Public Service Announcements: Did Nelly Owe Ferguson An Immediate Statement?

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 Nelly’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.

SEE ALSO: #Ferguson Critics Roundtable: Is Hip-Hop Doing Enough?

I tried to track down Nelly’s 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.”

SEE ALSO: Nelly On Michael Brown’s Death: ‘This Young Man Had A Future’

After our conversation, I asked Nelly to speak on camera for VIBE. He didn’t want to do that. Speaking into my recorder was one thing. But he wasn’t sure that saying those same quotes into my iPhone camera was the best idea.

I nudged him into a nearby gift shop.

“C’mon, say what you just said into my phone!” I urged.

Nelly sighed.

“Nah, not on camera…”

“You have to say something on camera” I said. “People don’t always read. But they always watch.”

Nelly rolled his eyes at me while I put him in position in front of St. Louis T-shirts and coffee mugs.

“Say what you just said to me on the recorder,” I said. “Go!”

I clicked on my Camera and I saw a slightly different Nelly emerge. He was in “this-your-boy-Nelly-mode,” performing a bit more than just spreading his message.

What I captured on video with Nelly was not much more than a shout-out. He said all the right things and was on-message without being too radical. It wasn’t the type of sound bite that would satisfy the folks that were criticizing him for not speaking up sooner via social media.

At first I was annoyed. I wanted Nelly to say on-camera the stuff he’d said into my recorder, criticizing the looters and talking about how the young people of St. Louis needed to stop acting on emotion and start planning instead.

Listening to my audio interview with Nelly is a lot different than watching the brief camera-time he gave me. And it’s really two different versions of Nelly that I interviewed in that airport. One was more direct and radical; he looked around the airport and spoke to me in hushed tones as he criticized some of the actions taken by his community in the aftermath of the death of Michael Brown. The on-camera Nelly was more reserved, speaking in generic tones about supporting the Brown family.

But who gets to decide what the appropriate response should be from Nelly? He didn’t have to stop for me at all. But he did.

And the folks that were pissed off that he was still shilling for Honey Nut Cheerios—it’s his job. Was he supposed to stop working to address the situation, while he’s in another country and has no first-hand knowledge of what’s going on?

Part of the issue is because Nelly is so closely identified with the city of St. Louis and is the biggest rap artist to come out of the area.

So when Eric Garner was killed in New York, were the masses calling for Jay-Z to tweet about it? Or Fabolous? Or 50 Cent? Or any other New York rappers?

Who has the right to determine how Nelly, or any other celebrity—or any person for that matter—should respond to a sensitive issue?

The idea that celebrities have to immediately and publicly let their feelings be known on a particular topic is tricky. There’s a thin line between showing true support, (like visiting the Brown family and establishing a scholarship in his name, which Nelly has done), and sending out an f-the-police Tweet and putting up a selfie with your hands up in the latest meme-protest.

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J.Cole, Teyana Taylor And Other Snubs Of The 2019 Grammy Nominations

It's that time of year again when inner circles and strangers on the Internet debate who's up for a gramophone.

On Friday (Dec. 7), the nominees for 2019's Grammy Awards (Feb. 10) were announced to a span of hot takes, early but informed predictions, and a wall of confusion as to why certain artists were overlooked. While some entertainers excitedly received the good news (Cardi B discovered her nods while leaving a courthouse), others were left scratching their heads.

Here's a look at why those who were snubbed by the Recording Academy deserved to be nominated.

READ MORE: Drake, Kendrick Lamar, And Cardi B Lead 2019 Grammys Nominations

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Anderson .Paak, Tierra Whack And More Praise Female Artists At 2018 Billboard Women In Music

Some of music's biggest stars attended Billboard's annual Women in Music event on Thursday night (Dec. 6).

Pop star Ariana Grande was awarded with the night's highest honor, "Woman Of The Year," while SZA, Janelle Monae, Cyndi Lauper, Hayley Kiyoko, and Kacey Musgraves were awarded with subsequent prestigious honors.

