LOS ANGELES – Nipsey Hussle was a beloved rapper, generous philanthropist, reliable friend, self-taught computer builder and charismatic hustler.
That's according to the many eulogies delivered Thursday at a memorial attended by thousands in downtown Los Angeles for the slain Grammy winner.
Called “Nipsey Hussle: A Celebration of Life,” the three-hour event included stories from family members, a letter from President Obama, a performance from Stevie Wonder and a dance party to Hussle's music. There were representations of Christianity and Islam, as well as nods to Eritrea, where the rapper's ancestors came from.
Beyonce and Jay Z were among the celebrities in attendance at Staples Center event, where the last celebrity funeral held at the concert arena was Michael Jackson’s in 2009.
Inside the memorial
Though "A Celebration of Life" was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. PDT/1 p.m. EDT, it did not get underway until nearly an hour later because of a security delay that left thousands of fans waiting to be let inside.
Hussle’s casket appeared onstage in front of a wall of flowers and greenery throughout the service. Hussle, whose real name was Ermias Asghedom, was fatally shot on March 31.
His mother, Angelique Smith, shared an anecdote about how, as a single mom, she learned how to change her own oil. But she forgot to replace the cap and as a result, her engine caught fire.
Ermias, she recalled, "did not hesitate." He immediately commandeered a nearby fire truck, and had it extinguish their fire.
Connecting the seemingly random story to the service, Smith explained, "Our engine is on fire now. We're burning but we're not destroyed."
Snoop Dogg honored Hussle
Snoop Dogg praised the way Smith handled her son's death, noting, "If it so happens to be that your kids die before you, Nipsey's mother prepared us for this day in the future."
The West Coast rap veteran also recalled how Hussle was often compared to him.
"When he first started, people thought he looked like me," Snoop said. "I think it was because he was tall, lanky and had braids. One thing both me and Nip had was a kind spirit. When we met, it was like magnets coming together. … Real recognizes real."
“One thing me and Nip had [in common] was a kind spirit. A spirit of love. When we met each other it was like a magnet coming together.” – Snoop Dogg at the #CelebrationOfNipseyHussle pic.twitter.com/mghVhEQrgY— Entertainment Tonight (@etnow) April 11, 2019
Both of them enjoyed popularity across gang lines, and the "Gin and Juice" rapper noted that Hussle "had nothing but love for every gang member in South Central." He paraphrased scripture, saying, "For God so loved the world that he gave us a good Crip, the late, great neighborhood Nip."
Before ceding the microphone, Snoop saluted his friend's casket and said, "I'm gonna end it like this: This man got a letter from Barack Obama, man."
His brother gave an emotional speech
Samiel Asghedom choked up as he expressed what the outpouring of public support had meant to his younger brother while he was alive, and to the family after his death.
He drew cheers when he quoted lyrics from his brother's songs and shared stories about how he demonstrated his hustle at an early age, out-earning Samiel doing chores around the neighborhood and building a computer – that actually worked – on their bedroom floor.
Asghedom recalled investing what money he had in his brother's budding rap career, saying he wanted Nipsey to "have something legit. He ended up making something legit for me to have" – their shop, The Marathon, located in the strip mall they pooled their money to buy.
"A lot of people thought he was gonna get some money and leave" after he made it as a rapper, Asgehdom said. "They didn't know him. Nip put his heart and soul on Crenshaw and Slauson. … Bro stayed and died on Crenshaw and Slauson. "
Their father, Dawit Asghedom, said that Hussle had been a fighter from the moment of his birth, when he came into the world with the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck.
His fiancée Lauren London called him a 'majestic soul'
Hussle's fiancée, actress Lauren London, praised him as a partner, father, "majestic soul" and relentless seeker of knowledge.
"He researched everything," she said. "Completely self-taught. He went to bed reading audiobooks, which I said was nerdy but thought was secretly cool."
She noted that "grief is the final act of love," and invoked his words: "Until we meet again, the marathon continues."
The Christian and Muslim faiths were represented by Pastor Rich Reid and Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, who said Hussle "will become more famous in death than in life."
