Had he lived, Thursday would’ve been the 34th birthday of rapper and activist Nipsey Hussle.
While there were no official public events scheduled to celebrate the occasion in Los Angeles, many fans and followers flocked to a strip mall at Crenshaw Boulevard and Slauson Avenue, the site of Hussle’s store, the Marathon Clothing.
“You know how when you go to Auntie’s house and nobody really knows what’s going on, but everybody pops up?” LaPaul Lane, 33, said Wednesday, standing in a parking lot near the strip mall.
“That’s what it is going to be like here,” explained Steve Barbee, 54, of L.A. Hood Life Tours. “Everybody knows it’s his birthday and they will be here. Everybody, within themselves, will make it an event.”
And that is exactly what people did.
On Thursday morning, dozens of people came to South L.A. to remember Hussle. His music boomed from speakers that people were carrying and from cars that rolled by with the windows down. Fans from across the country headed to an alley off the strip mall and took turns posing for selfies in front of two larger-than-life murals on the wall of a Fatburger.
Community activist Najee Ali and about half a dozen others also gathered in a parking lot, clasping white and blue balloons that bobbed in the breeze.
“We’re here to commemorate the birthday of Nipsey Hussle and, while we respect the family wishes that they mourn and celebrate him privately, the community is also in continued mourning,” Ali said. “We wanted to have something for community members to come out and pay tribute to somebody we truly loved.”
The group released the balloons one at a time. The wind lifted them “to the sky, all the way to heaven so they can reach to him,” Tommikco Brown said.
Later, a plane flew over Hussle’s Hyde Park neighborhood towing a banner with his picture and the logo of his record label, All Money In. Several fans looked up and pointed their phones toward the sky to take photos and video.
Hussle’s family turned down proposals for a public celebration, choosing instead to mourn privately, David Gross, a family friend and Hussle’s business partner, told The Times. But visitors can no longer take pictures outside the store where Hussle was living out his dreams.
Earlier this month, an 8-foot-high fence wrapped with green fabric was erected around the parking lot and store in preparation for what the lot’s owner has said will be “Nipsey Hussle Tower.”
Members of the Nation of Islam said they would be on hand for 36 hours to provide security. And dozens of LAPD officers — in bikes, on cars and in a helicopter — were patrolling the area. There have been recent concerns about crime at the strip mall.
Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, was killed in broad daylight outside of the Marathon Clothing store on March 31. Two other men were wounded in the shooting. Police have said he was killed over a personal dispute. Eric Holder, 29, has been charged with one count of murder, two counts of attempted murder and other charges.
Official and unofficial memorial services in the days after Hussle’s death drew thousands of mourners to South L.A. — at times becoming chaotic when rumors of gunfire prompted people to scatter and trample others.
City leaders called on those who gathered Thursday to be calm.
“I hope that individuals will respect Nipsey Hussle’s family’s wishes to mourn privately during this time,” L.A. City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson said in a statement. “Grief is difficult and takes many forms. The best way for us to honor Nipsey’s legacy and what he stood for is to cherish and preserve our community.”
Demicha Lofton-Thomas, 48, of Hyde Park said that by remembering Hussle’s birthday, she was also honoring her own son, Gerrick Thomas, whom she lost to gun violence in 2016.
Hussle showed up at her son’s funeral service, a touching gesture that she said she will never forget.
“Nipsey came,” Lofton-Thomas said. “And now I honor him.”