It was crowded in the gym and my mind was elsewhere. Following the passing of Nipsey Hussle, I made the sudden decision to pay my respects after seeing a photo of the parking lot where his family, friends, and fans were leaving keepsakes.
With a heavy heart, I jumped in the car and started driving to The Marathon Clothing store. There was a traffic jam on Interstate 405, so I kept going east on the 10 and got off at Crenshaw Blvd. Excited about the prospect of driving down Crenshaw on a sunny Saturday morning, I played Victory Lap from the top.
It was just before noon when I met the traffic approaching Slauson Avenue. I turned right on 57th and made my way up the skinny hill made even skinnier by two rows of parked cars. I turned right on Chesley and found a parking spot. On the sidewalk, I was greeted by a cheerful homeless man. There was a cool, geographically unusual ocean breeze rolling through the neighborhood.
I hadn’t even made it to Slauson before I saw the first tribute: R.I.P. NIPSEY spray painted in blue on a stone wall across the street from an auto shop. The traffic was backed up for five or six blocks from the plaza on the corner of Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue where six days earlier, Nipsey Hussle was murdered in cold blood.
There were people gathering across the street from The Marathon Clothing in small groups. For how many cars and people were around, it was quiet. Victory Lap played from speakers inside the memorial and every 30 seconds or so, a car would slowly roll by with Nipsey’s voice rapping from the open windows. The harmony of the entire spectacle was surreal and pleasing. Time was standing still.
The entrances to the mall were blocked by police officers who presented as calm if not flat out exhausted. The memorial was the biggest public attraction in Los Angeles for the entire week. Thirty yards from where I was standing, more than a dozen LAPD motorcycles were parked at the Louisiana Famous Fried Chicken. Officers were collapsed in the patio furniture in the shade.
At the time, a few people were permitted to view the memorial. Inside, visitors were ushered and assisted by men in matching brown suits. A black armored truck sporting All Money In, Nipsey’s independent record label, was parked outside. The blue balloons and decorations were numerous and only partly in view from where I was standing. It was an outpouring.
“All it takes is one asshole to cause all this pain,” an older man said as he walked up and stood beside me for a moment. He was shaking his head; I told him it was sick. He looked me in my eye and grunted in agreement before continuing down the sidewalk.
Onlookers openly smoked weed in front of the indifferent officers who would now and again remind us to be careful as we waded into traffic on Slauson to take better pictures and videos of the scene. I took a few drags from a vaporizer I keep on my keychain. I wished I had a blunt.
I couldn’t figure out where people were gaining entrance to the memorial, so I kept walking towards Crenshaw and crossed the street toward Fat Burger. There was a line of about 100 people wrapped around the block and towards the alley being supervised by more men in suits. Asalamalakum, they greeted us. One communicated on a walkie talkie. I kept a close eye on the man to know how long we would be waiting under the 12 o’clock sun. It turns out, a while.
Nipsey’s music was no longer audible, but that didn’t stop people from whipping out their phones and pressing play on various selections from his discography. Conversations on the sidewalk were hushed and periodic. The occasional burst of laughter would ring along the line that was slowly growing.
The Crenshaw Rams of the Snoop Youth Football League arrived in droves, kids proudly in uniform, adults sporting their children’s names and numbers on hooded sweatshirts. They walked through the Fat Burger parking lot to the front of the line where they were let in through the sliding back gate; other people who were granted immediate access carried bottled water, takeout food, and other supplies. Nobody in line complained.
I thought about Nipsey’s #Proud2Pay marketing strategy, and his extraordinary ability to get people to patiently wait in line. Unsurprisingly, this rang true in death as it was throughout his campaign for The Marathon. I smiled to myself. I noticed my lower back was beginning to ache.
I moved to Los Angeles from Portland, Oregon in 2011. Two years later, I was interning for Gavin “Mizzle” McNeill at the YOUth Fairfax Store & Gallery, and for the locally grown brand Just Be Cool (JBC. Global); Mizzle’s prior relationship with Nipsey led him to co-host the release party of the famous $100 Crenshaw mixtape.
