LOS ANGELES — Mourners from as far away as Maryland and Minnesota are in Los Angeles for Thursday’s funeral services of rapper and businessman Nipsey Hussle, who they say was a major influence in their lives.
The services began around 11 a.m. local time. Los Angeles’ DJ Battlecat opened, spinning tracks from Nipsey’s latest album “Victory Lap,” with a live band performing backup, before Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” played over the speakers. Fans chanted the rapper’s name, held aloft their cell phones like lighters and waved Eritrean flags, honoring his ancestry.
Eritrea-born restaurant owner and activist Wintana Nelekin traveled from Minnesota to honor Nipsey, whom she met once after organizing a speech for young people in Minneapolis. She said he taught her that her opportunities were layered and boundless.
“He showed me a vision of how to be a community organizer, how to be an entrepreneur, how to be a community leader, and you don’t get a lot of that today,” she said. “Nipsey meant the world to me. I don’t even know how to describe this loss. … Nipsey really showed me that I could be anything I wanted to be.”
Latrell Parker, a barber and photographer from Fredericksburg, Virginia, also traveled across the country to honor the rapper. Wearing a shirt bearing the musician’s image with the caption “The Marathon Continues” — a nod to Nipsey’s 2011 mixtape — he told CNN that as an entrepreneur himself, he always admired how Nipsey taught others to pursue their goals.
“Take it as big as you want to make it, as far as you want to go. That’s what Nipsey said,” Parker told CNN. “I’m all for getting out there creating your own opportunities, creating opportunities for your people. That’s what Nipsey was about. It’s just beautiful.”
Added Breanna Henderson, who was attending the vigil with friends: “We’re sad to see him go, but we’re happy that he left a legacy for us to continue.”
Tickets for Thursday’s “Celebration of Life” were made available free of charge to California residents earlier this week. They were gone in 30 minutes. The Staples Center, home to the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, accommodates about 21,000 people.
The venue was last used for a memorial service for Michael Jackson in July 2009.
Singers Anthony Hamilton, Marsha Ambrosius and Jhene Aiko, who delayed the release of new music this month to reflect on Nipsey’s death, performed music in his honor.
Aiko performed “Eternal Sunshine,” whose lyrics begin, “Is is strange for me to say that / If I were to die today / There’s not a thing I would change / I’ve lived well / Maybe I have made mistakes and been through my fair share of pain / But all in all, it’s been OK, I’ve lived well.”
Rapper Snoop Dogg, who grew up in nearby Long Beach, was also expected to pay tribute.
Karen Civil, Nipsey’s longtime friend and marketing strategist, read a letter from President Barack Obama, whose daughters introduced him to Nipsey’s music. The president thanked the rapper for lifting up his South Central Los Angeles community.
“He set an example for young people to follow and is a legacy worthy to follow,” Civil said, reading Obama’s words.
Calling Nipsey a “prophetic soul,” Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan said the artist, born Ermias Asghedom, meant to hip-hop what Bob Marley meant to reggae. Farrakhan also applauded him for his efforts to forge ties between the Crips street gang, to which Nipsey belonged, and the rival Bloods.
“He lived the gang life, but he didn’t stay there,” Farrakhan said. “Sometimes when you can fly above the circumstances of your life, it produce envy and enmity and jealousy among those who have not learned how to fly, but Ermias was more than a hip-hop artist. He was a voice and brilliant mind, and the spirit of God was in his life.”
Organizers have announced a procession following the service that will run 20 to 25 miles through the streets of Los Angeles and encompass places that were important to the rapper.
Bigger than music
The Eritrean-American rhymesmith was beloved not only for his Grammy-nominated music — he dropped a dozen or more mixtapes before releasing his studio debut, “Victory Lap,” to acclaim last year — but also for his activism and entrepreneurship dedicated to uplifting his community.
Those who knew him say he cherished the Crenshaw District where he grew up. The 33-year-old owned businesses there, invested in the community, paid for funerals and kids’ shoes and counted several Los Angeles rappers among his influences and collaborators.
Though he was a member of the Rollin 60s Neighborhood Crips, he reached out to police leaders before he died to discuss ways to curb gang violence and help youngsters. He also made music with Bloods-affiliated rappers such as The Game and YG, who counted him as a friend. YG was a pallbearer at Thursday’s service.
“Our brother never left the ‘hood,” Farrahan said during Thursday’s service before referencing the rival gangs’ colors. “As he loved the red, he loved the blue. … He walked among the blue with a heart for the red and all the colors in between because his life was for the unity of the red and the blue, the unity of the ‘hood. So when we celebrate Nipsey, we must celebrate unity.”
Nipsey was gunned down March 31 in Los Angeles near the clothing store he owned at Slauson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard. Eric Holder, a man Nipsey knew, repeatedly approached the rapper that Sunday afternoon before returning with a handgun that he “purposely and repeatedly fired” at the rapper, killing him and injuring two others, Los Angeles police Chief Michel Moore said.
Holder has pleaded not guilty to one charge of murder and two counts of attempted murder. The 29-year-old was also charged at his arraignment with possession of a firearm by a felon.
Community works to keep his legacy alive
Los Angeles City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson announced Tuesday that the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and West Slauson Avenue, which hosts The Marathon Clothing store, where Nipsey was shot, will be named Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom Square in honor of the artist.
US Rep. Karen Bass also honored the rapper, making Nipsey’s contributions to the community part of the Congressional Record this week.
The rapper’s family has been left to mourn him, including his girlfriend of more than five years, Lauren London, with whom he shared a son. Hussle also had a daughter from a prior relationship.
“I’m going to keep my head high and always represent for my king to the fullest,” London told the Los Angeles Times. “He loved his kids. He was a family man. His family came first.”