The city of Los Angeles is no stranger to epic street gatherings for everything from sports victory parades to televised car chases.
But on Thursday it will host a much more somber — although likely equally large — affair when it lays to rest one of its native sons, rapper Nipsey Hussle.
Following a “Celebration of Life” at the same 21,000-seat arena where pop superstar Michael Jackson was memorialized 10 years ago, Hussle’s body will be taken on a 25-mile funeral procession through many of the mean streets where he was raised and that he was trying to uplift when he was shot to death outside his Marathon Clothing store last month.
Thousands are expected to turn out as the hearse carrying Hussle’s coffin from the Staples Center travels deep into the neighborhood where the deadly Rodney King race riot began in 1992 and on 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 Ermias Ashgedom on Aug. 15, 1985.
“I definitely plan to be out there and paying my final respects,” said Glauz Diego who, although he didn’t follow Hussle’s music closely, was proud to meet him when the rapper stopped by the offices of the Los Angeles Community Coalition where Diego is one of the executives. The rapper had come to meet with local officials to discuss ways to improve the community.
Although he was little known outside the hip-hop world before his death, the run-up to his funeral has drawn comparisons to that of Michael Jackson’s.
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As with Jackson’s, free tickets to Thursday’s memorial were snapped up immediately, and the thousands who couldn’t get them were urged to stay away lest they gridlock downtown.
Instead, they’ve been urged to line the route that will wind through South Los Angeles and into the Watts neighborhood, where Venus and Serena Williams emerged from modest public courts to become tennis superstars.
The Los Angeles Department of Transportation plans to implement “rolling street closures” as the procession progresses, increasing the likelihood of traffic jams all over town.
Southern California, with its car culture and seemingly endless labyrinth of freeways and boulevards, has seen such turnouts before, including lengthy funeral processions for former President Ronald Reagan and first lady Nancy Reagan. And that’s not to mention the cheering crowds that gathered for a distinctly different event, former football great O.J. Simpson’s two-hour freeway chase in 1994 before he surrendered on murder charges he was eventually cleared of.
But this one is different in that, unlike the others, Hussle was not a household name before his death. Although beloved in South LA for never leaving the community even after he began to gather wealth rapping about it in mix-tapes like “Bullets Ain’t Got No Name,” he’d only released one album, last year’s Grammy-nominated “Victory Lap.”
Still, there’s a reason people have responded the way they did, said USC Professor David Schonfeld, an expert of why and how people grieve: Even people who didn’t know him quickly heard he was a good person doing good things.
“We do make assumptions that if we do the right thing and are careful these events won’t befall us,” he said.
When they do people are often compelled to come together to grieve.
“People want to come together to support each other,” he said. “That’s really what makes us a community.”