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LOS ANGELES — Nipsey Hussle's grieving family members, friends and fans were among thousands who filled the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Thursday for his funeral as others lined nearby streets to say their final goodbye to the slain rapper.
Musician Stevie Wonder, rapper Snoop Dogg and music industry icon Master P were among the celebrities who attend the memorial service inside the 21,000-seat arena that last hosted a funeral 10 years ago for Michael Jackson. Hussle fans in California had the opportunity to get free tickets, which were snapped up within minutes, to attend the event.
"While most folks look at the Crenshaw neighborhood where he grew up and see only gangs, bullets and despair, Nipsey saw potential. He saw hope," former President Barack Obama said in a letter that was read at the service. "I hope his memory inspires more work in Crenshaw and communities like it."
Hussle, whose real name was Ermias Asghedom, was shot multiple times March 31 in Los Angeles outside The Marathon Clothing store, which he co-owned. He died at a hospital from gunshot wounds to his head and torso.
The suspected gunman, Eric Holder, had allegedly gotten into a personal dispute with Hussle, 33, before leaving the store and returning with a gun. He was arrested April 2. Two other men were shot, but survived.
In addition to Wonder, singers Marsha Ambrosius, Anthony Hamilton and Jhené Aiko performed at the memorial service, which included a video presentation, tributes by his children and family, including his longtime girlfriend Lauren London, and scripture readings.
Other celebrities that took part in the service included media mogul Karen Civil and radio host Big Boy. Rapper YG and producer DJ Mustard were listed as pallbearers, along with Hussle’s brother Samiel Asghedom.
Ambrosius became emotional before singing Mariah Carey's "Fly Like A Bird." Hamilton gave a touching rendition of his song, "Do You Feel Me," and Aiko performed her song, "Eternal Sunshine."
Wonder also performed "Rocket Love" from his 1980 album “Hotter Than July."
Civil read the heartfelt message that Obama wrote honoring Hussle.
"I’d never met Nipsey Hussle, but I’d heard some of his music through my daughters, and after his passing, I had the chance to learn more about his transformation and his community work," Obama said in the letter.
Lauren London's son, Kameron Carter, told the crowd about a dream he had days after Hussle died where the rapper told him that heaven was like "paradise." Hussle's daughter, Emani Asghedom, became visibly emotional on stage and did not want to talk.
Several of Hussle's family members got up to talk, including the rapper's brother, Samiel.
"I want everybody to know Nip put his heart and soul on Crenshaw and Slauson," he said. "Bro stayed and he died on Crenshaw and Slauson."
He added: "Everything he said in the music was who he was. I hope that he knows that we're all proud of him."
London read a text message she sent to the rapper in January thanking him for making her into "more of a woman."
"You're still the coolest guy in the world to me," the message read. "I love you so much. Unconditionally. My truth is this. I'm never going to give up on you. My loyalty and devotion is to you."
The actress, who shares son Kross Asghedom with the rapper, said she has "never felt this pain before."
“My pain is for my 2-year-old that probably won’t remember how much his dad loved him," London said.
She also included Los Angeles residents in her tribute, telling the crowd: "We lost an incredible soul. We lost someone incredibly rare."
"I love you beyond this Earth," she continued. "And until we meet again, the marathon continues.”
Following the service, London debuted a tattoo, running up her inner arm, she got of Hussle's face with the words "God will rise."
"Real Love Never Dies. When you see me, you will always see him #LoveYouHussle," she captioned the photo.
Snoop Dogg called Hussle a "great man" and a"great leader" during a speech that reflected on their friendship.
"You are a peace advocate, Nip," he said.
Before performing "Rocket Love," Stevie Wonder said Hussle's death showed a need for tougher gun laws.
"It is so painful to know that we don’t have enough people taking a position that says, ‘Listen, we must have stronger gun laws.’ It’s unacceptable. It’s almost like the world is becoming blind," he said.
"I’m very happy that in his short life, he was able to motivate people," Wonder said of Hussle. "And I hope that it motivates you enough to say, ‘Listen, enough of people being killed by guns and violence.’ I hope that we don’t just talk about it but to be about it, to make a difference for our future."
Fans outside the Staples Center on Thursday said Hussle was important to them because of his service to the community and the messages he conveyed through his music.
Chris Adames said Hussle showed people in his music and his activism that residents could be proud of their community. Hussle's death in a "weird sense" brought the community together, he said.
"There is a bigger cause, that we need to unite and stop gun violence," Adames said. "We need to stop just, I guess, hating on one another and just come together."
Latoya Williams said Hussle was her "absolute world."
"He was just a relatable individual no matter where you came from," Williams told NBC News. "We all have a vision and goal in life, and just seeing him accomplish his dreams was motivation for you."
Music industry icon Master P, whose real name is Percy Robert Miller, told reporters outside the service that Hussle's death is an opportunity to amplify his messages and change lives around the world.
"You have to adapt and grow and be able to get past that and that's what he was able to do but it's a tragedy that we lost him," Master P said. "But Nipsey Hussle is in peace, and his light is gonna shine on us and it's gonna help us get through a lot of things. I mean we lost one to save millions."
Following the funeral, Hussle's casket began a 25.5-mile procession through Los Angeles, passing through neighborhoods he was dedicated to helping and investing in. The procession route traveled through the Vermont Harbor neighborhood and Crenshaw, where he grew up.
It also passed by his clothing store on Slauson Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard. Since his death, the store has become a memorial for fans to gather and leave flowers. On Thursday, Los Angeles City Council member Marqueece Harris-Dawson announced that the intersection near the store will become "Ermias 'Nipsey Hussle' Asghedom Square."
The final stop for the procession was the Angelus Funeral Home in the Crenshaw district.
The last time the Staples Center, home of the Los Angeles Lakers and Clippers, was used for a musician's memorial service was in 2009 for Michael Jackson.
Steve Patterson reported from Los Angeles and Minyvonne Burke from New York.