South Central Gives Nipsey Hussle the Send-Off of a Lifetime

Jermaine, an associate of Nipsey Hussle's, wears a shoe he had custom painted in Hussle's honor. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Jermaine, an associate of Nipsey Hussle's, wears a shoe he had custom painted in Hussle's honor. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

Few communities love harder than South Central.

So when they lost one of their own – a young man that was just coming into his power and who had told them that, despite all that they had been denied and all that they had struggled through, they could do the same – they came out to testify in his honor.

It was a day unlike any I had seen in the city in my seven years covering South Central. And it was a day unlike any anyone I spoke to in the community could remember.

“Historic,” was the way it was most often described to me.

“Beautiful,” was another, given the palpable sense of unity seen and felt across ‘hoods – something that Nipsey Hussle had advocated for for at least half of his 33 years before being shot to death at Crenshaw and Slauson this past March 31st.

But it was also, everyone agreed, a hard day.

The memorial to Nipsey Hussle sits in front of The Marathon store in the strip mall where he spent much of his life. He died here this past March 31. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
The memorial to Nipsey Hussle sits in front of The Marathon store in the strip mall where he spent much of his life and where he worked to uplift the community. He died here March 31. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

It had been a very hard couple of weeks.

Hussle had stayed loyal to his community to the end – he was never too big for it and only wanted to see it lifted up in the way he knew it deserved.

To most, it made no sense that someone whose message was so positive and who was so dedicated to doing the work that public agencies and private investors had historically refused to do in Black communities could be cut down so cruelly.

That it happened in the same spot he had come up in – the parking lot that had been the epicenter of his life since he was fourteen years old and the place he was working to turn into an incubator of hope and prosperity for the community – was almost incomprehensible.

Justin, Joshua, Carter, Eugene, Michael, and a friend (who moved on before I got his name) take in the procession at Crenshaw and Slauson. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Justin, Joshua, Carter, Eugene, Michael, and a friend (who moved on before I got his name) take in the procession at Crenshaw and Slauson. Hussle’s latest album, Victory Lap, may have been nominated for a Grammy, but their favorite songs date back to his earliest mixtapes, including Bullets Ain’t Got No Name – Volume I from 2008. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

“We always saw him here,” said Michael, 19.

When they were younger, they would would walk past the strip mall at Crenshaw and Slauson on their way to the store to get Gatorade. Hussle and his brother, known as Blacc Sam, had a t-shirt shop there at the time.

Hussle was always right there, they said. Within reach. He was one of them.

And all the things he talked about in his music were things they could relate to – things they had been through, too. More importantly, said Michael, Hussle understood why youth had to make some of the choices they did and spoke about ways they could set their sights higher. Even as far back as 2008, in songs like Questions (from his mixtape, Bullets Ain’t Got No Name – Volume 1) – one they named as a favorite – Hussle was openly challenging other youth to rethink how they moved in the neighborhood and even how they saw themselves.

He showed them they could do it without having to change who they were or reject where they came from. And they paid attention.

“He taught me the difference between being a gang banger and a gang member,” said Michael, referencing one of a number of interviews Hussle gave over the years where he spoke about how he still was loyal to his set and his neighborhood, but chose to be so in a way he felt would bring the neighborhood up.

He had managed to inspire unity across ‘hoods that had beefed it for years, they said, ticking off the list of gangs they had been shocked to see show up and walk side by side in the Unity March held last weekend.

Even Michael had talked to people he didn’t like from other neighborhoods, he said, seeming somewhat surprised at himself for having taken such a step.

Nipsey was an inspiration, they agreed. He made millions. He brought people together. And he did it all from right here.

Mural in the alley adjacent to the strip mall where Hussle was killed at Crenshaw and Slauson. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Mural in the alley adjacent to the strip mall where Hussle was killed at Crenshaw and Slauson. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The message of unity across all ‘hoods was what made the day so spectacular.

From the moment the funeral procession moved into South Central along Vermont Avenue, people were jumping into the mix in their cars, on their bikes, on scooters, on motorcycles, or, as it appeared in the case of one man on foot, to run a marathon (the route distance) in honor of Nipsey’s slogan, The Marathon Continues. Or they were celebrating in their ‘hood and then jumping in the car or on bikes to head over to Crenshaw and Slauson so they could celebrate him in his home ‘hood and support that community.

Mourners along Vermont Avenue, near King Blvd. The marathon runner is visible coming up alongside the procession. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.
Mourners along Vermont Avenue, near King Blvd. The marathon runner is visible coming up alongside the procession. Sahra Sulaiman/Streetsblog L.A.

The length of the route – nearly 26 miles – ensured that just about anyone from any neighborhood who wanted to view the procession would have ample opportunity to do so.

