Nipsey Hussle's legacy as a community activist, uniter, a doting father and a loving son were underscored at his public memorial service on Thursday, with deeply personal testimonies from those closest to the rapper, including his mother, who said she was at peace with the death of her son, whom she hailed as a "superhero."
"He had such beautiful energy," said Angelique Smith, dressed in all white, remembering her 33-year-old son, whose given name was Ermias Asghedom. Standing on stage with Hussle's father, Dawit Asghedom, in front of a capacity crowd of 21,000 at the Staples Center, Smith declared: "Ermias was a legacy."
Hussle's children and fiance, actress Lauren London, also appeared onstage to pay tribute to Hussle. London was with another woman and Kross, her 2-year-old son with Hussle; Hussle's daughter Emani Asghedom; another child and London's son with rapper Lil Wayne, Cameron Carter.
Cameron said days after Hussle died, he had a dream he saw the rapper.
"I realized Ermias told me what heaven was like. He told me it was paradise," Cameron said.
Cameron then told the audience that Hussle would look at him through the window at times and say "respect." Cameron then asked the crowd to say "respect" in unison, and they complied.
At the memorial, Father Thomas Uwal read a scripture in Tigrinya — the native language in Eritrea, the African country where Hussle's father was from. He also spoke in English, saying: "Ermias was full of hope. Ermias full of life. Ermias was full of dreams."
Father Uwal spoke of Hussle being a "proud to be an Eritrean-American," later saying to the late rapper's family: "On behalf of all Eritreans ... we say our condolences to you."
The public memorial service kicked off by paying respect to Hussle the rapper, as songs from his latest Grammy-nominated album, "Victory Lap," filled the arena.
"Everybody put your hands in the air," the DJ said as one of Hussle's songs played. "It's a celebration."
Indeed, his mother, dressed in all white, danced in the aisle as R&B singer Marsha Ambrosius sang the Mariah Carey song "Fly Like a Bird" while fighting back tears. "This is for Nipsey, y'all" Ambrosius said before she started as she tried to gain her composure, sighing heavily.
But soon the focus was squarely on the person behind the persona. A montage of photos featuring the rapper from infancy, childhood and adulthood, with fellow rappers, his family and London, were shown to the crowd, set to Frank Sinatra's "My Way."
Hussle was slain last month in front of a store that he tried to use to empower his South Central neighbourhood. Most who filed in for the public memorial at arena Thursday were young adults, but ages ranged from small children to the elderly.
Books with an image of Hussle on the cover were handed out to service attendees. The book of nearly 100 pages contained numerous photos of Hussle with London, his children, and friends like Russell Westbrook and Snoop Dogg. It also had heartfelt messages from Rick Ross, The Game and LeBron James.
"I've never cried myself to sleep over any public figure before, but Nipsey's presence meant so much for our community," actress Issa Rae said in her message inside the book.
The memorial was being livestreamed on BET and BET News' Facebook page, among other outlets.
The hearse carrying Hussle's coffin was scheduled to after the funeral to go on a 25-mile lap through the city, including 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 on Aug. 15, 1985.
Hussle was shot to death March 31 while standing outside The Marathon, his South Los Angeles clothing store, not far from where the rapper grew up. The store will be one of the places where Hussle's casket passes during the procession through South Los Angeles.
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.