To those who knew him, Nipsey Hussle was a pillar in his native South L.A. community.
He once gave a pair of shoes to every student at an elementary school in Hyde Park, where he owned a burger joint, a fish market and a barbershop. He helped fund upgrades to the campus playground and offered jobs to his struggling neighbors. If someone lost a loved one to gun violence, he would sometimes chip in for the funeral.
Those roles reversed Sunday afternoon when the Grammy-nominated rapper was gunned down outside one of his shops, the Marathon Clothing store, in the same neighborhood where he was known as much for his civic work as he was for his hip-hop music. He was 33.
“He did so much for our neighborhood,” said Hyde Park resident Glenn Taylor, 54. “That’s why I’m here today. This has to stop.”
Taylor was among hundreds of fans and friends who poured into the street to pay their respects as the sun fell. Some blasted Hussle’s music from their car stereos. Others left blue and white candles from a nearby liquor store.
A little girl held a poster of his debut album cover with a message: “RIP NIPSEY.” Crowds chanted “We love you Nipsey” up and down Slauson Avenue.
“The man was instrumental in a lot of stuff,” said community activist Malik Spellman. “Fighting gentrification, trying to stop gang violence.”
The shooting came a day before Hussle was scheduled to meet with LAPD Chief Michel Moore and Police Commissioner Steve Soboroff “to talk about ways he could help stop gang violence and help us help kids,” the commissioner said.
He had two children, a son with his girlfriend, Lauren London, and a daughter from a prior relationship.
Hussle, born Ermias Asghedom, was a popular hip-hop artist who, after releasing his highly anticipated debut album “Victory Lap” in 2018, was nominated for a Grammy for best rap album. He developed a deep love of both music and technology while growing up.
“In our culture, there’s a narrative that says, ‘Follow the athletes, follow the entertainers,’” he told The Times in 2018. “And that’s cool, but there should be something that says, ‘Follow Elon Musk, follow [Mark] Zuckerberg.’ I think that with me being influential as an artist and young and coming from the inner city, it makes sense for me to be one of the people that’s waving that flag.”
Hussle combined his interests in several entrepreneurial pursuits, including the store outside which he was shot. He called it a “smart store” because visitors could use an app to enhance their experience while shopping for his fashion brand.
As a teenager, Hussle would staple fliers advertising his new music onto telephone poles, Spellman said. Another resident recalled him selling incense and CDs out of the trunk of his car.
But when his career took off, Spellman said, he never forgot where he came from.
Seeing Hussle’s success over the years was an inspiration to Ruben Martinez Jr., who is just a year older than Hussle and also from the neighborhood.
Hussle could’ve opened his businesses in Beverly Hills, Martinez said, but he chose Hyde Park.
“We shouldn’t be here right now,” Martinez said. “It’s a sad day in L.A.”
On the eve of the release of his debut album last year, Hussle unveiled Vector 90, a shared workspace in South L.A. to help connect young talent in impoverished communities with opportunities in Silicon Valley and beyond. He was involved in the new Destination Crenshaw arts project.
Hussle also invested in bringing back World on Wheels, the Mid-City roller rink popular in the ’80s and ’90s as neutral turf for kids near gang-scarred South L.A. It reopened in 2017.
“In L.A., you have to grow up fast, and this was one place kids could go to have a party and be safe,” Hussle told The Times that year.
L.A. City Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson released a statement Sunday, saying, “Hussle had a vision of a neighborhood built for and by the sons and daughters of South L.A. During his life, he moved from shadows into the bright hope of freedom and community revitalization.”
Anita Hardine, a family friend of Hussle’s, said the rapper was a role model for countless kids in the community, especially young black men.
He “poured positivity into the streets,” she said.
“Black kids don’t get love, or they’re trying to get love from the wrong places,” said Hardine, an educator who’s lived in Hyde Park for 24 years. “He was trying to give them the right love at the right time.”
Spellman lighted a blue candle and set it on a sidewalk near the crime scene.
“The facts are,” Spellman said, “he was a good person.”
On the other side of the yellow police tape, investigators worked to piece together what had happened hours earlier, canvassing for witnesses and security video.
About 3:20 p.m., Hussle was shot outside his clothing store in what was probably a gang-related attack, according to a source familiar with the investigation. A young man opened fire at close range before bolting to a getaway car.
Paramedics took Hussle to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Two others were wounded.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who represents the area, called Hussle an “inspiration to many” and offered an urgent plea for the violence to stop.
“Violent retaliation for this event will not be tolerated,” he said in a statement. “Our communities have lost too many young men and bright futures to the scourge of gun violence. For healing to occur, even from this terrible incident, justice must be sought through legal means.”
Christian Nuñez drove from Santa Monica to Hyde Park on Sunday night to pay his respects. Slung across his chest was a cylindrical speaker thumping Hussle’s music.
“I wanted people to listen to his voice one more time,” the 23-year-old said.
Nuñez was homeless on the streets of Hyde Park as a teen, and he said he instantly connected with Hussle’s lyrics.
“It’s like a war zone out here,” Nuñez said, “and he was trying to make it better.”
Hussle made no secret of his early life in a street gang, saying in a 2014 interview with YouTube channel Vlad TV that he had joined the Rollin’ 60s, a notorious Crips gang clique, as a teenager.
“We dealt with death, with murder,” he told The Times in 2018. “It was like living in a war zone, where people die on these blocks and everybody is a little bit immune to it. I guess they call it post-traumatic stress, when you have people that have been at war for such a long time. I think L.A. suffers from that because it’s not normal yet we embrace it like it is after a while.”
News of his death stunned the music community, with many offering condolences on social media.
“You were about something..positive and for your community in every chance you had to speak,” Pharrell Williams wrote on Twitter.
“You were having the best run and I was so happy watching from distance fam,” Drake wrote on Instagram. “Nobody ever talks down on your name you were a real one to your people and to the rest of us.”
About half an hour before the shooting Sunday afternoon, Hussle posted his own ominous message on Twitter.
“Having strong enemies,” he wrote, “is a blessing.”
Times staff writer Sonaiya Kelley contributed to this report.