Nelly may have been thousands of miles from his hometown of St. Louis this past weekend, but the city was at the forefront of his mind while playing the Uforia festival in Los Angeles.
During his show, he addressed the issues facing Ferguson since the shooting of teenager Michael Brown. After his set he told Billboard backstage it’s his responsibility to make sure the rest of the country is aware of what’s happening in Ferguson.
“That’s part of my job,” he says. “One of the things I can do is be other places and keeping the word out and keeping their minds on what we’re doing. So I have to take advantage of that. It’s my job to get out here and spread that word.” He also spoke about the importance of keeping calm. “First of all, you gotta have a plan. You can’t just be reacting off anger and rage ’cause it doesn’t fix the long-term problem,” he says.
“If you really want change, then you gotta change the mentality and the strategy. It’s frustrating sometimes because we want a different outcome, but we’re not taking a different approach. And that’s what I think my job is, to help say, ‘Listen, man, it’s a better way we can do this, but we have to change our mentality, we have to strategize because what we’re up against is already strategizing.'”
While Nelly has clearly embraced the role of St. Louis ambassador — he also led a “hands up, don’t shoot” protest at a charity event over the weekend — he isn’t calling himself a leader. “There’s not been one entertainer that’s ever led a civil rights movement and that’s for a reason,” he tells Billboard. “You can help, you have to use what you have, but you have to show so much strength because so many people don’t understand it. But they see it at the end of the road. And that’s what I have to do. I have to remember I have to stay focused ’cause what I’m talking about is not for right now, it’s for tomorrow.”
For him, right now is all about watching what goes on at home and how he can help. “I’ve been in contact with the family of Mike Brown, we started a Mike Brown Scholarship Fund in order to send kids to college because Mike did graduate from high school,” he says.
“And even though we all make mistakes, he did have positive things that he wanted to do. And I think it’s important that we expand on what he wanted to do in a positive nature and send, not just kids from his area, but kids from all over who have that mentality onto a better place so we can change the outcome.”