Inside Nipsey Hussle’s Powerful, Star-Studded Memorial Service: ‘The World Has Gone Crazy’
The packed ceremony honoring the slain rapper and activist included remarks and performances from Hussle’s family, Barack Obama, Snoop Dogg, Louis Farrakhan, and Stevie Wonder.
LOS ANGELES, California—Early Thursday morning, thousands processioned through the streets of downtown Los Angeles to celebrate the life of Ermias Joseph Asghedom, better known as the rapper and community activist Nipsey Hussle, who was gunned down at the age of 33.
Over the sounds of “Victory Lap,” the title track of Hussle’s Grammy-nominated debut album, the parade made their way to the Staples Center, where the rapper’s family had organized a four-hour service, with performances and remarks from relatives—including Hussle’s two-year-old son, Kross—as well as several high-profile figures, like Marsha Ambrosius, Jhené Aiko, YG, Snoop Dogg, former President Barack Obama (via a letter read in absentia), the controversial minister Louis Farrakhan, and music icon Stevie Wonder.
Earlier this week, Hussle’s family had offered up 21,000 free tickets for the “Celebration of Life” event, which sold out in minutes. But as the crowd filed into the massive stadium Thursday, many attendees passed out extras to those desperate to get in—an homage to the local legend who had spent his life giving back. Audience members also received free copies of a special tribute edition of The Final Call, a newspaper published by Nation of Islam minister Farrakhan, and a thick yearbook with photos of the young rapper and letters from his loved ones and famous industry peers. “Nipsey should’ve died an old man,” Lena Waithe wrote on her page. “Instead he’ll be forever etched into our brains as a young man on the verge of something bigger than himself.”
The service started with prayers from Minister Reid Rich and Pastor Shep Crawford, who talked about the story of Joseph, a biblical figure who died at the hand of his jealous brothers. The story was an overt hat tip to Hussle’s accused killer, 29-year-old Eric Holder.
Holder, a much less successful musician, reportedly had a personal dispute with Hussle on March 31, the day he allegedly shot the rapper outside his Los Angeles clothing store (Holder has pleaded not guilty to one count of murder and two counts of attempted murder). After an interlude of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” and Marsha Ambrosius’s performance of “Fly Like A Bird,” Hussle’s friend and business partner Karen Civil took the stage to read a letter from Barack Obama.
“I’ve never met Nipsey, but I’ve heard his music from my daughters,” the former president wrote. “And after his passing I had a chance to learn about his transformation and his community work. While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood and only saw gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope. He saw a community that even through its loss taught him to always keep going. His choice to invest in that community rather than ignore it, to build a train center, to build a co-working space in Crenshaw, to lift up the Eritrean-American community, he set an example for young people to follow. I hope his memory inspires more good work in Crenshaw and communities like it.”
The primary remarks came from Farrakhan, the polarizing Nation of Islam minister, whose legacy of community activism has been tainted by allegations of anti-Semitism, sexism and homophobia (in the past, Farrakhan has called Hitler “a great man”; in a speech directed at women he encouraged the audience “to put husbands and children ahead of their careers, shun tight, short skirts, stay off welfare and reject abortion,” according to The New York Times).
Wearing his signature square glasses and a gold bowtie, the minister hailed Hussle as a “prophetic voice”; as a figure who was for hip-hop and rap what “Bob Marley was to Reggae”; and as a man who “rose above the pull of gravity,” fulfilling the prediction of his first name, which translates to “God is Rising.” During his speech, Farrakhan also repeatedly referred to Nipsey Hussle as “Nipsey Russell,” the rapper’s comedian namesake.
“I said it right,” Farrakhan insisted, before pivoting to talk, without total clarity, about Russell Westbrook, who dedicated his historic double triple-double to Hussle last week. “Now let’s look at 20-20-20—it’s 60. In the Book of Revelations, it says, here’s wisdom. Count the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man: 600, three score—which is 60—and six. But the beast is a marker of a man, that a man came up of the light of the beast. I’m saying this to my hip-hop community, you live like the mark of the beast is in your forehead and in your hands.” Farrakhan later referred to Hussle as Russell again in his concluding remarks.
Later in the service, Hussle’s two children, Emani and Kross, took the stage in matching blue-and-white outfits, alongside his nephew, Khalil Kimble, and Kameron Carter, the 9-year-old son of Hussle’s long-time partner Lauren London and her ex Lil Wayne. Two-year-old Kross won the crowd over with a short monologue of burbles and babytalk. Kameron also took the mic and recounted, in his pre-teen falsetto, how Hussle, whom his family calls Ermias, had recently appeared in one of his dreams.
“On the night of April 2, I had a dream that I was in paradise, and I was playing in the ocean water when Ermias appeared,” he recounted. “He said, ‘What up, Killa?’ because that was my nickname... I turned around and I held his hand and I gave him a hug... It was still cool, I guess... Ermias told me what it was like in paradise.”
In the second half of the service, friends and family came up and told stories from Hussle’s life. London, through tears, offered: “To Ermias, the love of my life. You know what it is. Grief is the final act of love. My heart hears you, I feel you everywhere. I’m so grateful that I had you. I love you beyond this Earth. Until we meet again, the Marathon continues.” His older brother, Samuel, recalled how a 12-year-old Nipsey had fixed their grandfather’s computer from spare parts he’d scavenged from thrift stores (“For two weeks, our room was covered in computer parts...Years later, he downloaded software and started making music.”)
His mother, Angelique Smith, remembered when their car had caught on fire and a pre-teen Nipsey ran down the block to hail a firetruck, which put out the flames. The car, she said, was burnt but turned out fine. (“Now, our engine is on fire. We’re burning. But we’re not destroyed.”) Snoop Dogg, wearing a metallic blue jumpsuit, joked about one of Hussle’s big, crazy ideas: a theme park called Doggyland.
“One of the first times me and Nips were hanging out, he came up to me and said, hey cuz, you need to do an amusement park, call it Doggyland,” Snoop Dogg said. “The sixth time he said it to me, I said Nip, why don’t you just do it for me, dog? Because I don’t understand the dynamics of what you’re saying. I’m old school. I’m A-B-C-D. You’ve done and gone into the Matrix. But Nip ended up buying a whole square. He ended up doing things for the community. He built his own Doggyland.”
In the final moments of the service, Stevie Wonder took the stage to perform “Rocket Love,” which had been Hussle’s favorite of his songs. Wonder reflected on meeting Hussle, and then used his time to talk about gun control, calling on leaders and activists to make it harder for people like Holder to act out their anger with a weapon. “The world has gone crazy,” he said. “It’s almost like the world is becoming blind.”