VIBE got a chance to speak to some of the musicians in attendance on the carpet, including hip-hoppers Anderson .Paak and Tierra Whack, the Janelle Monae-cosigned St. Beauty, and Massah David, the co-founder of the creative agency, MVD Inc..

When prompted about some of their favorite bodies of work by female artists this year, a resounding amount of musicians stated Teyana Taylor's K.T.S.E and Tierra Whack's Whack World as some of their personal picks.

The 23-year-old MC and first-time Grammy nominee confirmed with VIBE she's working on "something really special" with fellow Philadelphian and friend Meek Mill. She also stated that while the accolades for her work have been exciting, she's more excited for society to stop gendering dope artists, especially in the hip-hop game.

"I hope that [labeling through gender] ends soon," she said. "I know, technically, rap is a male-dominated industry, but, like, I’m better than all of ‘em! [laughs] It is what it is! I don’t even count gender or color, it’s just whoever’s got it."

What are some members of the music industry looking forward to in 2019? More women in high-profile positions and more chances for women in general.

"Hopefully just having more opportunities for women in different spaces in music, whether it’s radio, behind-the-scenes, engineering, actually making the music," said David. "I’m just hoping we get to see women in more executive roles."

Watch our recap video above.

READ MORE: Janelle Monae Discusses Creative Freedom, Her Relationship With Diddy In New 'Billboard' Interview

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Pusha-T Pushes The Culture Forward Through Mentorship With New Discovery Platform

“I actually told [my manager] Shiv, I’m not doing any more interviews,” Pusha-T ironically admits to VIBE in an exclusive sit-down.

It seems about right since the rapper has endured a relentless news cycle this year, both for promoting his highly-acclaimed album DAYTONA and his feud with Drake.

He’s perched upright in a swivel chair in the studio of Lower Manhattan’s Electric Lady Sound Studios, a venue that easily has one of the richest musical histories – built by Jimi Hendrix in 1970 and recorded legends like Stevie Wonder and David Bowie.

Interestingly enough, Pusha has forfeited his previous promise on a particularly muggy day in November, to talk not about his multiple wins, but his latest project with 1800 Tequila. The G.O.O.D. Music show-runner has partnered with the brand to launch “1800 Seconds,” a new artist discovery platform that highlights unsigned artists from around the country. For its inaugural project, Pusha served as a mentor to 10 artists on the rise – Sam Austins (Detroit), T Got Bank (Brooklyn), Cartel Count Up (Hampton, VA), Hass Irv (Harlem), Nita Jonez (Houston), Trevor Lainer (Wilmington, NC) Mona Lyse (Detroit), Don Zio P (Middletown, CT), Tyler Thomas (Los Angeles), and Ant White (Philadelphia) – to curate a compilation album comprised of 10 new tracks.

Pusha personally selected each artist and challenged them to write and record a new track that showcases why they are the premier talent to watch. He sat down with each artist for more than one hour over the span of a week, observing little quirks, analyzing their sound and assessing their strengths. As he runs us through the album’s tracklist, he smiles, prefacing each single with an anecdote about the artist. Tyler Thomas is a notable favorite amongst the group and matches Pusha’s discipline in writing; Harlem’s Hass Irv is a verified sneaker dealer who boasts some of the most sought-after Jordans in his collection; Detroit’s Mona Lyse is a bonafide 90’s rap connoisseur. Push notes that she can pump out facts on artists like Notorious B.I.G. with such precision that even he has to take notes.

While this opportunity probably comes as a chance in a lifetime for the handful of artists, whose backgrounds, ages, and identities range tremendously, it seems to be just as monumental for Pusha-T.

This project should be seen as a win for hip-hop as it merges the gap between veterans and rookies, which in the past, has been broadened by various riffs between the two parties. Some of the seasoned titans may not understand the new wave, but Pusha-T alludes to mentorship and collaborations as a thing of the future and likely the next phase of his career. “This is part of my calling and how I’m supposed to mature in the music business,” he says. “I think I have my hand on the pulse on what’s going on musically out here… People will listen to my raps and listen to my music and be like, ‘aww man, he ain’t going to rock with me.’ And really, I do. I enjoy it.”

