing what I planned on doing and how I wanted to establish the business. When we secured the venture with Atlantic through All Money In and got the music to a point where we could release it on a mainstream level, that in itself represented a win. That alone is a victory.

Although this is your official debut, you have fans who have been following you since 2005’s Slauson Boy. What can your “loyal tribe” expect from the new album?

Everything’s elevated. I knew this body of work would be the album, so the standards were higher for everything–from production to the transitions to challenging myself lyrically, sequencing, the mixing process, everything.

#VictoryLap The Album OUT NOW!! Link n Bio 🏁

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We were very intentional in trying to take things to a new level, and I feel like we executed.

Before you drop any body of work, are you ever worried it won’t get the reaction you’re looking for?

No, I’m more so worried about my own intentions and what I put into it. If there’s any worry, it would be that I didn’t focus or put enough energy into it.

There are times when life gets the best of you and you can’t put all your energy into your art; those are the times we need to fall back. Thank God, we have other businesses and other forms of getting money, so we don’t have to rely solely on the music to eat. Because of that, we were able to really take our time and work on it as a piece of art, and toput a lot of focus into it. That’s where my mind was; not too much on the reaction.

Victory Lap has a good amount of features from rap icons as well as some of your peers. Was it a conscious decision made in the planning process to include so many collaborations?

Honestly, I was going to do the album with no rap features at all, but Victory Lap ended up with three besides myself. YG did a verse, Kendrick [Lamar] did a verse and Dom [Kennedy] did a verse. The other features are singers and songwriters, background vocals, and in Puff’s case, ad libs.

I wanted to accent the narrative with other textures, but I didn’t want to lean on too many other people writing verses.

Your single “Last Time That I Checc’d” features YG, a frequent collaborator of yours over the years. Can you speak to your friendship a bit and the chemistry you two have in the studio?

Me and YG, we solid. That’s my homeboy. I was at 1500 studio around the time “Toot It and Boot It” began circulating, but before it was a hit and he was recording. He asked me to get on a track, and I went right in the booth and knocked it out. Since that day, I always respected how he moved, I always respected how he represented and I knew he was somebody on the west I wanted to link with. I feel like we have great chemistry musically, and he thinks the same way I think when it comes to principles and morals, you feel me? We cut from the same type of cloth, so it’s easy to get in the studio and vibe with bro.

In the tradition of what we’ve done, I think of him when I hear certain songs. When I heard “Last Time That I Checc’d,” it sounded like the next step in our collaborative efforts.

You have Kendrick Lamar, another Compton spitter, on the album. How did the “Dedication” record come about?

It was a long work in progress to be honest, but overall, I knew the hook was important. [There were]  two verses  I originally wrote for it, and I took them off. Then I wrote what became the first verse and sat on it for a while. My producer Larrance [Dopson] was like, “Nip, you not dropping this album without this song on it.” We revisited it, I did my second verse and my producer sent it to Kendrick without me knowing. He killed the verse and sent it back. When I heard Kendrick on it, I was like, “Damn. This sound like something special now.”

It went through a production upgrade after that, but I knew it was a special record since I heard the hook and I was really impressed by Kendrick’s contribution. It’s one of my favorite messages on the album.

You mentioned Diddy earlier and how he contributed to the album. Did he give you any great advice or share any wisdom with you while working on the project?

Yeah, we had tons of convos. He told me, “You know, Nip, not everybody has a classic album. There’s artists that are so successful and been in the game for years who don’t have a classic album. This is a classic! You can take this to another level if you really want to push your boundaries creatively.” I said, “Sh*, let’s do it!”

How do you define a hip-hop classic?

I just think it’s something that’s timeless, something that’s not a part of any trend.  It would belong to hip-hop because of who created it, but it represents a timeless piece of music that doesn’t have an expiration date.  The word “classic” implies in the tradition of greatness from the past. You can listen to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill still. You can listen to Reasonable Doubt, Doggystyle and Illmatic still.

Purchase and stream Victory Lap here!