I realize very quickly that, today, you can’t drive east on Slauson. The last couple hundred feet before the road runs into Crenshaw is gridlock, nearly every passenger-side window open, all playing Nipsey Hussle songs. Stand still on the curb leading up to The Marathon, the nexus of today’s vigil, and you can’t make out Nipsey’s words in particular — it’s just cacophony. Move up and down the line, the verses become a little clearer: from “Blue Laces,” from “Hussle and Motivate,” from “Hussle in the House,” from “I Don’t Stress.”
In the nearly two weeks since Nipsey Hussle was murdered — right here, right in front of the clothing store he owned, at the intersection he mythologized in those verses — the parking lot of The Marathon has acted as a living, heaving memorial to the local folk hero. At any given time there will be a sea of prayer candles, or there will be portable speakers rattling against their plastic casings. There are at least two murals. A city councilman has promised that on Friday he’ll introduce a motion to rename this intersection, where Hussle’s motorcade will pass by before day’s end, Nipsey Hussle Square. Today, you can buy stickered mockups of what the sign might look like, a cream-colored plaque reading:
Ermias Nipsey Hussle Asghedom Square
The man selling them has a nearly-empty bottle of Hennessy holding them down like a paperweight.
You see Nipsey shirts everywhere but nobody is selling them. Some are just text (“RIP NIP,” his rap and government names and those dates), some have his airbrushed face, torso, and hands. You get used to seeing him depicted as an angel. A group of young girls lean against the barricade; the backs of their shirts are waving checkered flags and the words, in script: The Marathon Continues.
None of the crowd estimates will be correct. As people flock to this intersection, Nipsey Hussle’s public memorial service is going on at the Staples Center, up the 110 freeway, downtown. The tickets were given away for free but they were gone within minutes of being available — that’s to say, he sold out the Staples Center — and so thousands of people are pitching blue lawn chairs, craning to get good photos, catching up with old neighbors, and even grilling carne asada behind their Chevy Avalanches.
What’s happening at Staples turns out to be very moving: speeches from Nipsey’s mother, brother, and longtime partner Lauren London are precise and gut wrenching; one from Snoop makes folks laugh and warm up. Everyone gets the gravity.
But shortly after the service’s live stream begins, people here give up on watching or listening to it — reception is bad and we’re packed shoulder to shoulder. (Word does make it around that Nipsey, who once rapped that he wanted a Stevie Wonder song played at his funeral, got the actual Stevie Wonder to show up and perform.) Two men in bowties that are made to look like blue and red bandanas tied together are guarding the alleyway toward the murals, beside the Master Burger; they nod sagely at you but do not invite anybody past the bicycle racks. Folks drive neatly-painted lowriders on the far side of the street to polite cheers. Others hang off the awning of Hungry Harold’s, or hold speakers up next to the electronic lotto tickers in the window of Slauson Donut. There’s a casting call for a movie called Two Brothers (AFRICAN AMERICAN MALE 17-20 TO PLAY THE ROLE OF SLIM…) stapled to nearly every telephone pole.
I ask one of my old coworkers, who’s staffing the funeral at Staples, what it’s like inside. He responds using every available animal emoji, adding only, “a zoo !!”
The memorial is supposed to be over by noon, but naturally that’s not even close to what happens. Around 1:30, the sound of a drumline cracks overhead. (There is a lot of disagreement about whether it’s a real drumline or a recording of one, since the area around the square is so densely packed that almost no one on the outer fringes can see all the way in.) Conversations are intermittently drowned out by the LAPD chopper that circles lazily overhead — a grandmother holding a small child laughs and says, cheerily, “He’s looking at the bird!”
A woman in her 40s named Crystal, who told me she lives in walking distance and knew Nipsey by reputation but was at the store for the first time, says what we’re all feeling: “It’s so kind today.” I watch as a conspicuously fit, middle-aged white guy in a floppy cowboy hat and an orange T-shirt that says “Choose Peace” speaks earnestly to people about “ending gang violence,” the way Stevie does to folks inside the Staples Center. Most people usher him on politely; an older black gentleman, though, has some fun with him, grinning and shouting, “Welcome to South Central, Woody!”
Meanwhile, on Facebook, a friend of a friend comments: “I just seen a group of bloods and a group of crips claim their, set dap each other up, and went along their way. They said ‘for nip,’” which seems like the kind of convenient bow someone would tie around a tragedy, except that’s exactly what was done and exactly what was said. An old man named Dom keeps calling Nip “a good kid.” There are Eritrean flags, a nod to Nipsey’s heritage.
A girl in her early 20s tells me she has a fresh tattoo at the base of her neck — you can still see the scarring. It’s one of Nipsey’s lines from that song with the Sade sample: “Too afraid to be different, too ashamed to just listen / See I’m way too 100, so now they hate on my niggas.”
The further West you go, back down Slauson and away from The Marathon, the less dense the crowd becomes — it’s mostly those lined up along the fences, waiting for the funeral procession to bring Nipsey through before he’s laid to rest. A man in a pristine white Warriors warmup — the Baron Davis days, the old logo — hands iced teas to little girls. “Count Up That Loot” plays at deafening volume all of a sudden.
At one point, a limping woman in a Dodgers shirt looks down at her iPhone, then over to her friend — taller, livelier, “WE ARE ALL NEIGHBORS” airbrushed on her shirt — and whispers something, to which the tall woman shouts a response:
“He’s still at the damn Staples Center?!”
The men around us laugh. It’s nice to hear Nipsey be “he” for a little longer.