Farrakhan said Hussle was "to hip-hop what Bob Marley is to reggae," adding, "He lived the gang life but didn't stay there."
More than one speaker observed that Hussle died at 33, the same age at which many Christians believe Jesus Christ was crucified. "That's not a coincidence," his half-sister Samantha said.
President Obama sent a letter
Karen Civil tearfully read a letter from former President Barack Obama, who admitted he didn't know Hussle personally but discovered his music through daughters Sasha and Malia. Obama, whose father was Kenyan, praised the Eritrean American rapper for investing in his community and noted the STEM center and co-working space Hussle established.
"While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and see only gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential," the 44th president wrote, adding that Hussle "set an example for young people to follow" and left a "legacy worthy of celebration."
Obama's letter concluded, "I hope his memory inspires more good work in Crenshaw and communities like it."
Stevie Wonder took the stage
Performers included Anthony Hamilton ("Pass Me Over"), Jhené Aiko ("Eternal Sunshine") and Marsha Ambrosius, whose rendition of Mariah Carey's "Fly Like a Bird" included bits of Hussle's song "Be Here for a While."
Before performing the Eric Clapton song "Tears in Heaven, " Stevie Wonder called his friend's death an unnecessary heartbreak and said he hoped it would inspire action on social issues, especially gun control.
"I'm happy that in his short life, he was able to motivate people," the music icon said. "And I hope he motivates you to say, 'Enough people being killed by guns and violence.' I hope we don't just talk about it. I hope we'll be about it."
The rapper's kids – daughter Emani and son Kross – appeared onstage, where they were joined by Khalil Kimble, the son of rapper Skeme, and Kameron Carter, the son London and rapper Lil Wayne, who addressed the audience.
Carter, who is 9, spoke of a dream in which "Ermias told me what heaven was like. He told me it was paradise." He also recalled how the rapper would sometimes look at him through the window and say “respect.” The boy then asked the crowd to say “respect” in unison, and they complied.
Kross, 2, even took the mic to share some gibberish ("Eh. Bah.") for an excited crowd.
Attendees received nearly 100-page books with Hussle on the cover. Inside were dozens of photos of Hussle with London and his children. It also contained messages from celebrity friends and admirers including Jay-Z, Issa Rae, Michael B. Jordan, Ava DuVernay, Tiffany Haddish and athletes LeBron James and Russell Westbrook.
Overall, the mood was celebratory. Even the paid ushers were holding their hands up and applauding the speakers onstage. By the end of the memorial, Hussle's song "Dedication" was playing into the arena with guests dancing in their seats.
Tegan Daniels, 30, a single mother from Las Vegas, told USA TODAY that she wanted to attend for the sake of her daughter, Leilani.
“She won’t remember this," she said. "But I wanted her to experience this. One day I will show her pictures and tell her about a great man. A man trying to help his community by making people’s lives better.”
Plenty of attendees felt compelled to come and show solidarity for Hussle.
Keith Smith, 26, from Los Angeles, told his supervisor at work he had "an emergency," so he could attend the service and honor "my man."
"I've been a fan since I was a child and I've known him a couple years," says Los Angeles-based Gianni Farley, 24. "I wanted to support the homie."
The final speaker, Pastor Shep Crawford, told the crowd that Hussle's marathon had become a relay race, and urged them to see his effort to revitalize Crenshaw through to completion.
“If we don’t leave here without buying up South Central, we’re dropping the baton." he said, adding, "If you say you're going to be the next Nipsey, please don't do it with just a rap album."
The funeral procession drives on
After the memorial service, Hussle embarked on one last 25½ mile-drive through South Central Los Angeles. Mourners poured into the street in anticipation of the funeral procession, as fans played music, touched the hearse as it drove by and even followed behind the procession on ATVs, motorbikes and cars.
A number of supporters yelled, "Nipsey, we love you!" and poured out alcholic beverages in the path of the cars.
The procession is set to continue on to Hussle's Marathon clothing store before ending at the Angelus Funeral Home in Crenshaw.
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Contributing: Bryan Alexander; Sandy Hooper; Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Nipsey Hussle memorial highlights: Touching eulogies, lively celebration