LOS ANGELES — Thousands of mourners are expected to gather in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday to honor the life of Nipsey Hussle, the Grammy-nominated rapper who was fatally shot last month and whose success and commitment to redeveloping South Los Angeles made him a local hero.
The funeral, billed as a “celebration of life,” will be held at the Staples Center. All tickets for the event, which were free, were claimed online within minutes of being made available earlier this week. The arena’s capacity is 21,000.
Tens of thousands of fans are expected to gather around the venue, where a public memorial for Michael Jackson was hosted in 2009. The two-hour service will begin at 10 a.m. local time and will be followed by a procession from the Staples Center through South Los Angeles.
Hussle, born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, channeled his upbringing and adolescence as a gang member into music that spoke powerfully to many who live in Los Angeles’ most vulnerable neighborhoods. As his star rose in recent years, Hussle brought investments and attention back to the area, earning the adoration of his neighbors and fans.
Though he developed a following far beyond Southern California, his death last week struck a particularly painful chord among residents of the Crenshaw District, where he grew up. His clothing store on Slauson Avenue in South Los Angeles, The Marathon Clothing, had become a potent symbol of local success and black entrepreneurship, a theme he addressed regularly in his music. His fans clung to lyrics that melded familiar rap bombast with exaltations about self-discipline and long-term financial planning, a break from a music culture that often emphasizes flashy spending.
The store transformed into a makeshift memorial on March 31 after Hussle was gunned down there over a “personal dispute,” according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The suspect, Eric Holder, was apprehended by authorities two days after the shooting.
For days outside the store, fans prayed, lit candles and left hand-written letters addressed to Hussle. One of the mourners was Candace Cosey, 32, who remembers him as Ermias from their time attending Hamilton High School together in the early 2000s, a magnet school on the West Side of Los Angeles. She recalled how Hussle would sell mix CDs to her and others at school, and how he later started selling music in the neighborhood out of his trunk.
She came close to tears as she pulled out a picture of him from the high school yearbook. “If you grew up here, you either knew him directly or you knew someone who knew him,” she said.
Even as his career took off, Hussle remained approachable and “big hearted,” she said. As he amassed fame and wealth, he continued living modestly while making investments in businesses in the neighborhood. And he could be very generous. When a colleague passed away several years ago, Ms. Cosey approached Hussle’s team to see if he could help with the funeral expenses. He contributed several thousand dollars, she said.
“He was about uplifting us. He hired people from the neighborhood who wouldn’t have had a job otherwise. He took care of so many people, and he invested in what he believed in, here, because he grew up here,” she said. “We have to keep that work going. It’s what he was about.”
[Read more about the community’s reaction to Hussle’s death.]
Hussle’s death has drawn attention far beyond the Crenshaw District. Celebrities and political leaders across the country have offered their condolences to Hussle’s family and friends. In an interview last week, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti praised Hussle’s contributions to South Los Angeles, a community that he acknowledged has been historically overlooked by the city’s political establishment.
Mr. Garcetti said Hussle embodied the very idea of black entrepreneurship, a critical component of lifting the community and its residents.
“He represented redemption and hope. He had come from the world of gangs and gotten out,” he said. “This is a devastating shock to the stomach. He was really ambitious — he wanted to get African Americans into tech, on top of his music game, on top of his businesses.”
“Then to be killed in such a clichéd way, by guns, for a beef in South L.A., it feeds into too many stereotypes,” he said.
Velma Sanders, 60, said she did not listen to Hussle’s music but, as a lifelong resident of South Los Angeles, she felt pride watching his career grow in recent years. His presence, she said, was felt by everyone.
“He would be out here. He showed you that he didn’t fear where he grew up. He was proud of it,” she said. “He was building up this community, giving back to this community. He took that money and instead of buying something luxurious, a big home or whatever, he put it back in his community so these would not be vacant buildings. It’s just beautiful.”
[Read an assessment of Hussle’s music and its place in hip-hop.]
Manuel Pastor, a professor of American studies and ethnicity at the University of Southern California who has researched the demographics and culture of South Los Angeles, said Hussle’s killing “felt like a kick in the stomach.” He described Hussle as “a hometown guy lifting up his hometown.” Nothing illustrated this more, he said, than when Hussle and his girlfriend, the actress Lauren London, posed for a photo shoot in GQ in February at locations around South Los Angeles — not Hollywood, not downtown Los Angeles, not New York.
“This really hit hard. This was a hometown guy who stayed home,” said Mr. Pastor.
Mr. Pastor said Hussle had left the gang life but never rejected the culture of the community. Alienation and the search for identity amid violence and poverty often feed into gang culture, something Hussle spoke about openly.
“He did what many people ask of black celebrities, to come back to their community,” said Najee Ali, an activist in South Los Angeles who knew Hussle. He said the community is accustomed to feeling left behind when one of its own makes it big and finds fame.
“They all leave,” he said. “Hussle was the only one to stay in the community. He believed in the slogan, ‘Don’t move, improve.’ That’s what made him special.”
Hasani Leffall, 35, who knew Hussle, once worked for the rapper’s stepfather at a South Los Angeles restaurant called Bayou Grille. To emphasize the depth of feeling over Hussle’s murder within the black community of Los Angeles, he mentioned the murders of Tupac, Biggie Smalls, even Malcolm X and Martin Luther King Jr.
Even with his fame, money and the support of the community, Hussle couldn’t escape the violence of the streets he rapped about.
Mr. Holder, the suspect in the killing, is an aspiring rapper who knew Hussle when he was younger. Mr. Holder, Mr. Leffall said, “represents a dark side about L.A., and a dark side about just men in L.A., in Crip life. There’s always somebody that just doesn’t like you, doesn’t like the fact that people love you.”
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