Nipsey Hussle, a hometown hero, immortalized at LA memorial

Hussle was slain last month in front of a store that he tried to use to empower his South Los Angeles neighborhood. (Invision/AP)
Updated 12 April 2019
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Nipsey Hussle, a hometown hero, immortalized at LA memorial

  • Beyonce and Jay-Z were among the big-name celebrities who attended the three-hour event in Los Angeles
  • And blogger and media figure Karen Civil read a letter sent by former US President Barack Obama

LOS ANGELES: Nipsey Hussle’s legacy as a persistent rapper, community activist, uniter, a doting father, a protective sibling and a loving son were underscored at his public memorial service on Thursday, with deeply personal testimonies from those closest to the rapper, including his actress-fiancee Lauren London, collaborator and dear friend Snoop Dogg and his mother, who said she was at peace with the death of her “superhero” son.
Beyonce and Jay-Z were among the big-name celebrities who attended the three-hour event in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, where the last celebrity funeral held at the concert arena was Michael Jackson’s in 2009.
The arena was packed with more than 21,000 fans and drove home the important impact Hussle — just 33 when he died — had on his city and the rest of the world.
“I’m very proud of my son. My son Ermias Joseph Asghedom was a great man,” said Angelique Smith, dressed in all white. Standing onstage with Hussle’s father, Dawit Asghedom, she declared: “Ermias was a legacy.”
London, who was in dark sunglasses, was emotional but stood strong onstage as she told the audience: “I’ve never felt this type of pain before.”
London called Hussle “majestic” and “brilliant” and said she had learned so much from his presence. She added though she was hurting, she was really sad for their son Kross, whom she feared wouldn’t remember his dad: “My pain is for my two-year-old.”
Snoop Dogg’s words to immortalize his friend were both serious and silly, as he told old stories about Hussle and their brotherhood.
“This a tough one right here,” he said, visibly shaken but keeping his composure.
Snoop thanked Hussle’s parents multiple times and told his father that “you picked up another son in me.”
Hussle’s father said he knew his son was strong because when he was born, the umbilical cord was wrapped around his neck but he prevailed.
“He was a fighter,” he said.
Earlier in the ceremony, Hussle’s children also appeared onstage to pay tribute. London’s son with rapper Lil Wayne, Cameron Carter, said days after Hussle died, he had a dream he saw the rapper.
“I realized Ermias told me what heaven was like. He told me it was paradise,” Cameron said.
Cameron then told the audience that Hussle would look at him through the window at times and say “respect.” Cameron then asked the crowd to say “respect” in unison, and they complied.
Hussle was slain last month in front of a store that he tried to use to empower his South Los Angeles neighborhood. The public memorial service kicked off by paying respect to Hussle the rapper, as songs from his latest Grammy-nominated album, “Victory Lap,” filled the arena.
“Everybody put your hands in the air,” the DJ said as one of Hussle’s songs played. “It’s a celebration.”
Indeed, his mother danced in the aisle as R&B singer Marsha Ambrosius sang the Mariah Carey song “Fly Like a Bird” while fighting back tears. “This is for Nipsey y’all,” Ambrosius said before she started as she tried to gain her composure, sighing heavily.
