LOS ANGELES — Rapper Snoop Dogg and singer Stevie Wonder were among those who took the stage at Staples Center Thursday to honor rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was gunned down in front of the clothing store he owned in the South Los Angeles community he was dedicated to revitalizing.
The ceremony was the first of its kind at Staples Center since a memorial service for Michael Jackson was held there in 2009.
Thousands attended the service, which got began about an hour late due to long lines of people trying to get into the arena. The event began with tracks being played from Hussle’s album “Victory Lap.” A highlight reel of Hussle’s life was also shown, set to the sound of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
The highlight reel was followed by a performance by singer Marsha Ambrosius and words from Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.
“It is a great honor for me and for us to be here to honor a life that will become more famous in death than in life, and the work that his life will produce will go down in history as something that changed the world,” Farrakhan said.
Social media personality Karen Civil read a letter to the crowd from former President Barack Obama.
“While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and see only gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope,” Obama wrote. “He saw a community that, even through its flaws, taught him to always keep going.”
Anthony Hamilton and Jhene Aiko also performed songs before several of Hussle’s relatives spoke, including his mother, Angelique Smith; his father, Dawit Asghedom; his brother, Samuel Asghedom; and his fiancee, Lauren London.
Asghedom, Hussle’s older brother, told a story about being impressed upon hearing music Hussle made when he was a teenager. He said he decided that if his little brother could do it, so could he, so he started writing.
“I must have wrote for two weeks, and then I threw all that away. I said, OK, it skipped me,” Asghedom said. “You know this is a real story. I told him from there, `You’re special. Just whatever I can do, we believe.”‘
After telling a few stories, London said she wanted to address Los Angeles directly and asked all the Angelenos in the audience to stand up.
“Because this pain is really ours. You know, we know what it meant to us,” she said. “We began as friends, we lost someone very rare to us, and we lost a real one. And we won’t ever be the same.”
Snoop Dogg had the crowd laughing through much of his speech, including a story about how Hussle once advised him to open his own amusement park called “Doggyland” with 40-ounce roller coasters. He also said that despite Hussle’s affiliation with a faction of the Crips gang, he became a “peace advocate” by making music with musicians associated with other gangs.
“And for those that knew Nipsey Hussle personally, you knew he had nothing but love for every gang member from Southern California,” he said. “I don’t care what neighborhood you was from.”
Before performing, Wonder called for stricter gun laws and said “it is a heartbreak to again lose a member of our family. It’s a heartbreak because it’s so unnecessary.”
Security was tight in and around the arena, contributing to the slow pace of people entering the arena. Los Angeles police noted that “a last- minute rush of mourners caused congestion and brief delays at entrances” at the arena.
Tickets for the event were distributed free through an online system on Tuesday, and they were all claimed within minutes.
People who were unable to attend the ceremony were still given a chance to pay respects to Hussle, thanks to a 25-mile procession through South Los Angeles expected to last for much of the afternoon. The procession — dubbed a Victory Lap — is expected to move south on Vermont Avenue, then east on Century Boulevard, circling through the Watts area before heading back west on Century. The procession will then move through Inglewood and pass by Hussle’s The Marathon Clothing store at Slauson and Crenshaw Boulevard before heading north to the Angelus Funeral Home at Crenshaw and 39th Street.
The 33-year-old Grammy-nominated rapper — whose real name was Ermias Joseph Asghedom — was fatally shot March 31 in front of The Marathon Clothing store. Last week, 29-year-old Eric Ronald Holder Jr., an aspiring rapper and acquaintance of Hussle, pleaded not guilty to one count each of murder and possession of a firearm by a felon, along with two counts of attempted murder.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Teresa Sullivan ordered Holder to be jailed in lieu of $5 million bail while awaiting his next court appearance May 10, when a date is scheduled to be set for a hearing to determine if there is sufficient evidence to allow the case against him to proceed to trial.
Holder could face a potential life prison sentence if convicted as charged, according to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.
Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said Holder got into some type of personal dispute with the rapper outside the store, then left and returned with a handgun. Hussle was shot in the head and body and died at a hospital, according to police and the coroner’s office.
The police chief declined to discuss the nature of the disagreement between Holder and Hussle but stressed the shooting appeared to be a result of that dispute, not any type of gang rivalry or feud.
Hussle transformed himself from a South Los Angeles gang member to a rap musician and channeled his success into efforts to help others stay out of gangs. He bought shoes for students, re-paved basketball courts and provided jobs and shelter for the homeless.
Hussle helped renovate a Mid-City roller rink and redeveloped the strip mall that housed his Marathon Clothing shop where he was fatally wounded.
On Friday, the Los Angeles City Council is expected to adjourn its regular meeting in honor of Hussle, according to Councilman Marqueece Harris Dawson, a friend of Hussle’s. At that same meeting, Harris-Dawson is also expected to introduce a motion to rename the intersection of Slauson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard as “Ermias `Nipsey Hussle’ Asghedom Square.”