Tens of thousands of people took part in an emotional memorial Thursday in Los Angeles for the slain rapper Nipsey Hussle, praising his efforts to end violence and improve troubled neighbourhoods.
The Staples Center arena was packed to the rafters for the ceremony, while many others watched on television and online as the city bid farewell to the Grammy-nominated artist, shot dead in broad daylight outside his own clothing store on March 31.
Police have said the killing, which triggered an outpouring of grief in Los Angeles and among Hussle’s music industry peers, was gang-related and personal in nature.
Crowds of mostly young black and Latino people wearing T-shirts with pictures of the 33-year-old bearded rapper started early Thursday to flow toward the Staples Center, the sports arena which hosted a memorial service for Michael Jackson in 2009.
A giant portrait of Hussle, who had Eritrean roots and was born Ermias Asghedom, adorned the stadium’s facade.
About 21,000 seats offered for free on the internet were snapped up in a matter of minutes.
The crowd was so big the commemoration started an hour late — with a DJ playing Hussle’s 2018 debut album “Victory Lap,” which earned him a Grammy nomination.
Some mourners, like Atlanta resident Ron Solomon, had travelled far.
“Everything he lived is what I believe in, too,” he told The New York Times. “Uplifting his people. Not letting the system beat us.”
Tanika Johnson, who works in a hair salon close to the clothing store which Hussle owned, said the rapper grew up in a gang environment, “where people don’t get out alive.
“But he came from a loving, caring family and he gave back to the community. He gave jobs to people in the community. What more could you want?”
One after another, speakers took to the podium to remember the singer as pictures of his life were shown on a screen to the sound of “My Way” by Frank Sinatra.
Numerous celebrities were present including fellow rapper Snoop Dogg as well as singers Anthony Hamilton and Stevie Wonder.
Hussle found minor commercial success but was highly revered among his peers, and his shock death triggered an outpouring of tributes from hip hop royalty.
Snoop Dogg noted that Hussle had composed songs for rival gangs — both the Crips to which he belonged but also for their enemies the Bloods.
Himself a member of the Crips, Snoop Dogg was dressed in the gang’s blue and hailed Hussle’s efforts to bring peace to the violence-plagued streets.
The rapper’s coffin, surrounded by hundreds of flowers, was placed in the middle of the stage where members of his family took turns to speak.
“Everything he said in the music was who he was,” his brother Samuel Asghedom said.
In a letter read out at the ceremony, former president Barack Obama remembered Hussle, whose music he got to know through his two daughters.
“He set an example for young people to follow and is a legacy worthy to follow,” Obama wrote, alluding to the rapper’s social work in the poor and mainly black Crenshaw neighbourhood of Los Angeles.
“While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighbourhood where he grew up and see only gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope,” Obama said.
“He saw a community that, even though its flaws, taught him to always keep going.”
After the ceremony, a procession began winding its way through that neighbourhood, where thousands of fans already lined the 40-kilometre (25-mile) route waiting to pay their last respects.
Eric Holder, 29, has been arrested for the murder and has pleaded not guilty. The reasons for the killing are not known.
*Reported by AFP