We love you, Nipsey Hussle. You will never be forgotten.
The words echoed through the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday as thousands gathered to remember the beloved rapper, who was fatally shot last month outside of his store, Marathon Clothing.
His murder shook the surrounding community and the music industry overall, as Hussle, whose real name was Ermias Asghedom, had been hailed a local hero in recent years for his activism and efforts to redevelop South Los Angeles through his community work, his businesses and an apartment building for low-income families. (A 29-year-old man was charged earlier this month with murdering Hussle, 33.)
Free tickets to the memorial service, which was also streamed online, were made available earlier this week and sold out within minutes. The "Celebration of Life" began around 2 p.m. Eastern with the processional, "Victory Lap," from Hussle's Grammy-nominated album of the same name.
Artists such as Stevie Wonder and Snoop Dogg joined Hussle's family and close friends in memorializing the rapper.
Barack Obama wrote a letter to Hussle's friends and family.
Hussle's business partner, Karen Civil, read the former president's letter aloud (and later tweeted it from her personal account). While he never met Hussle, Obama wrote that he became acquainted with the rapper's music through his daughters, Malia and Sasha. He then praised Hussle's community work, which he learned about after hearing of the rapper's untimely death.
"While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and see only gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential," Obama wrote. "He saw a community that, even through its flaws, taught him to always keep going. His choice to invest in that community rather than ignore it - to build a skills training center and a coworking space in Crenshaw; to lift up the Eritrean-American community; to set an example for young people to follow - is a legacy worthy of celebration."
Hussle's children - Emani Asghedom, Kross Asghedom and Kameron Carter - paid respect to their father while onstage with Lauren London, Hussle's longtime girlfriend.
Kameron, London's 9-year-old son with rapper Lil Wayne, shared a dream he recently had of encountering Hussle in paradise: "He said, 'What up, Killah?' Because that's my nickname, Killah," Kameron said. "I turned around and I yelled his name and I gave him a hug. Shortly, he was gone, but it was still cool, I guess . . . I realized that Ermias told me what heaven was like. He told me it was paradise."
Emani, Hussle's daughter from a previous relationship, declined to speak, while 2-year-old Kross cooed into the microphone.
London remembered Hussle, whom she called "a gentle father, a patient leader, a divine light."
In January, London composed a loving text message to Hussle about the "real joy" she felt around him. She read it aloud during the memorial service and recalled the little things that she loved about him: how he'd listen to audio books before going to bed, or how he'd burn sage in the morning to make sure his family members started their day with good energy.
"This pain is really ours, you know? We know what Nip meant to us. We lost an incredible soul," London said to the audience. "He always used to say this: 'The game is going to test you. Never fold. Stay 10 toes down. It's not on you, it's in you. And what's in you, they can't take away.' And he's in all of us."
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan took note of Hussle's legacy as a community advocate.
Hussle was "to hip-hop and rap what Bob Marley was to reggae," Farrakhan said. "He is the prophetic voice of all in that community. What do I mean by that? He lived the gang life, but he didn't stay there. He lived the life of the hood but he rose about the pool of gravity."
"When you can fly above the circumstances of your life, it produces envy and enmity and jealousy among those who have not yet learned how to fly," he later added. "But Ermias was more than a hip-hop artist. He was a voice, he was a brilliant mind, and the spirit of God was in his life."
Singers Marsha Ambrosius, Anthony Hamilton and Jhené Aiko honored Hussle through musical performances.
Ambrosius sang Mariah Carey's "Fly Like a Bird," while Anthony Hamilton performed his song "Pass Me Over." During a musical interlude, he asked the audience "not to let [Hussle's] life and the work and the seeds that he planted be in vain. From this day forward, we will be a community and we will love again."
Aiko sang her song "Eternal Sunshine" shortly afterward.
Stevie Wonder, the final performer, called for stronger gun laws:
Before performing, Wonder called for leaders to implement stronger gun laws to prevent "unnecessary" deaths like Hussle's.
"We still are living in a time where ego, anger, jealousy is controlling our lives. 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's unacceptable. It's almost like the world is becoming blind. I pray that we will grow, that the leaders who have a responsibility to perpetuate life will do it by making sure that the laws will make it so very hard for people to have guns and to take their frustrations out to kill life. I'm very happy that, in his short life, [Hussle] was able to motivate people. And I hope that it motivates you enough to say, 'Listen, enough of people being killed by guns and violence.'"
Wonder then sang a portion of what he was told was one of Hussle's favorite songs of his, "Rocket Love," before turning to "Tears in Heaven." Hussle had rapped about having Wonder play at his funeral in the 2016 song "Ocean Views."
Snoop Dogg reminisced on his personal and professional relationships with Hussle.
Snoop said most rappers approach him with a level of cockiness, but that Hussle was different.
He said, "Ay, homey, listen to my music. Just give it a listen," Snoop recalled, adding his own reaction: "That's it? No record deal? You don't want to get put on?"
Hussle didn't want to be handed anything - he wanted to work for it. Snoop said the two of them shared "that spirit of love," and that when they met, "it was like a magnet coming together."
"This man got a letter from Barack Obama, man," he concluded. "For God so loved the world, he gave us a good crip. The late, great, neighborhood Nip."
Samuel Asghedom spoke about the early stages of his younger brother's music career.
The first time Asghedom heard his then-teenage brother's music, he pulled Hussle aside and asked, "'Bro, did you write this?' Man, it was so complex."
Asghedom said he tried to "keep [Hussle] out of the streets and out of the gang-banging," and that music presented itself as the only way for Hussle to move forward.
"That was going to be one of my goals, to see where he took it, and to just try to make something legit for him to have," Asghedom said. "He ended up actually making something legit for me to have, for us to have. After all this, bro go out like this, man. It really don't make sense."
Pastor Shep Crawford delivered a passionate eulogy.
Crawford said that Hussle's presence will be among us as long as "you keep him alive because he's now turning this marathon race into a relay race, meaning he's let go of the baton."
"When we leave here, my hope is we don't let this wear off in a month and get over it," Crawford later added. "If we kill each other, we're dropping the baton . . . If we leave here [without] a plan to buy up business in South Central, then we're dropping the baton."
He alluded to Michael Jackson's funeral by saying that, to his knowledge, the last funeral held at the Staples Center was for the greatest entertainer in the world. And now, for Hussle.
"This man has changed this city forever, and now he lives in you. Even though this is the shell," Crawford said, gesturing toward the casket, "I see Nipsey up there. When we're leaving, we're taking Nipsey everywhere."