I arrived at that event an hour early to help set up; there were already 100 or so fans waiting outside. When I got inside, I saw Nip hanging out in a hallway that leads to a back office. I shook his hand, congratulated him on his historic release, and welcomed him to the store. He was calm, gracious, and smooth. I walked away immediately wondering why I had welcomed this man to his event. Never mind, I thought, I didn’t have time to be embarrassed.
Nip was serious about track two on Crenshaw, “U See Us.” When the song began to fade out, Nipsey leaned over to tell Mizzle’s assistant Maya to run it back. One more time. And one more time after that. He was almost embarrassed by the fifth time but I’ll be damned if that wasn’t the correct call. That song set the tone. He was beaming. His big moment had finally arrived.
As I stood in line, baking, I thought about that day. I fucking hate lines. It’s a mental weakness. I always have to devise an exit strategy and a perfect reason to flee any earthly line, no matter what I stand to lose. If there was a line to my own mother’s funeral, I would think about how to apologize to her on the other side, for no line is worth the momentary assault on my anxious mind.
But this day was different. I was calm, like Nipsey. I thought about the actual block I was standing on. Someplace I wouldn’t otherwise stand for hours at a time, and more than likely never will again. This is the block where Nipsey used to grind day and night because his life depended on it. This is the block that he would eventually buy—and continued to grind on—because his life and the lives of so many others depended on it. This is the block where he lost his life.
I thought about my aching back and how unusual it was to not be freaking out and how the least I could do for one of the most beloved artists of a generation was to finish the drill and stay in line no matter how long it took. I owed it to him, personally.
There were so many of us—tight groups of friends who wore Dodgers hats, girlfriends, boyfriends, wanderers like myself, entire families, strollers, jerseys customized with the number 60. All here to pay tribute, to find out how to say goodbye, to begin to understand all the ways our lives were enriched and inspired by Ermias Asghedom.
You hear, and read, and scroll through testimonies about how Nipsey’s death is uniting the entire city and softening violence from decades-old conflicts. We’re in the heart of the Rollin 60s. Rounding the corner onto 58th Place near the entrance of the memorial, I could now testify. You can see the truce; notes from rival sets are scrawled onto the pavement and concrete. There was a eulogy in some shape or form everywhere you turned. It was remarkable.
The sun was beating down, but the breeze made us forget. I would later find a fabulous burn on my exposed forehead and nose. Free bottled water, Brisk Lemon Iced Tea, and Hot n Ready pizzas were passed out. Volunteers kept the food and refreshments coming on a string. Iced tea for me.
After almost two hours I was invited to enter the memorial with 50 others. I walked past the first set of murals, past the graffiti-scribed names of other loved ones lost. Bracing myself, I turned the corner and there everything was: thousands upon thousands of mementos of The Marathon.
The armored truck. The giant wreath. The candles. The blue roses. The blue bandanas. The blue teddy bears. The photographs. The personal notes. The drawings. The Eritrean flag. The elderly and the young and the familiar and the strange all paying silent respects to the man they call Nipsey Hussle.
It crossed my mind that we were standing mere feet from the spot of a brutal assassination but the feelings of love and respect absorbed that darkness. The response was greater. Goodness and light were at full strength.
After 10 minutes or so, I accepted a bottle of water and reluctantly declined a plate of food—I felt it was time for me to leave. A police officer opened the gate so I could exit onto the sidewalk. Another row of candles, another giant mural, another reminder that there will never be enough time or real estate to fully honor Ermias Asghedom.
I jaywalked safely across Slauson and continued up the hill towards Chesley. I began to cry. After a few paces, I wondered if Nipsey would approve of my public showing of grief. I don’t know why I wondered that; I just did. It’s still his neighborhood.
I quickly stilted my emotions and turned right. I walked a block and a half to my car and drove away. Victory Lap continued playing uninterrupted from the morning drive, and I could no longer hold back my tears.