Nipsey Hussle had already built the foundations of a legacy in South Los Angeles. Beloved for his music and his generosity, the 33-year-old hip-hop artist invested in his hometown and used his fame to promote education and community projects.
His accomplishments were remembered and what he could have done weighed heavily on the minds of mourners Thursday inside Los Angeles' Staples Center and on the streets of Los Angeles during an emotional memorial and procession for the rapper and philanthropist. The service was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., but it was delayed as people waited in lines to get inside about an hour later.
"He had a vision for me that I didn't even have for myself," rapper Snoop Dogg said of the artist known as Neighborhood Nip. "So, I want to thank you mother and father for bringing Nipsey into this world. For giving us Nipsey."
His brother told the crowd there wasn't much anyone could say Thursday that didn't already shine through in the music. His lyrics touched on life in Los Angeles' Crenshaw District, growing up there and his dreams for its future.
"Everything he said in the music was who he was," said brother Samuel Asghedom. "I just hope that he knows we're all proud of him.
"He loved where he grew up. Just wanted to aspire and always bring something back."
Mourners were given a nearly 100-page book that featured comments from rappers Rick Ross and The Game, actress-writer Issa Rae and Lakers star LeBron James. The book also has pictures of Nipsey with his girlfriend Lauren London, his children, NBA player and former Bruin Russell Westbrook and Snoop Dogg.
London read from a text message she sent Nipsey in January. In the private text, she said he made her feel safe and loved.
"Ermias was asleep one morning, and I was watching him because I love to watch him sleep, so I wrote him a text," she said.
She told him through sickness and through fears he "encouraged, surprised" and "urged me to reach higher." She said she told him he was the "coolest guy in the world," and said he was "my turn-up and my church."
"We lost someone very rare to us," London said. "We lost a real one. We won't ever be the same."
Guests wearing apparel with Crenshaw logos and images of Nipsey gathered outside the arena, which hosted pop star Michael Jackson's memorial in July 2009. Free tickets for the memorial were scooped up in less than an hour Tuesday.
The service started with a photo montage of Nipsey through the years. It was set to the music of Frank Sinatra's "My Way." It was followed by words from Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam.
"It is a great honor for me and for us to be here to honor a life that will become more famous in death than in life, and the work that his life will produce will go down in history as something that changed the world," Farrakhan said.
Business partner and friend Karen Civil read from a letter that she said was received Thursday morning from former President Barack Obama.
"I've never met Nipsey, but I've heard his music through my daughters," a tearful Civil read from the letter. "And, after his passing, I had the chance to learn more about his transformation and community work. While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and see only gangs bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope. He saw a community that taught he that even through his flaws, to keep going."
The service was followed by a procession in South Los Angeles passed Nipsey's clothing store -- the site of his March 31 fatal shooting that has since become a place for fans to grieve. The 25-mile procession wound through South Los Angeles, dubbed a Victory Lap. Firefigthers responded to 15 patients directly related to the event and five were taken to hospitals. Downed power lines were reported due to Mylar balloons.
Thousands of people lined the route of the procession at various points, some tossing flowers onto the hearse carrying his body as it was driven past, and other moving into the street to touch the slow-moving vehicle.
A large crowd assembled outside The Marathon store, many people waiting since early in the morning for the procession to pass by. By late afternoon, the crowd became restless at times, prompting surges of people into the street, toppling barricades that had been placed to clear a path for the hearse to pass.
At one point, a balloon is believed to have popped, startling the crowd and prompting many people to push into the street. Police formed skirmish lines to push the crowd back, and appeared to restore order without arrests or major injuries.
More officers were brought in as the procession neared the location to help keep the street clear. As the procession approached the store around 5:40 p.m., a security team encircled the hearse and walked alongside the vehicle to escort it through the crowd and allow it to keep moving -- at a crawling pace.
As the hearse moved into the area, the boisterous crowd became respectfully calm, with spectators lifting their cell phones to snap photos. The convoy repeated came to a stop when people pushed too far into the street, blocking the hearse's path.
Nipsey, a father of two whose real name is Ermias Ashgedom, was shot and killed outside his Marathon clothing store in Los Angeles' Hyde Park area. A man was arrested two days later and charged with murder.
The shooting touched off days of reflection and tributes, including many from fans, politicians, community leaders, athletes and celebrities. Candles, notes, balloons and flowers were left outside his store, where a few mourners dropped off items early Thursday morning. When some of those items were trampled during a chaotic night, residents and volunteers with the city of LA replaced them so mourners would still have a place to honor the man who had mixtapes titled "Slauson Boy" and "Crenshaw," nods to the community he loved.
Marathon is at the intersection of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue, about 10 miles southwest of downtown Los Angeles. Los Angeles' city council is considering a motion to rename the location "Nipsey Hussle Square." Before his death, Nipsey was planning to meet with members of the LAPD about combating gang violence.
He spoke about his association with the Rollin 60s Neighborhood Crips in a 2010 interview with Complex.
Nipsey had success in hip-hop's inner circles for a decade through his coveted mixtapes. "Crenshaw" sold 1,000 copies at $100 apiece in an unconventional and independent pop-up sale in Los Angeles. He broke big last year with his major-label debut album, "Victory Lap," which was nominated for a Grammy. Sales and streams of Nipsey's music have surged since his death, with thousands of copies of his albums bought during the week of his shooting, according to Nielsen Music.
His songs include references to his entrepreneurship and a vision for the neighborhoods where he grew up, including the Crenshaw District. Nipsey and a business partner bought the plaza in which Marathon is located with plans to revitalize the area with a residential-commercial development, according to a Forbes report.
"I just want to give back in an effective way," he told the Los Angeles Times in 2018. "I remember being young and really having the best intentions and not being met on my efforts. You're, like, 'I'm going to really lock into my goals and my passion and my talents' but you see no industry support. You see no structures or infrastructure built and you get a little frustrated."
Thursday's procession is expected to pass the store and other parts of South Los Angeles. A crowd had already gathere at the store early Thursday.
More recently, Nipsey participated in community development efforts and was part of the team behind Destination Crenshaw, an open-air museum honoring African-American achievement. He also invested in Vector 90, a program in South LA for young people interested in science, technology and mathematics. Hussle called it a bridge between Silicon Valley and the inner city.
Imani Beal-Ampah, a longtime Crenshaw District resident, told NBC News that she remembers the genuine enthusiasm around the release of his earliest songs in 2009. She's also seen his impact in South Los Angeles neighborhoods.
"He became a neighborhood hero; he was such a positive figure in our community," Beal-Ampah, 29, said. "You see the changes that he made. He worked with elementary schools and helped to bring STEM programs in the community. This is not just someone who just had a business. He wanted to change the community from the root up."
Nipsey is survived by his longtime girlfriend, actress and model Lauren London, with whom he had a son, Kross, and by a daughter, Emani, from a previous relationship.
The man charged with killing Nipsey has pleaded not guilty. Eric Holder entered the plea during his first court appearance in Los Angeles Thursday. The 29-year-old has been charged with murder and two attempted murder charges over the attack that killed Nipsey and wounded two other men.
Holder was ordered held in lieu of $5 million bail. If convicted, Holder faces life in prison.
Holder and Nipsey, who knew each other, had several conversations that Sunday outside The Marathon store, police said. They said Holder eventually returned with a handgun and shot Hussle and wounded two other men before fleeing.
City News Service contributed to this report.