In celebration of the album’s release, all 10 of the selected artists will perform their recorded tracks, followed by a performance by Pusha himself in New York City's Sony Hall on Dec. 5. The compilation album will officially debut on Dec. 7.

In VIBE’s exclusive interview with Pusha-T, we discuss 1800 Tequila’s brave courageous new school of young rappers, the importance of paying it forward, and retirement.

The first 1800 Seconds compilation album is available now. Listen to it and check out our interview with Pusha-T below. 

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VIBE: Can you give us a rundown on how you selected these artists?

Pusha-T: It was a vetting process between us and 1800. I would look for guys that were a strong lyricist, guys who're into melody. Just, you know, small followings, but I thought they were dope.

That’s interesting because in this era of music people focus on the people with the massive followings on social media.

You know, you got to think, if it’s too big then it’s not really special to see it in this process.

Very true. Your music has pretty much always stayed true to your sound and brand. So did you find it challenging to work with this pool of new artists that follow so many of the new trends in hip-hop?

Nah, I think that this is part of my calling and how I’m supposed to mature in the music business. Man, I’m performing in front of 18 to 45 [years old] every night, and it trips me out to see the people get hype over “Grinding” and the people that just know me since 2013. But you know, with that being said, I think I have my hand on the pulse, on what’s going on musically out here. I’ve learned how to enjoy it. I enjoy all types of rap. People will listen to my raps and listen to my music and be like, “aww man, he ain’t going to rock with me.” And really, I do. I enjoy it. I mean, how could you not? To be in it like this, how could I not find appreciation in everything that’s going on?

The way you answered my last question seems like you’re considering retirement or at least exploring what that looks like. But you’re right in the thick of it all, so that’s very interesting.

Yeah, man. I don’t think lyric-driven hip-hop goes out of style. I think that stays around forever, and then I feel like you retire when you’re out of the mix of it and out of the culture and lifestyle of it. When you start not caring about hip-hop aesthetics and just being first and competing, then you supposed to be like, alright cool, I’m out. But until then, I still know what’s fresh to put on and so on and so forth.

One of the biggest differences between vets and new artists is the communities they live in and the things they witness as youth. Did you see some of those differences reflected in their music while working with them?

Yeah. As a veteran artist, I was speaking about what was going on outside at that very moment. I think the newer artists are more introspective. They’re more about themselves and trying to convey messages from their heart. They’re trying to sell you on them, whether they want to party [or] they’re heartbroken. It’s not so much looking out the project window and saying what’s going on. It’s like, I don’t even want to go outside. I’m in my room, and y'all don’t even know I’m writing and I’m going to show y’all one day. It’s all about that.

That seems kind of overwhelming or can come on too strong at times, no?

Nah. As a writer, you dial in on things… You know when somebody says something in a song like, “oh you meant that.” Or you were so intricate with the description of that, you had to get that off. So that’s a score as a writer, me listening to somebody like that. That’s a good thing.

What’s the greatest lesson that you have given this new generation?

I think the greatest lesson for me and the position I’m in right now is opening up these corporate opportunities. They do everything themselves. They’re shooting their own videos, recording themselves. They’re writing, producing, and recording themselves. They’re damn near engineering. One of the girls, [Nita Jonez], she was like, “Yeah, I just be knocking little stuff out while I’m at the crib.” I’m like, I don’t even do that. I don’t even know how to finesse all that. But they’re so self-sufficient. Only thing I could try to do is just package it for them the best way possible. They all got dreams of being huge. A lot of that has to do with the art and what they’re doing, but how it’s presented [as well]. And that’s what I try to show 'em and teach and help 'em with.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned from them?

