Karen Civil said Thursday was the last time she would ever work with Nipsey Hussle—and she didn’t want to let him down.
The marketing maven, who met the late rapper when she was running her eponymous website, told ESSENCE that it was a “collective effort” to plan Hussle’s celebration of life.
Hussle was celebrated by family, friends and fans inside the Staples Center on Thursday. The two-hour public event, titled “Nipsey Hussle’s Celebration of Life,” sold out in 20 minutes.
Record labels such as Roc Nation, Atlantic, the label in which he put out his Grammy-nominated debut album Victory Lap, and All Money In, the label Hussle founded in 2010, all helped ensure that the rapper had a royal (blue) affair.
Civil said the plan was “to send him home beautifully and to remind people of the king that he is.”
“It’s not even a funeral. We’re calling this a celebration of life,” she added ahead of Thursday. “You’re going to see so much love and admiration for Nipsey on Thursday because Nipsey embodies everything that a human being should be—as an entrepreneur, as a business man, as a Black man, as a father, as a brother, as a significant partner to Lauren.”
Civil credited one man for securing the unique venue—a 20,000-seat arena—for the occasion: Maverick Carter. (If you haven’t seen him on HBO’s The Shop, Carter is often credited with behind the brains behind LeBron James.)
“He made Staples Center happen,” she said, noting that he probably doesn’t want the credit. “It’s really the community coming together to help pull this [off] and make this happen.”
Civil first saw Hussle perform in New York City, nearly 10 years ago, rocking his signature braids and a Crenshaw sweater. Although she knew of the West Coast rap that bred superstars like Snoop Dog and Dr. Dre, Civil admitted she was hooked by this new generation.
“He was just so infectious,” she recalled. “He controlled the crowds and everyone knew the words [to his songs] and it was such an incredible feeling.”
The two would later keep in touch after Civil visited his Marathon Clothing store shortly after she moved to the West Coast. She was surprised to see him actually behind the counter when she stopped in to cop a T-shirt.
“His daughter Emani was sitting on the counter. He was feeding her,” she fondly remembered.
But after Hussle invested in the Marathon Agency, a branding firm she founded with Def Jam A&R executive Steve “Steve-O” Carless, Civil realized why it made so much sense for the rapper and activist to be in the store and not just act as the face of it.
“Nipsey was somebody who was adamant about staying connected to where he came from. That parking lot [where he was murdered,] he used to sell mixtapes out of [it,] and recently he bought that lot. So that tells a lot about who he was as a businessman.”
“It’s just crazy to know how he started in that parking lot to how he ended in it. Most people think it took his life. I don’t look at it like that,” she said. “Even in dark times I only see the light when it comes to him.”
Civil admitted that although she’s still grieving—“At first, yes, I was in tears. I was crying. I was hurt more than anything”—now she’s looking forward to continuing to celebrate the man she got the beloved chance to befriend.
“I’m just so joyful that I’ve gotten to know him,” she said.