Nelly is finally getting his flowers.
Over two decades since the release of his debut Country Grammar, the St. Louis rap icon is set to be honored with the “I Am Hip-Hop” award at the 2021 BET Hip-Hop Awards, airing tonight at 9 p.m. ET.
Despite all his accomplishments, including 21 million albums sold and three Grammys, he remains humble. Speaking with Rap-Up via Zoom, a grateful Nelly reflected on receiving the honor, which has previously been awarded to Lil’ Kim, Snoop Dogg, and Lil Wayne.
“You’re thankful for anytime you could be honored and work that you put in for 20-plus years,” he said. “You shouldn’t take it for granted because everybody don’t get a chance to do it. It means that much more special because BET has been there since the beginning of Nelly’s career.”
It marks a full circle moment for Nelly, whose “Country Grammar” video was first to go No. 1 on “106 & Park.” “The day ‘106 & Park’ aired, that countdown, ‘Country Grammar’ was No. 1,” he said. “BET has been showing Nelly nothing but love since the beginning of time, and I don’t wanna say it’s overwhelming, but it is a little bit.”
Nelly continues to reinvent himself. In 2004, he scored a crossover hit with “Over and Over,” his duet with country singer Tim McGraw. In August of this year, he released his country-inspired project Heartland.
He acknowledged the doors he’s opened for today’s crossover stars like Breland and Lil Nas X, who has faced criticism in the hip-hop community. However, Nelly remains unwavering in his support for the “Old Town Road” hitmaker.
“You have someone such as Nas X who was able to come out and create such a stir in being himself,” he said. “Do I always agree with Lil Nas X? I don’t always have to agree with Lil Nas X, but I agree that Lil Nas X has a right to do him. And that’s what I support. I support that young brother’s right to do him, period.”
Added Nelly, “That’s my cat, man. He alright with me. We all get a little buck wild. I may not agree with everything, but I agree with his right to do him.”
Nelly remains tapped in to today’s artists (“I’m one of the old heads that supports the young ones”), and shared his love for MCs like Lil Baby, Moneybagg Yo, and Yella Beezy.
He’s also a fan of rap’s reigning king, Drake. “Dude is phenomenal, bro. He’s gonna do down as one of the greatest entertainers of all time, just period,” he said of the Certified Lover Boy. “His journey is probably not even halfway yet and that’s scary.”