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‘Hip Hop Is a Virus’: Nelly Talks About the Everlasting Impact of Hip-Hop and Receiving the I Am Hip Hop Award

Nelly is the official recipient of the prestigious “I Am Hip Hop Award” at the 2021 BET Hip- Hop Awards, premiering Tuesday, Oct. 5. Following behind hip-hop royalty such as Lil Wayne, Lil Kim and Master P, Nelly will receive his flowers for influencing the culture through music, fashion and films over the last three decades.

During an interview with BET, Mr. “Air Force Ones” reflects on the evolution of hip-hop and “Heartland,” his first country album, which landed in the top 10 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums charts. Nelly says no matter what genre of music fans listen to, everyone has hip-hop roots.

Nelly receives the ‘I Am Hip Hop’ award onstage during the 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center on October 01, 2021 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Leon Bennett/2021 BET Hip Hop Awards/Getty Images)

“Even though country music is their life and what they do, they grew up on Nelly,” he declares. “They grew up on Ludacris. They grew up on Ja Rule. They grew up on 50 Cent. They grew up on Eminem. They still love country music. There’s no way you got through high school in the early 2000s, late 90s, and you didn’t listen to rap music, in some form.”

Though Nelly has shifted into country music, his influence over hip-hop will forever reign. Whether the lyrics are raunchy or graphic, he describes hiphop as “the greatest genre of music ever invented.” 

“Every other genre of music will be extinct before hip hop. There’s no way. Hip hop is a virus. It’s going to infect everything,” he says. 

Nelly tells BET it’s an “honor” to “hold the flag walking into new genres, walking into new places.”

When asked how he’s reinvented himself over the years, the former “Dancing With the Stars” contestant spoke of his parents divorcing when he was seven and how he’d attended eight different schools by his high school graduation. 

“That’s something that helped me when it came to this career because I always had to be the new guy,” said Nelly. “When you’re always the new guy you reinvent yourself. This guy may not be the guy for this situation. You may need to be a little bit of this way in order to survive. That’s just what I learned.”

Taking inspiration from a former popular girl group, Nelly concludes, “In the words of the great Destiny’s Child, “I’m a Survivor.”

Nelly’s “Heartland” served as a merger for his hip-hop and country music-loving fans, dating back to his 2000 debut single “(Hot S–t) Country Grammar.”

In his career, Nelly won three Grammy Awards and grabbed the number-three spot on Billboard’s Top 200 charts with his debut album, “Country Grammar.” It stands as the eighth hip-hop album to be certified diamond by the RIAA as of 2016, equating to 10 million or more copies sold.

“Country Grammar,” which celebrated its 20th anniversary on June 23, spawned hit songs and music videos for “E.I.,” “Ride wit Me,” and “Batter Up,” which paid homage to Nelly’s hometown in St. Louis. He holds four number-one songs on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, including his 2002 classic “Dilemma” featuring Kelly Rowland.

After its 2003 release, Nelly’s women’s denim brand, Apple Bottom, was mentioned by hip- hop peers and featured in dozens of music videos, such as Flo Rida’s “Low” video. Nelly also hosted a model casting on VH1’s “The Apple Bottom Girl,” and starred in BET’s “Real Husbands of Hollywood” series and his reality show, “Nellyville,” also on BET.

The 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards airs Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST on BET, BET HER, VH1 and MTV.

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