LOS ANGELES — Nipsey Hussle’s public memorial service kicked off with songs from his latest Grammy-nominated album, “Victory Lap,” as family, friends and 21,000 others filled the Staples Center to honor the rap star’s life and legacy.
“Everybody put your hands in the air,” the DJ said as one of Hussle’s songs played. “It’s a celebration.”
Indeed, his mother, dressed in all white, danced in the aisle in tribute to her son as R&B singer Marsha Ambrosius sang the Mariah Carey song “Fly Like a Bird” while fighting back tears. “This is for Nipsey, y’all” Ambrosius said before she started as she tried to gain her composure, sighing heavily.
A montage of photos featuring the rapper from infancy, childhood and adulthood, with fellow rappers, his family and fiance actress Lauren London, were shown to the crowd, set to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” Anthony Hamilton invoked the spirit of a church service as he performed in Hussle’s honor. Nation of Islam leader hailed Hussle’s ability to bring different factions together.
And blogger and media figure Karen Civil read a letter sent by former U.S. President Barack Obama.
“I’ve never met Nipsey, but I’ve heard his music through my daughters, and after his passing I had the chance to learn more about his transformation and his community work. While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and only see gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope. He saw a community that even through its flaws taught him to always keep going. He choice to invest in that community rather than to ignore it,” the Obama letter read. “He set an example for young people to follow and is a legacy worth of celebration. I hope his memory inspires more good work in Crenshaw and communities like it. Michelle and I send our sympathies to Lauren, Emani, Kross and his while family and to all those who love Nipsey.”
Hussle was slain last month in front of a store that he tried to use to empower his South Central neighborhood. Most who filed in for the public memorial at arena Thursday were young adults, but ages ranged from small children to the elderly.
“We’re not just here to get off work, we’re not just here to take selfies outside Staples, we can do that anytime,” said Wutup Levy, 27, of Long Beach, California. “We’re here for a great man. We’re all here for big Nip. It wasn’t his time.”
Daren B. Harris waited outside the arena before the doors opened with his grandmother and other family members, who wore black T-shirts with Hussle’s face on them. Harris said he grew up listening to the rapper’s music and followed his journey to improve his community.
“This is a once in a lifetime thing,” said Harris, 23, who lives in South Los Angeles. “Everything that happened is so impromptu. We are all taking it in all at once. He was a treasure.”
Harris’ grandmother, Reba Johnson, said she couldn’t miss the occasion to celebrate Hussle’s life.
“He was bigger than his music” she said.
Books with an image of Hussle on the cover were handed out to service attendees. The book of nearly 100 pages contained numerous photos of Hussle with his fiancée Lauren London, his children, and friends like Russell Westbrook and Snoop Dogg. It also had heartfelt messages from Rick Ross, The Game and LeBron James.
“I’ve never cried myself to sleep over any public figure before, but Nipsey’s presence meant so much for our community,” actress Issa Rae said in her message inside the book.
The memorial was being livestreamed on BET and BET News’ Facebook page, among other outlets.
The hearse carrying Hussle’s coffin was scheduled to after the funeral to go on a 25-mile lap through the city, including past the property where Hussle had planned to turn an aging strip mall into new businesses and affordable homes. Finally, it will arrive at a funeral home in the city’s hard-scrabble Crenshaw district, where the rapper was born on Aug. 15, 1985.
Hussle was shot to death March 31 while standing outside The Marathon, his South Los Angeles clothing store, not far from where the rapper grew up. The store will be one of the places where Hussle’s casket passes during the procession through South Los Angeles.
Eric R. Holder Jr., who has been charged with killing Hussle, has pleaded not guilty. Police have said Holder and Hussle had several interactions the day of the shooting and have described it as being the result of a personal dispute.
The 33-year-old Grammy-nominated rapper, whose real name was Ermias Asghedom, was an Eritrean-American father of two. He was a beloved figure for his philanthropic work that went well beyond the usual celebrity “giving back” ethos. Following his death, political and community leaders were as quick and effusive in their praise as his fellow hip-hop artists.
Hussle recently purchased the strip mall where The Marathon is located and planned to redevelop it, part of Hussle’s broader ambitions to remake the neighborhood where he grew up and attempt to break the cycle of gang life that lured him in when he was younger.
For a decade, Hussle released much sought-after mixtapes that he sold out of the trunk of his car, helping him create a buzz and gain respect from rap purists and his peers. His said his stage name, a play on the 1960s and ’70s rhyming standup comic Nipsey Russell, was given to him as a teen by an older friend because he was such a go-getter — always hustling.
He charged $100 for his 2013 mixtape “Crenshaw,” scoring a cash and publicity coup when Jay-Z bought 100 copies for $10,000.
Last year he hit new heights with “Victory Lap,” his critically acclaimed major-label debut album on Atlantic Records that made several critics’ best-of lists. The album debuted at No. 4 on Billboard’s 200 albums charts and features collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and CeeLo Green.
It earned him a Grammy nomination, though he lost out to Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy.”
Hussle was also a wildly popular figure among professional athletes, especially those based in LA, where he was a regular on the sidelines. Players admired him for his community building.