The city of Los Angeles is no stranger to epic street gatherings for everything from sports victory parades to televised car chases. But on Thursday (April 11) it will host a much more somber — although likely equally large — affair when it lays to rest one of its native sons, rapper Nipsey Hussle.
Following a “Celebration of Life” at the same 21,000-seat arena where pop superstar Michael Jackson was memorialized 10 years ago, Hussle’s body will be taken on a 25-mile procession through many of the mean streets where he was raised and that he was trying to uplift when he was shot to death outside his Marathon Clothing store last month. The public memorial service is expected to draw more than 20,000 people to the Staples Center, with thousands more paying their respects on the procession.
The Hussle Celebration of Life ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. No details have been released about dignitaries and celebrities who will attend, perform or speak. The event will be livestreamed on BET News’ Facebook page.
Thousands are expected to turn out as the hearse carrying Hussle’s coffin from the Staples Center travels deep into the neighborhood where the deadly Rodney King race riot began in 1992 and on past the property where Hussle had planned to turn an aging strip mall into new businesses and affordable homes. Finally, it will arrive at a funeral home in the city’s hard-scrabble Crenshaw district, where the rapper was born Ermias Ashgedom on Aug. 15, 1985.
“I definitely plan to be out there and paying my final respects,” said Glauz Diego who, although he didn’t follow Hussle’s music closely, was proud to meet him when the rapper stopped by the offices of the Los Angeles Community Coalition where Diego is one of the executives. The rapper had come to meet with local officials to discuss ways to improve the community.
Although he was little known outside the hip-hop world before his death, the run-up to his funeral has drawn comparisons to that of Jackson’s. As with Jackson’s, free tickets to Thursday’s memorial were snapped up immediately, and the thousands who couldn’t get them were urged to stay away lest they gridlock downtown.
Instead, they’ve been urged to line the route that will wind through South Los Angeles and into the Watts neighborhood, where Venus and Serena Williams emerged from modest public courts to become tennis superstars. The Los Angeles Department of Transportation plans to implement “rolling street closures” as the procession progresses, increasing the likelihood of traffic jams all over town.
Southern California, with its car culture and seemingly endless labyrinth of freeways and boulevards, has seen such turnouts before, including lengthy funeral processions for former President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan. And that’s not to mention the cheering crowds that gathered for a distinctly different event, former football great O.J. Simpson’s two-hour freeway chase in 1994 before he surrendered on murder charges he was eventually cleared of.
But this one is different in that, unlike the others, Hussle was not a household name before his death. Although beloved in South LA for never leaving the community even after he began to gather wealth rapping about it in mix-tapes like Bullets Ain’t Got No Name, he’d only released one album, last year’s Grammy-nominated Victory Lap.
Still, there’s a reason people have responded the way they did, said USC Professor David Schonfeld, an expert of why and how people grieve: Even people who didn’t know him quickly heard he was a good person doing good things. “We do make assumptions that if we do the right thing and are careful these events won’t befall us,” he said.
When they do people are often compelled to come together to grieve. “People want to come together to support each other,” he said. “That’s really what makes us a community.”
Eric R. Holder Jr., who has been charged with killing Hussle, has pleaded not guilty. Police have said Holder and Hussle had several interactions the day of the shooting and have described it as being the result of a personal dispute.
The 33-year-old Grammy-nominated rapper, was an Eritrean-American father of two who was engaged to actress Lauren London. He was a beloved figure for his philanthropic work that went well beyond the usual celebrity “giving back” ethos. Following his death, political and community leaders were as quick and effusive in their praise as his fellow hip-hop artists.
Hussle recently purchased the strip mall where The Marathon is located and planned to redevelop it into a mixed-use commercial and residential complex. The plan was part of Hussle’s broader ambitions to remake the neighborhood where he grew up and attempt to break the cycle of gang life that lured him in when he was younger.
For a decade, Hussle released much sought-after mixtapes that he sold out of the trunk of his car, helping him create a buzz and gain respect from rap purists and his peers. His said his stage name, a play on the 1960s and ’70s rhyming standup comic Nipsey Russell, was given to him as a teen by an older friend because he was such a go-getter — always hustling.
He charged $100 for his 2013 mixtape Crenshaw, scoring a cash and publicity coup when Jay-Z bought 100 copies for $10,000. Last year he hit new heights with Victory Lap, his critically acclaimed major-label debut album on Atlantic Records that made several critics’ best-of lists. The album debuted at No. 4 on Billboard’s 200 albums charts and features collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and CeeLo Green.
It earned him a Grammy nomination, though he lost out to Cardi B’s Invasion of Privacy. Hussle was also a wildly popular figure among professional athletes, especially those based in LA, where he was a regular on the sidelines. Players admired him for his community building.