Nipsey Hussle thought Marathon Clothing could be a seed to revive the impoverished Los Angeles community where he grew up.
The 33-year-old rapper and his business partner purchased property in the Crenshaw neighborhood, intending to knock it down and erect a six-story residential building atop a commercial plaza, with Marathon as its anchor.
But as Hussle stood in that same plaza Sunday afternoon, he was shot and killed by an unknown assailant. On Monday, the neighborhood he sought to improve mourned him for much more than his music.
Hussle’s philanthropic work went well beyond the usual celebrity “giving back” ethos, and political and community leaders were as quick and effusive in their praise as his fellow hip-hop artists.
“Nipsey’s activism, leadership and dedication to community was an inspiration for Californians and beyond,” tweeted California senator and presidential candidate Kamala Harris. “His senseless death leaves us worse off.”
By Monday, hundreds of people formed a circle in front of the closed store to pay their respects. A memorial of candles, flowers and paintings of Hussle took shape in front of the store and in the parking lot. Blaring loudly through several speakers, some of Hussle’s popular songs were being played including “The Weather,” ”Double Up” and “Hussle & Motivate.”
Some shed tears. Many mourners pulled out their phones to document the scene. Others yelled, “Long live Nipsey.”
Dontae Coleman, 28, who lives in the neighborhood, fell to his knees and cried and called Hussle “a legend.”
“Someone changed history yesterday,” he said, referring to the gunman.
Coleman commended the rapper for trying to uplift his own community first instead of simply going elsewhere.
“A lot of people who get rich don’t come back here,” he said. “He’s rare. A lot of people like him don’t come around often.”
Denise Francis Woods, a neighborhood resident who is running for City Council, remembered when Hussle used to sell his demo tapes on street corners in the neighborhood for $5.
“People would tease him,” she said. “They didn’t think that this would work out and look what happened. He persevered, he stayed in, he never gave up.” The effort took him to a whole other level “where he ended up owning property on the same corner.”
An autopsy performed Monday found that Hussle’s death was a homicide, caused by bullet wounds to the head and torso. Police did not reveal a motive or publicly identify any suspects. Two other men standing near Hussle were shot and wounded.
Los Angeles Police Commissioner Steve Soboroff tweeted that he and Police Chief Michel Moore had agreed to meet with Hussle on Monday to talk about ways to stop gang violence.
Hussle, whose real name was Ermias Asghedom, was an Eritrean-American father of two who was engaged to actress Lauren London.
His hip-hop friends and other stars, including Rihanna and Snoop Dogg, mourned on social media, with many pointing out his particular role in uplifting African Americans.
“I’ll remember the beauty that he saw in our community. And the beauty that he was. He loved us,” film director Ava Duvernay tweeted. “He’s left that love with us. And it cannot die. Rest in Power, King. You mattered.”
Born on Aug. 15, 1985, Hussle said his first passion was music but getting resources was tough after leaving his mother’s house at 14 to live with his grandmother. He said he got involved in street life as he tried to support himself, and he joined the gang Rollin 60’s Neighborhood Crips as a teenager.
“I grew up in gang culture,” Hussle told the Los Angeles Times in 2018. “We dealt with death, with murder. It was like living in a war zone, where people die on these blocks and everybody is a little bit immune to it.”
Hussle said his stage name, a play on the 1960s and ’70s rhyming standup comic Nipsey Russell, was given to him as a teen by an older friend because he was such a go-getter — always hustling.
For a decade, he released much sought-after mixtapes that he sold out of the trunk of his car, helping him create a buzz and gain respect from rap purists and his peers.
He charged $100 for his 2013 mixtape “Crenshaw,” scoring a cash and publicity coup when Jay-Z bought 100 copies for $10,000.
Last year he hit new heights with “Victory Lap,” his critically acclaimed major-label debut album on Atlantic Records that made several critics’ best-of lists. The album debuted at No. 4 on Billboard’s 200 albums charts and featured collaborations with Kendrick Lamar and CeeLo Green.
It got him a Grammy nomination, though he lost out to Cardi B’s “Invasion of Privacy.”
Hussle was also a wildly popular figure among professional athletes, especially those based in LA, where he was a regular on the sidelines. Players admired him for his community building.
“So so SAD man!! DAMN man this hurt,” LA Lakers star LeBron James said in one of many emoji-laden tweets about Hussle.
At the LA Clippers game on Sunday night, players Montrezl Harrell and Lou Williams had specially made replica jerseys with “Hussle” on the back hanging in their lockers just a couple of hours after his death, and Hussle’s picture was shown on the arena’s video screens before tipoff.
Hussle had “worked his tail off” to “establish the type of love and type of support that he had from the community,” Harrell said. He was “a person who’s built his own empire, his own type of platform by doing it his way.”