LOS ANGELES — Thousands of mourners are expected to gather in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday to honor the life of Nipsey Hussle, the Grammy-nominated rapper who was fatally shot last month and whose success and commitment to redeveloping South Los Angeles made him a local hero.
The funeral, billed as a “celebration of life,” will be held at the Staples Center. All tickets for the event, which were free, were claimed online within minutes of being made available earlier this week. The arena’s capacity is 21,000.
Tens of thousands of fans are expected to gather around the venue, where a public memorial for Michael Jackson was hosted in 2009. The two-hour service will begin at 10 a.m. local time and will be followed by a procession from the Staples Center through South Los Angeles.
Hussle, born Ermias Joseph Asghedom, channeled his upbringing and adolescence as a gang member into music that spoke powerfully to many who live in Los Angeles’ most vulnerable neighborhoods. As his star rose in recent years, Hussle brought investments and attention back to the area, earning the adoration of his neighbors and fans.
Though he developed a following far beyond Southern California, his death last week struck a particularly painful chord among residents of the Crenshaw District, where he grew up. His clothing store on Slauson Avenue in South Los Angeles, The Marathon Clothing, had become a potent symbol of local success and black entrepreneurship, a theme he addressed regularly in his music. His fans clung to lyrics that melded familiar rap bombast with exaltations about self-discipline and long-term financial planning, a break from a music culture that often emphasizes flashy spending.
The store transformed into a makeshift memorial on March 31 after Hussle was gunned down there over a “personal dispute,” according to the Los Angeles Police Department. The suspect, Eric Holder, was apprehended by authorities two days after the shooting.
For days outside the store, fans prayed, lit candles and left hand-written letters addressed to Hussle. One of the mourners was Candace Cosey, 32, who remembers him as Ermias from their time attending Hamilton High School together in the early 2000s, a magnet school on the West Side of Los Angeles. She recalled how Hussle would sell mix CDs to her and others at school, and how he later started selling music in the neighborhood out of his trunk.
She came close to tears as she pulled out a picture of him from the high school yearbook. “If you grew up here, you either knew him directly or you knew someone who knew him,” she said.
Even as his career took off, Hussle remained approachable and “big hearted,” she said. As he amassed fame and wealth, he continued living modestly while making investments in businesses in the neighborhood. And he could be very generous. When a colleague passed away several years ago, Ms. Cosey approached Hussle’s team to see if he could help with the funeral expenses. He contributed several thousand dollars, she said.
“He was about uplifting us. He hired people from the neighborhood who wouldn’t have had a job otherwise. He took care of so many people, and he invested in what he believed in, here, because he grew up here,” she said. “We have to keep that work going. It’s what he was about.”
Hussle’s death has drawn attention far beyond the Crenshaw District. Celebrities and political leaders across the country have offered their condolences to Hussle’s family and friends. In an interview last week, Mayor Eric Garcetti of Los Angeles praised Hussle’s contributions to South Los Angeles, a community that he acknowledged has been historically overlooked by the city’s political establishment.
Mr. Garcetti said Hussle embodied the very idea of black entrepreneurship, a critical component of lifting the community and its residents.
“He represented redemption and hope. He had come from the world of gangs and gotten out,” he said. “This is a devastating shock to the stomach. He was really ambitious — he wanted to get African Americans into tech, on top of his music game, on top of his businesses.”
“Then to be killed in such a clichéd way, by guns, for a beef in South L.A., it feeds into too many stereotypes,” he said.
Velma Sanders, 60, said she did not listen to Hussle’s music but, as a lifelong resident of South Los Angeles, she felt pride watching his career grow in recent years. His presence, she said, was felt by everyone.