Offering closure after nearly two weeks of impromptu tributes across the city, murdered Los Angeles rapper and entrepreneur Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom was celebrated with a three-hour memorial service at Staples Center on Thursday, featuring tributes, performances and eulogies from family and famous friends in front of a massive crowd at the 20,000-capacity venue.
The last time the Staples Center hosted a memorial service was back in 2009, in honor of Michael Jackson. Hussle — who was shot multiple times on March 31 in front of his own Marathon Clothing boutique on Slauson and Crenshaw in South LA – never gained Jackson’s level of international fame, having only recently released his first full-length album, the Grammy-nominated “Victory Lap,” after a decade’s worth of mixtapes that made up the bulk of his artistic output. But as today’s memorial movingly proved, he was a deeply beloved and influential figure in the hip-hop community and his hometown, with his philanthropy and burgeoning community outreach in South LA mentioned almost as often as music.
With the title track from “Victory Lap” playing on a continuous loop as congregants filed in, the service started on a celebratory note, the crowd rising to its feet as a DJ played Hussle tracks, with spontaneous “Nipsey” chants breaking out between songs and congregants waving Eritrean flags in honor of the rapper’s heritage. (A flag was also draped across his casket onstage.) Music during the ceremony was provided by Marsha Ambrosias, Anthony Hamilton, Jhene Aiko and, finally, Stevie Wonder, who spoke of the need to end gun violence before performing “Rocket Love” and Eric Clapton’s “Tears in Heaven.”
Snoop Dogg, the West Coast rap godfather who collaborated with Hussle several times, appeared visibly choked up as he remembered how often the MC was compared to him in his early years, and laughed when he remembered Hussle urging him to open up his own amusement park. “He had vision for me that I didn’t even have for myself,” he said.
“You are a peace advocate, Nip, and the marathon is gonna continue,” Snoop said, before concluding with a rhyme: “God so loved the world that he gave us a great Crip / The late, the great, neighborhood Nip.”
Snoop wasn’t the only one to address Hussle’s gang affiliation, with his Blood-affiliated friend and collaborator YG following Snoop on the stage and addressing their differing sets right away, calling Hussle “my brother from another color.” In the service’s most emotional speech, Hussle’s older brother Samiel “Blacc Sam” Asghedom described how the 12-year-old Ermias once built his own computer from spare parts, and then used that computer to record his first music.
“Everything he said in his music was who he was,” Asghedom said. “He had so many plans, and so many people he wanted to involve in his plans… Nip put his heart and his soul into Crenshaw and Slauson, bro stayed and he died on Crenshaw and Slauson.”
Hussle’s longtime partner, actress Lauren London, read aloud from a long, touching text message she had sent him in January, giving glimpses of Hussle as a loving, audiobook-obsessed boyfriend (Hussle’s voracious reading habits were a frequent topic throughout the service), and finally exhorting the crowd: “L.A., stand up — this pain is really ours. We lost a real one.”
Earlier on, the Nation of Islam’s Minister Louis Farrakhan called Hussle “a prophetic soul,” and alluded to his murder by noting, “when you can fly above the circumstances of your life, it provokes envy, enmity and jealousy among those who have not yet learned how to fly.”
Hussle’s business partner Karen Civil drew gasps and cheers when she walked onstage and announced she was about to read a letter “from the 44th President of the United States.” In his letter, Barack Obama wrote: “While most folks look at Crenshaw and see only gangs and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope. His choice to invest in that community rather than ignore it, to build a skills training center and a coworking space in Crenshaw, to lift up the Eritrean-American community, to set an example for young people to follow, is a legacy worthy of celebration.”
Outside the Staples Center after the ceremony, Figueroa Blvd. was nearly impassable, as a sea of cars crawled by blasting Hussle’s music, while crowds of mourners and fans on both sides of the street, many dressed in red and blue alike, awaited Hussle’s funeral procession, which, as this post publishes, is driving 25 miles through the city Hussle called home before he is laid to rest.