Man, there are just absolutely no rules. No rules at all. They’re such free spirits. They don’t even record how I do. I come in a with a new notepad, pen, and I write like that. I have to see it. It helps me memorize it. They come in and run straight to the mic and just be who they are. And they find themselves through it all. Not everybody; there were some other writers in there, like, Hass and Tyler. Tyler [is] so good at it. It comes out just that precise or damn near close. And then he’ll go and chop it up, make it right a little bit. But they just have that unorthodox attack in the studio. I’m more like, I want to sit down, chill… I don’t even like being in the studio that long. I probably write at home, then I’ll come here and figure out the rest. It’s a very formatted type of thing. And some of the spontaneity and some of the energy probably gets lost in my way because they come in and vibe immediately. Things that may just happen on the spur of the moment, they catch it. When I come in, it’s just all there. Either I’ve written it already or I’m writing it and that’s just what it is. I may lose an adlib. I may lose something that’s quirky in a song that just happens that probably won’t happen for me, but they’ll catch every time.

Do you think there’s a way to balance that incorporates both of those worlds – yours and theirs – to make that ideal way to create?

Well, I think it would have to come from practice. Certain people learn a certain way. Honestly, there’s no difference in what they do than what Jay-Z does. He just practices so much that way that his mind works and processes things really fast. And you know, he’s just really confident in not seeing anything and catching the vibe and going at it. Theirs is just unorthodox. It’s the same thing though. And then as they do it more and better, it’ll get more concise.

In any field, with mentorship there’s only so much you’re willing to take from your mentor before you’re ready to do it yourself. Who were your mentors, and what were some of the things you did and didn’t take from them?

From afar, it would have to be Teddy Riley. Him moving to the area, Virginia Beach, where I’m from – him alone was like wait a minute, music is a real thing. Oh man, there’s a Ferrari down my street. I can’t believe this. I’m seeing Jay-Z’s here. Michael Jackson’s in Virginia Beach for what? You know, shooting a video, all of these things that happened, let me know that this is a real thing and not just for the people on TV. Now in arm’s reach, you got Pharrell and Chad. You got my brother [Malice] who taught me how to write. He actually taught me that MC Hammer wasn’t a rapper when I thought he was. Pharrell literally taught me how to count bars. It’s just been so many lessons between those guys; they taught me everything. They taught me to look at a song, try to see it the whole way through and not just get up and write for the sake of writing. Pharrell always told me, “you may not have something to say today.” Like if I get stuck, “It’s fine. You’ll get to it. We’ll find it another day.” Never force it though.

There’s a huge divide in the genre as far as rookies vs. vets go. This project is so good because it’s paying it forward. Do you think that’s both a necessary and important part of the culture that needs to be restored?

Yes. Well, no. You know what? It’s not for everyone. It’s not for everybody to do. Some people are so stuck in their heyday that they can’t even see what’s going on outside. Everybody that I’ve ever liked in rap music, I probably have had a longer career than all of them. Like whoever I thought was the greatest in my time, I be like, bro, wait a minute they only have five years, five albums? What? When I really think about it, it’s because they all got stuck in their heyday. And that was a hell of a time. The greatest of all great raps, but you know, they couldn’t see any further than that. And when something new came up, they was like, “Yeah, but y’all don’t like us because we…” They just start getting washed and their jeans start fitting differently and they pick the wrong size. They just get stuck in that time period and before you know it, it’s skinny jean time and they got on fucking size 42s and they weigh a buck 50 and they look crazy. And it’s wrong because you get stuck because you don’t embrace and try to help and learn from what’s coming in next. And you should. This is music. You can never stop learning. You have to continuously learn with this forever. It’s just what it is until you just say I’m done. It’s not for everybody man. If you’re not trying to push hip-hop forward, then no, you’re going to be washed and you should be. You should be. I think it’s corny. This is the youngest genre of music. The youngest, most powerful, most influential. We should not be at a point where the elders are knocking the rookies. It’s corny. That’s an effort to stunt the growth of the genre. And that is just totally wrong, 100 percent.

READ MORE: Pusha T And No Malice 'My Brother's Keeper' (Digital Cover)

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