LOS ANGELES (FOX 11) - Thousands of fans packed into the Staples Center Thursday to celebrate the life of rapper Nipsey Hussle, who was shot and killed in front of a South Los Angeles clothing store he owned in a community he was committed to changing for the better.
Hussle, whose real name was Ermias Asghedom, was praised by loved ones in the "Celebration of Life" service for his work to revitalize his community and featured performances by Marsha Ambrosius, Anthony Hamilton, Jhene Aiko and Stevie Wonder.
Starting with songs played from Hussle's album "Victory Lap," the memorial began about an hour after its scheduled 10 a.m. start. A video montage of the rapper was also played set to Frank Sinatara's "My Way."
A letter penned by former President Barack Obama was read by Hussle's business partner Karen Civil during the service. Obama said while he'd never met Hussle, his daughters had introduced him to the rapper's music. After the 33-year-old's death, Obama said he learned about Hussle's dedication to making South Los Angeles a better place.
"While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and only see gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope," Obama wrote. "He saw a community that, even through its flaws, taught him to always keep going."
Minister Louis Farrakhan, the national representative of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam, called Hussle "more than a hip hop artist."
"The name Ermias in the language of the Eritrean people means 'God is rising.' The name Nipsey in that same language means 'homie,'" Farrakhan jokingly told the crowd. "A brother from the hood that never really left the hood, but now the whole world will embrace him, as his light and his death changes the hood and produces a profound change in the world."
Hussle was an Eritrean-American father of two who was engaged to actress Lauren London. During the memorial, London said she had "never felt this type of pain before."
"His soul was majestic. He was the strongest man that I ever knew. A gentle father, a patient leader, a divine light," she told the audience. "He was brilliant. He researched everything, completely self-taught, constantly seeking knowledge."
London said she would tease him about going to bed listening to audio books, and he would wake up in the morning and play music for the kids.
"My pain is for my 2-year-old that probably won't remember how much his dad loved him," London said, holding back tears.
"To Ermias, the love of my life, you know what it is. Grief is the final act of love. My heart hears you, I feel you everywhere. I'm so grateful that I had you. I love you beyond this earth. And until we meet again, The Marathon continues," she told the cheering crowd.
London's son, Kameron Carter, shared a dream he had about the hip hop icon while on stage with siblings Emani and Kross Asghedom, and cousin Khalil Kimble.
Snoop Dogg told stories about Hussle sharing his early tracks with him and their eventual bond through music, adding that his mentality was "stronger than a rapper who's been in the game for 15 years."
"Nip ended up creating a square, he ended up buying property and having things like Vector 90 and he ended up doing things in the community," the famous rapper told the audience. "He built his own 'Doggieland.' He built his own world. He built his own thing that people from around the world are starting to come to, take pictures of, stand in front of, immortalize this man. The things that he wanted for me, he did for himself. He had vision for me that I didn't even have for myself."
Those unable to attend Thursday's memorial service in downtown Los Angeles paid their respects to the slain rapper in a procession that made its way through South Los Angeles, Watts and Inglewood before ending at a funeral home in the Crenshaw District.
Born on Aug. 15, 1985, Hussle said his first passion was music but getting resources was tough after leaving his mother's house at 14 to live with his grandmother. He said he got involved in street life as he tried to support himself, and he joined the gang Rollin 60's Neighborhood Crips as a teenager.
He later transformed himself from a gang member to a rap musician and channeled his success into efforts to help others stay out of gangs. He bought shoes for students, re-paved basketball courts and provided jobs and shelter for the homeless.
In 2017, Hussle helped renovate a Mid-City roller rink that shaped Los Angeles' early hip-hop scene. He redeveloped a strip mall that housed his Marathon Clothing shop, the same area he used to sell unsigned mixtapes out of the trunk of his car.
It was announced earlier this week that the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and West Slauson Avenue, adjacent to where he was killed, will officially be called "Ermias 'Nipsey Hussle' Asghedom Square."
The Los Angeles police chief said he was devastated by the killing of Hussle, who was shot a day before they were to have a meeting about the relationship between police and the inner city.
"It's cliche to say, work hard, don't quit. I would really say find yourself and find what's your, what's the motivating force behind you? And build around that," the rapper told FOX 11 in 2018.