At Nipsey Hussle Funeral, Music and Tears as Rapper Is ‘Sent Off Like a King’
Thousands gathered in Los Angeles to honor the rapper, who was gunned down in his neighborhood.
www.nytimes.com | April 11, 2019
LOS ANGELES — The coffin, adorned with white and violet flowers, sat center stage. Three large photographs of the slain rapper were projected overhead on giant television panels, rendered in hues of pink and blue. A thick wall of flowers, a piano, and a harp on stage softened the atmosphere of the cavernous sports arena.
Choking back tears as they danced, family, fans and hip-hop luminaries gathered on Thursday in Los Angeles to honor Nipsey Hussle, the rapper who was gunned down in South Los Angeles last month. The bittersweet memorial to a local hero melded deeply emotional tributes with arena-filling musical interludes from his debut album.
“This is a celebration. The marathon continues,” shouted DJ Battlecat over the loudspeaker before the beginning of the service at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, which included Hussle’s family along with prominent figures like Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg and YG.
Before the service began, Hussle’s voice boomed from the speakers and thousands of fans sprung to their feet to sing along, the bass shaking the ground, giving the event the feel of a concert.
The outpouring reflected the depth of admiration for Hussle, who incorporated his upbringing and experience as a gang member into his music, which spoke powerfully to many who live in the city’s poorest neighborhoods and well beyond. As his musical success propelled him in recent years, Hussle funneled investments to the South Los Angeles streets on which he had grown up, earning devotion from fans, neighbors and local leaders.
Hussle’s Marathon Clothing store became a potent symbol of black entrepreneurship and was transformed into a makeshift memorial last month after Hussle was gunned down outside its doors over a “personal dispute,” according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
The majority of mourners at the event were African-American and Latino, largely in their 20s and 30s, many wearing the famous “Crenshaw” shirts that were sold in Hussle’s store. Members of the Eritrean community wore traditional clothing, some adorned with national flags.
As the service drew to a close, a D.J. played several songs from Hussle’s album, including “Hussle & Motivate.” Attendees danced and sang along, some chanting Hussle’s name as they left the arena toward the procession, which ran through Watts, Inglewood and South Los Angeles. Here are more highlights from the day.
Stevie Wonder began his performance with a call for gun control.
Before performing at the funeral, the musician Stevie Wonder called for stronger gun regulations. People nodded along in the audience as he spoke.
“It is a heartbreak to again lose a member of our family. It is a heartbreak because it’s so unnecessary,” he said. “It is so painful to know that we don’t have enough people taking a position that says: Listen, we must have stronger gun laws.”
“It is unacceptable,” he added, in what was the most overtly political speech during the memorial. “It is almost like the world is becoming blind. I pray that we will grow and that the leaders who have responsibility to perpetuate life will do it by making sure that the laws will make it very hard for people to have guns and take their frustrations out to kill life.”
After his remarks he performed the song “Tears in Heaven.”
The funeral all but stopped the hip-hop world.
In a tribute, Snoop Dogg said that he and Hussle were drawn to each other like magnets. He said that other up-and-coming artists often promise that “I’ll make you a million dollars.” Not Hussle; he knew his talent was about more than money: “He was a visionary.”
“Nipsey’s line was, ‘Hey homey, listen to my music, just give it a listen,’” Snoop Dogg recounted. “I didn’t grow up with Nip, in the neighborhood, but I watched him grow up in front of me.”
He praised Hussle for the unifying role he played in a culture sometimes marred by gang violence. “We’re going to respect another man from another neighborhood when he comes from where we come from,” Snoop Dogg said. “You are a peace advocate, Nip. That’s what you are.”
The service all but stopped the hip-hop world on Thursday. While some West Coast rappers took the stage to speak about Hussle’s life and enduring message, others sent their own emotional condolences. Jay-Z, whose company Roc Nation managed Hussle in recent years, wrote in a statement printed for the funeralgoers: “You were a curious soul who was evolving at a speed that was truly inspiring. The seeds you have planted are already bearing fruit.”
