Before I left for Ferguson to cover the Michael Brown case for VIBE, I posted on Facebook that I was ashamed that I didn’t know much about the history of St. Louis. “When I think of the city,” I said, “the first thing that comes to mind is Nelly.”
I bought a book about the history of African-Americans in St. Louis on my Kindle just before the flight took off so I could have some kind of back story before I landed to report on the story of what was happening in Ferguson, right outside of St. Louis.
While waiting for my flight, I saw a bit of chatter online about Nelly and his response to the death of Michael Brown. He was in Finland at the time of the incident and did not respond immediately via social media. Then, on Thursday, a post appeared on the St. Louis native’s’s Twitter account. It’s a picture of the rapper, holding a box of Honey Nut Cheerios, the cereal brand for which he serves as pitchman in print, radio, web and television ad campaigns.
It was bad timing—to say the least. His voice hadn’t been heard. But in the midst of so much turmoil in his hometown, his only public presence was a photo of him holding a box of cereal. Not a good look.
I tried to track down his reps to see if I could try to interview him while I was in the St. Louis area. I couldn’t find the right info. But it turns out I didn’t need it.
When I landed in St. Louis, I came out of the gate and looked around for signs to lead me to ground transportation. I had my head up, scanning the signs. I realized I was walking in the wrong direction. I turned around—and walked directly into Nelly, flanked by a manager and security. I grabbed my cell phone out of my back pocket and hit Voice Memo.
“Hey Nelly,” I said. “I’m with VIBE. Can I talk to you?”
He looked uncomfortable for a hot second. His security guy came around to lead me away but Nelly stopped him.
“It’s cool,” he said. And then he started walking towards his gate. “Come walk with me.”
“You haven’t said anything about what’s going on,” I said.
“I just came from the radio station doing an interview,” he said.
“I mean before that. Like, the past week…”
“I wasn’t even in the country when this happened!” said Nelly. “I was in Finland. I’m supposed to jump on social media when I don’t even know what happened? I can’t do that.”
“People expect you to speak out, as a celebrity…”
“I’m not a celebrity right now…So I have to make sure I suppress that—“
“But you’re kind of always a celebrity,” I said.
“But I have to think first,” he said.
I walked with Nelly to his gate. And we talked. And everything he said made perfect sense. He didn’t want to rush to social media just to show he did. And he had spoken to the Brown family privately, which people in the Twitterverse didn’t know.
At one point, Nelly stopped walking when the conversation turned to the idea of injustice as it pertains to the death of Michael Brown.
“This is not an injustice,” he said. “It’s a murder. It’s an injustice if he doesn’t pay for it.”
Read more and watch his video on VIBE.