At Nipsey Hussle Funeral, Music and Tears as Rapper Is ‘Sent Off Like a King’

April 2019

Thousands gathered in Los Angeles to honor the rapper, who was gunned down in his neighborhood.

The hearse carrying Nipsey Hussle’s remains passed by his store, The Marathon Clothing, in Los Angeles. Credit Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

Fans awaited the procession for Nipsey Hussle in South Los Angeles. Credit Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

Fans watched the procession in South Los Angeles.Credit Jenna Schoenefeld for The New York Times

By Jennifer Medina, Jose A. Del Real and Tim Arango

LOS ANGELES — The coffin, adorned with white and violet flowers, sat center stage. Three large photographs of the slain rapper were projected overhead on giant television panels, rendered in hues of pink and blue. A thick wall of flowers, a piano, and a harp on stage softened the atmosphere of the cavernous sports arena.

Choking back tears as they danced, family, fans and hip-hop luminaries gathered on Thursday in Los Angeles to honor Nipsey Hussle, the rapper who was gunned down in South Los Angeles last month. The bittersweet memorial to a local hero melded deeply emotional tributes with arena-filling musical interludes from his debut album.

“This is a celebration. The marathon continues,” shouted DJ Battlecat over the loudspeaker before the beginning of the service at Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, which included Hussle’s family along with prominent figures like Stevie Wonder, Snoop Dogg and YG.

Before the service began, Hussle’s voice boomed from the speakers and thousands of fans sprung to their feet to sing along, the bass shaking the ground, giving the event the feel of a concert.

The outpouring reflected the depth of admiration for Hussle, who incorporated his upbringing and experience as a gang member into his music, which spoke powerfully to many who live in the city’s poorest neighborhoods and well beyond. As his musical success propelled him in recent years, Hussle funneled investments to the South Los Angeles streets on which he had grown up, earning devotion from fans, neighbors and local leaders.

Hussle’s Marathon Clothing store became a potent symbol of black entrepreneurship and was transformed into a makeshift memorial last month after Hussle was gunned down outside its doors over a “personal dispute,” according to the Los Angeles Police Department.

The majority of mourners at the event were African-American and Latino, largely in their 20s and 30s, many wearing the famous “Crenshaw” shirts that were sold in Hussle’s store. Members of the Eritrean community wore traditional clothing, some adorned with national flags.

As the service drew to a close, a D.J. played several songs from Hussle’s album, including “Hussle & Motivate.” Attendees danced and sang along, some chanting Hussle’s name as they left the arena toward the procession, which ran through Watts, Inglewood and South Los Angeles. Here are more highlights from the day.

Crowds gathered outside Staples Center in Los Angeles on Thursday to attend the memorial for Nipsey Hussle.Credit Rozette Rago for The New York Times

Stevie Wonder began his performance with a call for gun control.

Before performing at the funeral, the musician Stevie Wonder called for stronger gun regulations. People nodded along in the audience as he spoke.

“It is a heartbreak to again lose a member of our family. It is a heartbreak because it’s so unnecessary,” he said. “It is so painful to know that we don’t have enough people taking a position that says: Listen, we must have stronger gun laws.”

“It is unacceptable,” he added, in what was the most overtly political speech during the memorial. “It is almost like the world is becoming blind. I pray that we will grow and that the leaders who have responsibility to perpetuate life will do it by making sure that the laws will make it very hard for people to have guns and take their frustrations out to kill life.”

After his remarks he performed the song “Tears in Heaven.”

The funeral all but stopped the hip-hop world.

In a tribute, Snoop Dogg said that he and Hussle were drawn to each other like magnets. He said that other up-and-coming artists often promise that “I’ll make you a million dollars.” Not Hussle; he knew his talent was about more than money: “He was a visionary.”

“Nipsey’s line was, ‘Hey homey, listen to my music, just give it a listen,’” Snoop Dogg recounted. “I didn’t grow up with Nip, in the neighborhood, but I watched him grow up in front of me.”

He praised Hussle for the unifying role he played in a culture sometimes marred by gang violence. “We’re going to respect another man from another neighborhood when he comes from where we come from,” Snoop Dogg said. “You are a peace advocate, Nip. That’s what you are.

The service all but stopped the hip-hop world on Thursday. While some West Coast rappers took the stage to speak about Hussle’s life and enduring message, others sent their own emotional condolences. Jay-Z, whose company Roc Nation managed Hussle in recent years, wrote in a statement printed for the funeralgoers: “You were a curious soul who was evolving at a speed that was truly inspiring. The seeds you have planted are already bearing fruit.”

Kendrick Lamar, another local Los Angeles hero, in his own letter recalled touring with Hussle in 2009. “Casually I would go out to the crowd and listen to the substance he spewed on stage. Thinking to myself, this is the type of talent I want to be a part of,” he wrote. “I watched a young, ambitious black male orchestrate fellowship amongst the men around him on that tour.”

And Drake, who was set to perform in London on Thursday, posted a photo of himself watching the service to Instagram. “Sent off like a king and rightfully so,” he said. “Sending our love from across the world.”

A presidential letter to honor the local hero.

Before entering Staples Center, many fans stopped to take pictures in front of a black armored truck that Hussle owned. The “all money in” truck was used for promotions and became a fixture outside his clothing store. The truck was treated like a piece of public art, positioned in the middle of a closed-off street, surrounded by fencing and plainclothes security guards.

Kathleen Gonzalez, 20, said that what she remembered most about Hussle was how he treated everyone — “a homeless man, an average man, a man without papers who was here illegally.”

“He gave everyone the same praise he received,” added Ms. Gonzalez, a therapist who works with special needs children in South Los Angeles. “Nowadays it’s really rare to see that.”

Even as the city came together on Thursday to mourn Hussle, she said her community was on edge over the threat of more violence.