Los Angeles (tca/dpa) – The last time Nipsey Hussle was at Staples Center, he was headlining the BET Experience concert in June. On Thursday, the slain rapper’s image – bathed in shades of blue – was projected on a screen outside the venue as thousands of fans arrived to celebrate his life.
Lights inside were dimmed as tracks from Hussle’s Grammy-nominated album “Victory Lap” played. Fans – some dressed in blue and others wearing shirts from Hussle’s clothing brand with “Crenshaw” scribbled on the front – slowly filled the cavernous space.
Hundreds of roses surrounded Hussle’s casket. The service, which was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., was delayed for nearly an hour as some 21,000 fans waited to get into the venue to honor the man, born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, who was gunned down in broad daylight outside his clothing store on Slauson Avenue on March 31.
When the memorial began shortly before 11 a.m., an image of Hussle projected on a screen at the center of the stage faded to black and a DJ asked the crowd to “make some noise for Nipsey.” Guests jumped to their feet and erupted in screams. Music blared from speakers and a full band with a guitar and drums rocked out as a sea of people pulsed with the music. The glare of cellphone screens illuminated the crowd.
The solemn tone had quickly transformed into a concert vibe as the crowd shouted the slain rapper’s name.
“Nipsey! Nipsey! Nipsey!”
Hussle, a 33-year-old recording artist, channeled lessons from his early years and his time spent as a Rollin’ 60s gang member into music that sent a powerful message. He was beloved among South L.A. residents for devoting his energy and resources to helping those in his community.
“He is the prophetic voice of all in that community,” Minister Louis Farrakhan, the Nation of Islam leader, said to the crowd. “He lived the gang life, but he didn’t stay there. He lived the life of the ‘hood, but he rose above the pull of gravity. Ermias was more than a hip-hop artist: He was a voice; he was a brilliant mind, and the spirit of God was in his life.
“His body is dead, but the mind of Ermias Asghedom and the spirit of Nipsey is alive,” he said.
The crowd erupted in cheers as publicist Karen Civil read a letter from former President Barack Obama to Hussle’s family. Obama wrote that he had never met Hussle, but that his daughters had introduced him to the artist’s music.
In an area of Los Angeles that Obama said many people equate as being synonymous with violence, Hussle instead saw as a place with potential.
“He saw hope,” Obama wrote.
Kameron Carter, the son of Hussle’s girlfriend, Lauren London, and rapper Lil Wayne, wore a cobalt blue suit and matching tie as he took the stage. His mother, dressed in all white, and Hussle’s other children looked on as the boy spoke.
“On the night of April 2, I had a dream. I was in paradise, and I was playing in the ocean water when Ermias popped up right behind me. He said, ‘What up, Killa?’ I turned around and yelled his name and gave him a hug,” Kameron, 9, said. “I realized Ermias told me what heaven was like; he told me it was paradise.”
As they stood on stage, Hussle’s 2-year-old son, Kross Asghedom, grabbed the microphone, put it to his mouth and grinned.
Later, when it was London’s turn to speak, she told the crowd that Hussle had a “majestic soul” and described him as someone who showered her with unconditional love and joy. His passion and thirst for knowledge constantly impressed her, she said.
“My pain is for my 2-year-old, who probably won’t remember how much his dad loved him,” she said. “This is something I don’t really understand, but Ermias always used to say, ‘You can’t possess people, you can only experience them.’ ”
Hussle and London met through a mutual friend in 2013. Three years later, they celebrated the birth of their son and committed to working as a team to maintain a loving home where their family could thrive. Hussle has a 7-year-old daughter, Emani Asghedom, from a previous relationship.
At the end of her speech, London asked everyone in the audience from Los Angeles to stand. The crowd erupted as attendees got to their feet.
“This pain is really ours. We lost an incredible soul; we lost someone very rare to us and we lost a real one,” she said. “We won’t ever be the same.”
Grammy Award-winning R&B recording artist Anthony Hamilton and singers Marsha Ambrosius and Jhene Aiko performed in Hussle’s honor during the memorial. Rapper Snoop Dogg spoke during the service, which was livestreamed for fans across the globe. Usher, Puff Daddy, Meek Mill, Pusha T, Big Sean and 2 Chainz were also in attendance.
For years Hussle’s music brought people together, and fans said his memorial accomplished the same goal, having brought admirers from across Southern California _ and even other states _ to celebrate his legacy and vision for a future Los Angeles.
The only other time the 21,000-seat Staples Center was used to memorialize an entertainer was in 2009, when Michael Jackson died.
Maurice Lopez, who first met Hussle years ago, donned a white T-shirt emblazoned with the profile of the rapper wearing a crown of thorns.
“He meant a lot, though, man. This hurt a lot of people,” Lopez said as he stood outside Staples Center. “I just came all the way from Vegas to show my respect and, you know, give some love to his family.”
Lopez said Hussle’s death “was like Tupac (Shakur) all over again,” referring to the rap artist shot to death in Las Vegas in 1996.
Amanda Stephens, 25, was running on adrenaline and no sleep when she rushed through the Seventh Street Metro center in downtown Los Angeles just after 8 a.m., switching trains amid the morning commuters.
“I couldn’t miss Nip,” she said as she took her seat on a Blue Line train for the short ride to Staples Center. Stephens, who was still wearing her security guard uniform, had finished an overnight shift in North Hollywood an hour before and was headed directly to the memorial. Stephens said that it had been “a rough week.”
“I really had to take his videos and stuff in increments,” she continued, explaining that sometimes she would feel overloaded. “I thought, ‘OK, I’ve done too much Nip for today. I need to tune out.'”
But the Watts native said that she was done crying and instead would spend the day celebrating Hussle’s life and legacy.
Before the event, Hussle’s family asked those in attendance to act respectfully, as they don’t want a repeat of the violence at last week’s vigil, where reports of a gunman prompted a stampede that injured 19 people.
In a statement printed in the paper program handed out to attendees, Hussle’s family thanked everyone for their support and kindness.
“Your genuine display of devotion and love for our son, grandson, significant life partner, father, brother, cousin and friend have helped us though these very difficult days and will always be cherished and remembered,” the statement read.
Interest in the memorial was significant, and free tickets for the service were exhausted within minutes earlier this week. People tried to scalp them online, and eBay shut down one seller’s attempt to make $400 off four tickets.
There was plenty of opportunity for those who didn’t get tickets, though, as a 25.5-mile funeral procession began winding from downtown Los Angeles through Inglewood, South L.A. and Watts immediately after the memorial service ended at 2 p.m. Roads along the route were closed to accommodate the vehicles and motorists are asked to avoid the area.
In the days since Hussle was killed outside his clothing store more than a week ago, the lot has become a symbol of his vision for a South L.A. community that sees hope in unity. The lot at Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue – adorned with hundreds of candles, balloons and gifts – remained a draw for mourners on Thursday.