He became famous as Nipsey Hussle, but he was beloved as simply “Ermias” among the Eritrean-American community Hussle proudly embraced as the child born Ermias Asghedom to Eritrean and African American parents.
Members of Los Angeles’ Eritrean American community gathered to remember Hussle during a memorial service Sunday at the Medhani-Alem Eritrean Orthodox Tewahdo Church in South Los Angeles.
People “have no idea where Eritrea is, so when he continuously let people know where he came from, the youth had stopped feeling invisible and had started to feel recognized and closer to the community,” Semhar Kahsay, 18, said during Sunday’s service, according to the Los Angeles Times. “And because of this, he had the power of making us feel like we are seen in this invisible world.”
Eritrea is located in East Africa, a tiny nation—population just over 5 million—that won a hard-fought, decades-long war for independence from Ethiopia, begun after the former Italian colony was annexed by Ethiopia during the 1960s.
Hussle’s father, Dawit Asghedom, came to Los Angeles in the 1970s during one of the first waves of Eritrean immigration there, and met and married his mother, Angelique Smith, who is African American with Louisiana roots.
The couple divorced in 1987, according to the Times, but Hussle grew up exposed to Eritrean culture, and he openly embraced his heritage, visiting the nation for the first time in 2004, reports the Washington Post.
During a return visit to Eritrea last year, Hussle spoke of his pride in his Eritrean heritage and its impact on his outlook on life in an interview with Eritrean TV station ERi-TV:
“I feel a sense of pride knowing the history of the struggle and just the circumstances our people overcame,” Hussle told ERi-TV, “from being outnumbered, being against superpowers, and coming out victorious, and then being self sufficient after the fact; similar to what I stand for in music.”
After Hussle was slain by a gunman’s bullets outside his Marathon Clothing store in Los Angeles, Eritrea’s minister of information, Yemane G. Meskel, offered condolences on Twitter, the Times reports.
More than 40 vigils to Hussle have been organized worldwide, and the Eritrean community from coast to coast in the U.S. have held candlelight vigils.
“He inspired us all,” Eritrean American NFL safety Nat Berhe told the Washington Post. “I started listening to Nipsey when I was a freshman in college. That alone motivated me to finish college. ... I think he meant the upmost to the Eritrean community.”
Sunday’s service in Los Angeles at the Medhani-Alem church drew hundreds of people. Prayers were said in Ge’ez and Tigrinya, Eritrea’s national language.
“The world sees him as an entertainer,” Sarra Abraham, 25, said of Hussle, the Times reports. “We see him as Ermias. One of our brothers.”
The priest, Thomas Uwal, eulogized Hussle, according to the Times, as “a young visionary ‘full of hope, full of life, full of dreams’” and “lamented that the 33-year-old Hussle ‘did not complete his destiny.’”
Young mourners following the service pledged to continue the work of community building, entrepreneurship and philanthropy that Hussle embodied.
Referencing Hussle’s use of “marathon” in reference to his long-game strategy for success, mourner Leeya Berhane, 14, said:
“The marathon has to continue.”