Dance-offs, tears, tributes honor Nipsey Hussle
It was a farewell tour fit for a hometown son, a beloved rapper and a community activist.
Hours after thousands gathered to say goodbye to rapper Nipsey Hussle during a memorial at Staples Center in Los Angeles, throngs lined the streets and climbed poles Thursday night to watch the procession pass by.
Choking back tears, they tossed roses at the car carrying the silver hearse as it made its way through the crowds.
At the end of the 25.5-mile procession that included a stop at the rapper’s Marathon clothing store, his body was taken to a funeral home in South Los Angeles. Outside, people held a dance-off, a fitting end to a memorial described as a celebration of life for the rapper.
A hometown son who never left
The day of tributes started with a memorial service at the packed 21,000-seat Staples Center, where fans, family members and celebrities celebrated his life. They applauded his commitment to the South Los Angeles community in which he grew up and later invested in.
His clothing store where he was gunned down last month symbolized his ties to the neighborhood and was transformed into a memorial where fans left flowers and balloons after the shooting.
A letter from former President Barack Obama — read by the rapper’s longtime friend Karen Civil — acknowledged his love for his community.
“While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and see only gangs, bullets, and despair, Nipsey saw potential,” Obama wrote. “He saw hope. He saw a community that, even through its flaws, taught him to always keep going. His choice to invest in that community rather than ignore it.”
A father and a final act of love
In her eulogy, Hussle’s girlfriend, Lauren London, also highlighted his close ties to the city.
“I know everybody is hurting. But I’d like to say something to my city of Los Angeles,” London said. ” … This pain is ours. We know what it meant to us. We lost an incredible soul. We lost somebody very rare to us. We lost a real one and we won’t ever be the same.”
The couple dated for more than five years and had one of the most enduring fairytale romances in hip-hop. They shared a 2-year-old son, Kross Asghedom.
London described him as the love of her life and a man who made her feel loved and protected.
“Grief is the final act of love,” she said. “My heart hears you. I feel you everywhere. I’m so grateful that I had you. I love you beyond this Earth. And, until we meet again, the marathon continues.”
A rapper admired by his peers
At the funeral service, hip-hop luminaries and activists expressed their admiration for the rapper for using his voice to reach out to his neighborhood and beyond.
Rapper Snoop Dogg described their relationship as that of two magnets — drawn to each other. He told the story of the no-frills way Hussle tried to get him to listen to his music when they first met.
“Just give it a listen,” he said Hussle told him, which struck him as odd. Most rappers promise that they’ll “make you a million dollars,” he said. But not Hussle.
While the two shared a kinship — both from LA, lanky with braids and a street gang affiliation — Hussle’s kind spirit stood out, he said. He was an advocate for peace and even made music with rival gang members, he said.
“This man got a letter from Barack Obama, man,” Snoop Dogg said, before saluting the coffin surrounded by white flowers.
Nation of Islam Minister Farrakhan talked about Hussle’s efforts to forge ties between his Crips street gang and the rival Bloods. He was to hip-hop what Bob Marley was to reggae, Farrakhan said.
An activist who brought together two countries
Hussle — born Ermias Asghedom — was the son of an Eritrean father. Some of the cars in his funeral procession were draped in Eritrean flags. Eritreans in the US have held candlelight vigils nationwide since he was killed.
Video played at his memorial showed him traveling to his father’s birthplace in East Africa and practicing the local language. His father, Dawit Asghedom, described how his resilience was evident from day one after he was born with his umbilical cord around his neck but still pulled through.
His mother, Angelique Smith, said she was at peace and consoled those mourning her son.
“I have perfect peace. I am happy. I am complete. I am strong. And if I can feel this way, you can, too,” she told the thousands of people gathered at the funeral service.
Mourners came from near and far to pay tribute to the rapper.
Eritrea-born activist Wintana Nelekin traveled from Minnesota to honor the man she once met after organizing a speech for young people in Minneapolis. She said he taught her that her opportunities were boundless.
“He showed me a vision of how to be a community organizer, how to be an entrepreneur, how to be a community leader. And you don’t get a lot of that today,” she said.
Photographer Latrell Parker traveled from Fredericksburg, Virginia, to honor the rapper.
His shirt was adorned with the musician’s image and the caption “The Marathon Continues,” the title of one of Hussle’s mixtapes.
CNN’s Eliott C. McLaughlin contributed to this report