LOS ANGELES — Rapper Snoop Dogg and singer Stevie Wonder were among those who took the Staples Center stage April 11 to honor rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was gunned down in front of a 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 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 April 9, and 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, dubbed a Victory Lap. The procession moved from downtown, south on Vermont Avenue, east on Century Boulevard into Watts, then back west on Century and north on Crenshaw Boulevard, passing by Hussle’s the Marathon Clothing store.
Thousands of people lined the route of the procession at various points, some tossing flowers onto the hearse carrying Hussle’s body as it was driven past, and other moving into the street to touch the slow-moving vehicle.
A large crowd assembled outside Marathon Clothing, many people waiting since early in the morning for the procession to pass by.
By late afternoon, the crowd became restless at times, prompting surges of people into the street, toppling barricades that had been placed to clear a path for the hearse to pass.
At one point, a balloon is believed to have popped, startling the crowd and prompting many people to push into the street. Police formed skirmish lines to push the crowd back, and appeared to restore order without arrests or major injuries.
More officers were brought in as the procession neared the location to help keep the street clear.
As the procession approached the store around 5:40 p.m., a security team encircled the hearse and walked alongside the vehicle to escort it through the crowd and allow it to keep moving — at a crawling pace.
As the hearse moved into the area, the boisterous crowd became respectfully calm, with spectators lifting their cellphones to snap photos. The convoy repeatedly stopped when people pushed too far into the street, blocking the hearse’s path.
The procession ended about 7:20 p.m. when the hearse arrived at the Angelus Funeral Home at Crenshaw Boulevard and 39th Street.
The Los Angeles Fire Department reported that crews treated 15 people along the route, with five of them being taken to hospitals, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Nicholas Prange.
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.