The "I Am Hip Hop" honor at the BET Hip Hop Awards is bestowed to one emcee every year who achieved significant heights throughout a long career, and who, ultimately, will end up leaving the game different than before they entered — like hip hop’s unofficial hall of fame.
RELATED: 10 Facts About Nelly
Since the BET Hip Hop Awards debuted in 2006, hip hop royalty has been receiving their flowers, starting with Grandmaster Flash to Lil Kim in 2019. This year’s honoree is none other than the face of St. Louis himself, Nelly.
“I am honored to receive this award and humbled to be in such great company of past artists who have received this award,” said Nelly, this year’s "I Am Hip Hop Award" recipient. “I have been blessed to work with some incredible people in my career, making 22 years go by in the blink of an eye. This award isn’t just about Nelly; it is about my fans, BET, and the people that continue to support me and allow me to do what I love to do.”
Before the “Country Grammy” star’s big night, here are some of his most iconic moments in hip hop.
The Diamond Club
Gold and platinum awards have become a benchmark of success for any artist when releasing music.
However, even as hip hop has become the most consumed genre in the world, with more artists witnessing their work going platinum (minimum 500,000 units), the diamond certification (minimum 10,000,000 units) has still been hard to come by.
So much so, only eight (Speakerboxx/The Love Below, 2003 - Outkast, The Eminem Show, 2002 and The Marshall Mathers LP, 2000 - Eminem, The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill, 1998 - Lauryn Hill, Life After Death, 1997 - The Notorious B.I.G, All Eyez On Me (1996) - 2Pac, Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt 'Em, 1990, MC Hammer) hip hop albums have met the illustrious threshold.
The eight, of course, being Nelly’s Country Grammar in 2000.
Across 66 minutes, Nelly hits nearly every record out of the park with hometown anthems like “St Louis” and “Batter Up,” the iconic “E.I.” and shows off his notoriously underrated pen game on tracks like “Greed Hate Envy” and “Wrap Sumden.”
Serves His Community
On August 16, 2014, the St. Louis rapper announced he’d set up and funded a scholarship in Mike Brown’s name that helps teens selected by Mike Brown’s family through college. Nelly also got his friends to help out, tapping T.I., Kevin Hart, and former NBA player Al Jefferson to donate $15,000 to help fund the program annually.
Apple Bottom Jeans
Not only was Nelly coordinating the fellas in bandaid strips and all white ones, but he also had women on a chokehold with his Apple Bottom jeans brand.
Released in 2013, the women’s denim brand was an instant success with promotion across various music videos with help of his hip hop peers. From Twista and Eminem to Flo Rida the mid-aughts was littered with his form-fitting jeans, becoming a 2000s pop-culture symbol. Nelly even hosted a model search for the brand on a VH1 reality show in 2008 called The Apple Bottom Girl.
Although eventually discontinued, the “Hot In Here” rapper has recently alluded to their return, captioning on in an Instagram post: “It's About That Time, Don’t Call It A Comeback.”
Nelly's Air Force Ones Effect
Once upon a time you could walk into any generic retail shoe store, hand the nice gentleman or lady your money, and go about your day with a fresh pair of Air Force Ones. Nowadays, because of Hypebeast, they’re a commodity to the point where you’d be lucky enough to catch them online.
While the recent boom is possibly due to more people consuming hip hop now than ever before (also TikTok), AF1’s has been hot in the hip hop community, dating back to Nelly’s iconic record, “Air Force Ones.”
You could still walk into the store to get them, but best believe, you better have made the trip to go get them because every quarter a fresh new pair was a must for anyone coming up in the aughts.
Nelly and ASAP Rocky even got into a debate over who started the trend, which Nelly soundly ended on an interview on the Breakfast Club:
“Don’t get it twisted, we weren’t the first to start rocking Air Force 1s, we weren’t the first ones that discovered Air Force 1s,” he said. “But when you say ‘made em famous’ you gotta understand that Air Force 1s were more of a New York, east coast thing. We didn’t rock Air Force 1s in the south or the midwest, they weren’t rocking them on the west coast. Until we did what we did, Air Force 1s went from $59.99 to a hundred dollars in a year.”
Since first dabbling in country in 2004 with his crossover hit duet "Over and Over" with Tim McGraw, Nelly’s career in the genre was solidified, as it was an instant success, peaking at No. 3 on the all-genre Billboard Hot 100.
He did it again with Florida Georgia Line in 2013, after hopping on a remix of their debut hit "Cruise," which went on to become the best-selling digital song by a country duo.
If Nelly’s first two country collaborations were a dip into country, his 2021 studio album, Heartland, is his full immersion. With features from Florida Georgia Line, Kane Brown, Darius Rucker and Jimmie Allen, along with newcomers Blanco Brown, Breland, and others, the nine-track effort is Nelly saying he can really do this country thing.
Although, that’s not how he’d say it:
"I don't call it a country album — I call it country-inspired because hip-hop is what I do, it's what I love,” Nelly tells Taste of Country and The Boot of his Heartland album. "It's my ode to country music for all the love and support that they've shown Nelly since I came into the game. I wanted to make something that I felt that specifically shows my gratitude for all that love."
Watch the 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards on Tuesday, October 5 at 9 PM ET/PT.