Nelly took fans on a trip down memory lane at last night’s (Oct. 5) 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards, reminding viewers why he was this year’s deserving recipient of the I Am Hip Hop Award. Hitting the stage in a 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass, the St. Louis native began his nostalgic set with classic tracks like “E.I.,” “Country Grammar (Hot Shit)” and “Air Force Ones.”
Later, Nelly was joined on stage by collaborators to perform more of his biggest hits. Jermaine Dupri joined the 46-year-old to perform his and Jagged Edge’s “Where the Party At;” Paul Wall entered the stage for 2005’s “Grillz;” and City Spud of the St. Lunatics appeared for “Ride Wit Me.”
Nelly capped off the set with “Dilemma,” albeit without Kelly Rowland; “Flap Your Wings” and the crowd-favorite “Hot In Herre,” which earned the multi-talent his first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 back in 2002.
During his I Am Hip Hop Award acceptance speech, Nelly reflected on his St. Louis roots.
“First of all, it’s truly my honor, man,” he said. “You know, you from St. Louis… we don’t get a lot of this. We don’t get a lot of chances to stand on stage and say, ‘Yeah, it’s our turn.’ So this ain’t just for me — this for my whole area, this for my whole city.”
“Just to be clear, I never had a co-sign,” he continued. “Nobody stood on stage and put their arm around me. Nobody gave me a feature. Nobody put a chain around my neck. I got thrown in the deep end and was told to swim.”
The Grammy Award-winner also saluted LL Cool J — who presented Tyler, the Creator with the Rock The Bells Cultural Influence Award earlier in the night — for his musical influence.
“Let me tell y’all something… that guy… the influence that he put on Nelly was incredible because all up until L, I thought you had to be one way to be a rapper,” he said. “I never looked at rap a certain way until that man did his thing and then I was like, ‘Woah, I think I can do that.’”
The 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards also featured performances by Young Thug, Gunna, Bia, Lil Jon, Baby Keem, Latto, Tobe Nwigwe, Isaiah Rashad and more. Besides Tyler and Nelly; Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, JAY-Z, Lil Baby, J. Cole and others were also honored with awards.
See clips from Nelly’s performance and social media reactions below.