The network honored the 46-year-old rapper with the "I Am Hip Hop" award for his decades-spanning accomplishments in the music industry that includes chart-topping hits such as "Hot in Herre," "Dilemma" feat. Kelly Rowland, "Country Grammar," "Ride Wit Me" and "Cruise" with Florida Georgia Line. A staple in the hip-hop music world, the musician was also recognized for his fashion line, Apple Bottoms, his role in the hit series Real Husbands of Hollywood and his reality show, Nellyville.
When ET spoke with the rapper on the red carpet, he shared how grateful he felt, especially since he was receiving the award a little over two decades after BET premiered his very first music video ever.
"BET has been holding Nelly down since day one and they've always been behind me to this day," Nelly told ET. "You know we're talking 23 years later, it's kinda a full-circle moment. So I'm just honored, man, and I'm thankful. I feel a little old but it's OK."
Nelly accepted the award and shared a message of appreciation as he looked back over his impressive career.
"I never had a cosign. You know what I'm saying? 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," he said of his early career while accepting the award. "We hear today and I always want to thank bet for allowing Nelly the honor and pleasure of being visual on their platform, all the way from, you know, day one."
As for the "full circle" moment he talked about with ET, Nelly said during his speech that it largely had to do with LL Cool J being in the audience.
"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. You know what I mean? I never looked at rap a certain way until that man -- until that man did his thing," Nelly shared. "Then I was like, 'Whoa, I think I can do that!'"
"So much so that I started jacking a lot of s**t from him," Nelly added with a laugh. "[But] we talked about that. He's forgiven me."
After accepting the award, the show returned from a commercial break with Nelly on stage to deliver a medley of his biggest hits -- including, obviously, "Hot In Here" -- that served as something of a show-closing spectacular.
When speaking to ET, Nelly shared how the performance embodies the spirit of his career, especially his debut album. "The car just symbolizes the first time I drove into BET, you know what I'm saying? It's just the first time I aired on BET, on 106 and Park," he explained. "I had the honor of being the first No. 1 video the day that program aired and it's just a representation of that. The whole montage is just a representation of Country Grammar."
"You talk about hip hop as well, and again with your peers, and getting the chance to see how you kinda influenced the music that you're in and how a lot of the people that's in today's music might have took a little bit from me as I did when I sat in the audience and watched other people get the award as well," he shared.
As far as what the rapper wants his legacy to be, that's still undecided. For now, he's just trying to work hard and stay one step ahead of where he thought he wouldn't be.
"I don't know yet," he admitted. "I know some people have a direct clue about it. I just work hard, thankful. I just keep trying to stay one step ahead of where I thought I wouldn't be."
Read on below for everything you need to know on how to watch the BET Hip Hop Awards, as well as nominees, performers and more.