We’ll be posting a deeper look at Hussle in the next couple of the days. In the meanwhile, these are some of the images taken along Vermont, at Century and Main, and at Crenshaw and Slauson. [All photos by Sahra Sulaiman]

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Traffic came to a halt and people jumped out of their cars as the procession made its way toward South Central. With clouds of incense smoke wafting out some of the doors just south of Pico along Vermont Avenue, it felt like the beginning of a sacred journey.

Here, the hearse carrying Hussle’s casket passes a stopped school bus south of Adams Boulevard. The procession was projected to take about an hour and a half – an estimate mourners liberally rolled their eyes at.

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The caravan and the 60s were shown love everywhere, including while rolling through the 40s at Vermont and Vernon.

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Just north of there, at Manual Arts High School, students had spilled out across the front lawn to say good-bye to Hussle. It was not the only school that let its students out early so they could bear witness to the celebration of Hussle’s life.

At ICEF Innovation (near 50th), fifth grade students (including Tanari, Terry, and Darrnell, below) climbed the fences hoping to get a glimpse of the car carrying the man they and other students said represented “peace” and “unity” to them.

They hadn’t been surprised to hear about Nipsey’s passing, teacher Sharrol García told me when asked how they had handled his loss. Unfortunately, in their experience, she said, they saw such losses as “normal.”

Instead, what they had struggled to understand was why it hadn’t happened the way they expected – by a rival gang member or something of that nature. Learning it was someone Hussle knew who had possibly once been a friend (aspiring rapper Eric Holder) had left them confused.

They were determined to keep his memory alive, however, and would be choosing inspirational quotes of his to include in their graduation celebration.

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At Century and Main, I ran into old friends from several South Central bike clubs.

Valisa – Ms Lee Lee – had been on the corner since 10 a.m. preparing to serve tacos to the community with another member of her club, the Ladie Riders. While primarily a bike club, the Ladie Riders have also been active in community service, feeding the community in area parks when resources permit.

She was there with her husband, Randy May, known as Chicken-Man from the Brothers of Color.

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The bike clubs commandeered the northwest corner of Century and Main, bumped some old school jams, and danced.

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The gentleman at right introduced himself as the local rap god and asked if I wanted to hear some bars.

Another rapper from Atlanta was moved by the man’s lyrics, which were about his difficult upbringing and how he had to fend for himself in the streets.

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So, they started trading bars.

And promptly bonded.

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Other aspiring musicians, rappers Kobey Cash (left) and Gold Franko (right), reflected on Nipsey’s passing and about the outpouring of love they were seeing in the streets.

Nipsey had shown them how to be men, they said. “He woke everybody up.”

They had to believe that all the positivity he had sown and all the unity he had forged would continue after his passing. His soul is still here, they insisted.

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People seemed determined to keep his spirit alive, with many wearing blue and flashing crip signs from the 60s or their own neighborhoods in a show of unity and solidarity.

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Once the procession had passed through, the party continued for a little while longer, with drivers doing donuts in the intersection while mourners tried to figure out how they were going to get over to Crenshaw and Slauson.

Around 5 p.m., the helicopters were still hovering over the edge of Inglewood and the crowd in front of The Marathon store was still growing.

People scrambled up light poles and signs, got on top of every available roof, and clambered on top of cars hoping to catch a glimpse of the hearse as it traversed the intersection that will be renamed Ermias “Nipsey Hussle” Asghedom Square in Hussle’s honor.

Keishaun, Jermaine (owner of the shoes at the top of the story), and another associate chose to stay up out of the fray.

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Slauson Donuts – which featured prominently in Hussle in the House and, more recently, his 2019 GQ photo shoot – was a popular vantage point.

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So was the pet store across the street.

The LAPD were also present in significant numbers. Their primary activity was crowd control – they lined the route, keeping mourners from pushing through the barriers or stepping into the path of the vehicles coming through.

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But a very low-flying (and loud) LAPD helicopter circled the intersection for most of the hour and a half I was there, much to the annoyance (but not surprise) of most people I spoke with.

People were also confused when the LAPD – wearing helmets and face shields – started lining up in what appeared to residents to be some sort of tactical formation and moved into the peaceful crowd.

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The relationship between the LAPD and the community has long been troubled.

A gang injunction slapped on members of the Rollin 60s in 2003 gave the LAPD license to treat the larger community even more poorly than it already had been.

Hussle himself continued to be stopped and searched by police near his store, even after all his success. And one of the men shot during the incident that killed Hussle, TMZ is reporting, has been arrested for violating his parole by associating with a known gang member – namely, Nipsey.

So it was no surprise that this vehicle became a popular selfie spot.

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When the procession finally arrived, a roar went up through the crowd and the phones went into the air.

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And so did the love.

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Got thoughts on the procession, Nipsey’s passing, or what it means for the community, more generally? Find me on twitter or send me an email: sahra[at]streetsblog.org

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