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Chris Kelly funeral draws old friends to Atlanta

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Several hundred mourners filled the floor level of Jackson Memorial Baptist Church in Atlanta on Thursday to say goodbye to Chris Kelly.

Kelly, who died last week at age 34, was one half of the 1990s group Kris Kross, whose massive hit, "Jump" highlighted a career that included opening for Michael Jackson on his "Dangerous" tour. 

The procession started with Kris Kross' song "Live and Die for Hip Hop" playing in the background. Moments after viewing her son's body, which was clad in a black suit with paisley orange tie, in the open casket at the front of the church, Kelly's mother Donna Kelly Pratte had to be attended to by a group of women in white nurses uniforms when the coffin was closed.

Chris Smith, the other rapper in Kris Kross, took the podium and was supported by his sister.  "This has been a struggle for me every day," a tearful Smith said. "But this morning, peace came over me because I know Chris is in heaven."  Smith broke down repeatedly during his eulogy of his childhood friend.

Smith addressed Kelly's mother, saying "Donna, you've always been like a mother to me. I know I can't fill Chris' shoes, but I'll always be there for you."

After telling an anecdote about perfoming at the So So Def Concert in February, Smith took a deep breath and said, "I would say Kris Kross forever, but without Chris, it ain't never gonna be the same. But I hope our legacy for hip-hop is never forgotten."

Katrina Parks, a representative for  Mayor Kasim Reed's office addressed the family and said, "Atlanta thanks you for sharing your son with the world ... Chris made Atlanta become part of the world." Parks then presented a plaque to the family on behalf of the city.

So So Def label  founder Jermaine Dupri -- who famously discovered Kelly and Smith at Greenbriar Mall when the friends were pre-teens -- rapper Da Brat and Tameka "Tiny" Cottle were among the mourners in attendance. Dupri attended the services wearing his jeans backward, a tribute to the group's unique style of fashion.  

As family photos of Kelly rolled on two video screens, Kris Kross' label mates and friends Chico DeBarge  and the R&B group Xscape performed. Singer Keke Wyatt brought members of the assembled, who alternately wept and clapped, to their feet with a gut-wrenching version of "His Eye is on the Sparrow."

Kelly was also eulogized by his uncle Robert Barber, who recounted his own struggle with drugs.   Kelly died of an apparent drug overdose last Wednesday. Barber said it was Kelly's dream to perform again and that days after performing at the So So Def show, Kelly called him to say that he felt "alive."

DJ Nabs (Youtha Fowler), who worked with Kris Kross from the beginning of their career and had remained a close friend of Kelly, also spoke.  Nabs told an amusing story about Kelly's snappy dressing -- even if he wore slippers to a club, they were Gucci slippers -- then looked at his friend's coffin and said: " Rest now. The fight is over."

As the two-toned coffee-colored coffin was loaded into a white hearse, a brass band followed as it slowly wound down the driveway in front of the church, the strains of "When the Saints Go Marching In" filtering into the warm spring air.

Jennifer Brett contributed to this report.

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