But soon the focus was squarely on the person behind the persona. A montage of photos featuring the rapper from infancy, childhood and adulthood, with fellow rappers, his family and London, were shown to the crowd, set to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.”
Stevie Wonder was the last performer to pay tribute to Hussle, who he said he had the chance to meet, saying: “We had a good conversation.” Before he sang “Rocket Song,” one of Hussle’s favorites, Wonder denounced gun violence and told the audience “there’s enough people being killed by guns and violence.”
Anthony Hamilton invoked the spirit of a church service when he performed in Hussle’s honor. Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan hailed Hussle’s ability to bring different factions together. And blogger and media figure Karen Civil read a letter sent by former US President Barack Obama.
“I’ve never meet Nipsey, but I’ve heard his music through my daughters, and after his passing I had the chance to learn more about his transformation and his community work. While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and only see gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope. He saw a community that even through its flaws taught him to always keep going. He choice to invest in that community rather than to ignore it,” the Obama letter read. “He set an example for young people to follow and is a legacy worth of celebration. I hope his memory inspires more good work in Crenshaw and communities like it. Michelle and I send our sympathies to Lauren, Emani, Kross and his while family and to all those who love Nipsey.”
Father Thomas Uwal read a scripture in Tigrinya — the native language in Eritrea, the African country where Hussle’s father was from. Uwal spoke of Hussle being a “proud to be an Eritrean-American,” later saying to the late rapper’s family: “On behalf of all Eritreans ... we say our condolences to you.”
Books with an image of Hussle on the cover were handed out to service attendees. The book of nearly 100 pages contained numerous photos of Hussle with London, his children, and friends like Russell Westbrook and Snoop Dogg. It also had heartfelt messages from Rick Ross, The Game and LeBron James.
“I’ve never cried myself to sleep over any public figure before, but Nipsey’s presence meant so much for our community,” actress Issa Rae said in her message inside the book.
The hearse carrying Hussle’s coffin went through a 25-mile lap through the city, including past the property where Hussle had planned to turn an aging strip mall into new businesses and affordable homes. Finally, it will arrive at a funeral home in the city’s hard-scrabble Crenshaw district, where the rapper was born on Aug. 15, 1985.
Hussle was shot to death March 31 while standing outside The Marathon, his South Los Angeles clothing store, not far from where the rapper grew up.
Eric R. Holder Jr., who has been charged with killing Hussle, has pleaded not guilty. Police have said Holder and Hussle had several interactions the day of the shooting and have described it as being the result of a personal dispute.
For a decade, Hussle 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. His 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.
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 earned him a Grammy nomination.
But the rapper was also a beloved figure for his philanthropic work that went well beyond the usual celebrity “giving back” ethos. Following his death, political and community leaders were as quick and effusive in their praise as his fellow hip-hop artists.
His family and friends vowed to continue his work, and London told the crowd: “The marathon continues!”