Kendrick Lamar, another local Los Angeles hero, in his own letter recalled touring with Hussle in 2009. “Casually I would go out to the crowd and listen to the substance he spewed on stage. Thinking to myself, this is the type of talent I want to be a part of,” he wrote. “I watched a young, ambitious black male orchestrate fellowship amongst the men around him on that tour.”
And Drake, who was set to perform in London on Thursday, posted a photo of himself watching the service to Instagram. “Sent off like a king and rightfully so,” he said. “Sending our love from across the world.”
A presidential letter to honor the local hero.
Before entering Staples Center, many fans stopped to take pictures in front of a black armored truck that Hussle owned. The “all money in” truck was used for promotions and became a fixture outside his clothing store. The truck was treated like a piece of public art, positioned in the middle of a closed-off street, surrounded by fencing and plainclothes security guards.
Kathleen Gonzalez, 20, said that what she remembered most about Hussle was how he treated everyone — “a homeless man, an average man, a man without papers who was here illegally.”
“He gave everyone the same praise he received,” added Ms. Gonzalez, a therapist who works with special needs children in South Los Angeles. “Nowadays it’s really rare to see that.”
Even as the city came together on Thursday to mourn Hussle, she said her community was on edge over the threat of more violence.
“Being from that part of the city, it’s something you keep in mind,” she said. “Nipsey wouldn’t want that.”
Some mourners came from far away. Ron Solomon flew in from Atlanta on Wednesday night and went straight to Hussle’s shop in Crenshaw. “Everything he lived is what I believe in, too,” he said. “Uplifting his people. Not letting the system beat us.”
The N.B.A. all-star James Harden, of the Houston Rockets, and DeMar DeRozan of the San Antonio Spurs also came to mourn Hussle. They wore white to honor their friend and fellow South Los Angeles native and entered with somber faces, not speaking to anyone.
President Barack Obama sent a letter praising Hussle, which Karen Civil, a hip-hop media personality, read at the service. Mr. Obama said that he had heard Hussle’s music through his daughters.
“While most people look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and see only gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential,” the former president wrote. “He saw hope. He saw a community that even through its flaws taught him to always keep going.”
A mother’s tribute: “He’s a superhero.”
Angelique Smith, Hussle’s mother, stood up to the microphone dressed entirely in white, with a tulle veil covering part of her face. She spoke at length of her own spiritual beliefs, calling on Hussle’s ancestors to “lead him on his journey.”
“I have perfect peace,” she said. “I am happy, I am complete. I am strong, and if I can feel this way, so can you.”
With the help of Hussle’s father, Dawit Asghedom, who was at her side, Ms. Smith named several ancestors by name and led mourners in a call and response.
She spoke of a deep spiritual connection to her son, using his given name of Ermias. “He’s intelligent. He’s radiant. He’s a superhero,” she said.
Lauren London, Hussle’s longtime partner and mother of his 2-year-old son, also took the microphone in a white dress. She quoted what Hussle had often told her: “The game is gonna test you. Never fold. Stay 10 toes down. It’s not on you, it’s in you, and what’s in you they can’t take away.”
Even in Hussle’s killing, some see a message for the community.
By midafternoon, hundreds of people had gathered in the streets along Crenshaw and Slauson, outside the clothing shop where Hussle was killed. The funeral procession snaked 25 miles through South Los Angeles, a last lap through the neighborhood where he grew up and is beloved.
Todd Lavergne, who grew up in the neighborhood and does equine therapy for children throughout the city, sat on his horse at the intersection. Mr. Lavergne, 45, said he wasn’t even a fan of Hussle’s music: “I’m an elder.” But he still came to pay homage, underscoring Hussle’s reach.
“He represented the community and wanted to help the community,” he said. “To give them something to do, to keep their minds busy.”
Even the manner in which Hussle was killed was seen by some as a final message to the community, to keep up the push for peace that Hussle had worked so hard for. Darlene Young, who has a soul food catering business and was driving for Uber in South Los Angeles on Thursday, said that God had, “brought him home in a way to show the violence in the streets.” She continued, “if you read the Bible, you have a time to live and at time to die.”