Breaking big: Nadine Labaki’s star continues to rise

Updated 6 min 24 sec ago
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Breaking big: Nadine Labaki’s star continues to rise

  • Labaki is currently serving as the president of the Un Certain Regard jury, the first Arab to do so
  • “Capernaum” has become an unexpected blockbuster in China, reportedly grossing $44 million in just over two weeks

DUBAI: The success that Lebanese director Nadine Labaki’s third film, “Capernaum,” continues to find across the world is astounding — even to her. Just one year ago, “Capernaum” won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival — a jury chaired by Cate Blanchett — after a 15-minute standing ovation. The film went on to be nominated for both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Foreign Film, with Labaki becoming the first woman from the Arab world to receive that honor. Now, perhaps most surprisingly, “Capernaum” has become an unexpected blockbuster in China, reportedly grossing $44 million in just over two weeks.
“It’s crazy! I can’t believe it! I really can’t. Why there? It’s all very new, so I still don’t know what it means exactly, but we’re soon going to find out,” Labaki tells Arab News in Cannes.
With its success in China, along with the US, Middle East and across Europe, “Capernaum” has reportedly become the highest grossing Arabic-language film in history.
“There’s been rumors going on for the past two to three days, and it’s like, ‘What?’ I still can’t believe it. It’s living proof that an Arab film with no actors can actually be a box office hit — can actually return money, make money for investors. You know how much we’re struggling in the Arab world to make films, find money, find funding, find investment. Especially for a Lebanese film,” Labaki says.
Labaki was in China just one month ago to show the film at the Beijing International Film Festival, and although the film got a rousing response in the room, she didn’t feel the reaction was any stronger than anywhere else the film has shown.
“Maybe it’s because there’s more than a billion people in China, but even the distributor is saying it’s working like any big blockbuster movie,” says Labaki.
The Chinese release of the film has one major difference from other cuts. The original version of the film tells the story of a young boy named Zain El Hajj (played by Zain Al-Rafeea) struggling to survive on the streets of Lebanon with the help of a young Ethiopian immigrant named Rahil and her undocumented infant son Yonas, dreaming of escaping as a refugee to Sweden. The story is not far from Al-Rafeea’s real-life situation at the time — he is a Syrian refugee. Since the film’s release, though, Al-Rafeea and his family have been relocated to Norway, something the Chinese release includes at the end of the film as a short visual report.
“The film ends on his smile, and in a way there’s (now) a continuation of real life in that story. This is really happening, it’s not made up,” says Labaki. “That’s why we’re making a documentary around the film. Maybe it’s a way of comforting people, knowing that he’s alright, he’s good, he’s in a better place. Deep down, people know this kid is going through this in his real life, they know he’s not just an actor in this film.
“I think it’s comforting to know Zain is in a different place now. He’s travelled. He was dreaming of going to Sweden the whole time, and now he’s really in Norway. He has a new life, a new beginning, a new house. He’s going to school, all his family is with him,” she continues. “It’s a complete shift of destiny. Maybe the fact the distributor added this report after the film made people understand that this is a real story and a real struggle, and not just another film.”
Though this is a huge moment for Arab film in general, Labaki doesn’t believe that the success of “Capernaum” necessarily signals a greater appetite for Arab cinema worldwide.
“I don’t think it’s about (where the film comes from). It’s about good films. It has nothing to do with the identity of the film or the country it’s coming from, really. It doesn’t mean if this film worked in China that another Arab film will work in China,” she says. “Maybe there’s going to be more hope for Lebanese cinema in the sense that investors will be less afraid to invest in Lebanese films, but it’s about the script, the filmmaker, the craft, the know-how. This is what gives confidence to somebody.”
Speaking to Arab News at the renowned Hotel Barrière Le Majestic Cannes on one of the busiest days of the film festival, Labaki is currently serving as the president of the Un Certain Regard jury, the first Arab to do so. Labaki began her relationship with Cannes in 2004, writing and developing her first feature, “Caramel,” at the Cinéfoundation Residency before showcasing the film at the Director’s Fortnight in 2007. Both of Labaki’s subsequent films — “Where do We Go Now?” in 2011 and “Capernaum” in 2018 — debuted at the festival, each in increasingly competitive categories.
“I feel like I’m their baby, in a way. With a baby you start watching their first steps, see them grow, protect them, push them… They’ve accompanied me in this journey, and recognized and encouraged me. It’s great — I really love this festival. I think it’s the best festival in the world. I like the integrity they have towards cinema. You feel that watching a film in Cannes, you know that you’re not going to watch just anything — there’s something in there for you to learn from, to be surprised by, to be in awe of. There’s always something about films that are shown in Cannes,” says Labaki.
In approaching her role as head of the jury, Labaki is focusing on connecting with the films, and taking on the perspective of myriad filmmakers from across the world.
“I don’t watch films as a filmmaker. Never,” she says. “I watch the film as a human being… I don’t like the word jury. I don’t like to judge because I’ve been there — I’m there all the time. I’ve been in those very difficult situations, very fragile situations, where you’re making a film, where you’re doubting, where you don’t know, where you don’t have enough distance with what you’re doing, and you don’t have the right answers and you’re not taking the right decisions.”
Just as her own films have become increasingly focused on the problems facing Lebanese society, Labaki believes that contemporary film cannot help but be political, and must accept its role as a commentary on the world we live in — something that she feels she’s seen in the films in her category.
“Cinema is not just about making another film; it’s about saying something about the state of the world right now. Until now, every film we’ve seen is (doing that). That doesn’t mean that cinema that is just art for art’s sake is not good — there are so many different schools — but I feel we’re becoming so much more responsible for this act,” she says. “You become an activist without even knowing you’re becoming an activist, and saying something about the state of the world. It’s important.”