On Wednesday evening, August 23rd, the annual ACM Honors are being held at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. They will be aired on FOX on September 18th. Sort of like the little cousin of the ACM Awards each spring, the ACM Honors are yet another excuse on the country music calendar for everyone to get together and pat each other on the back.
What makes the ACM Honors a bit more unique though is how formal and comparatively intimate the event is, and how it’s not just about the big commercial powerhouse songs or albums or artists from a given year, but more about honoring people who are worth honoring for their service to country music and to the community.
That’s why it is so troubling to see that hip-hop artist and three-time accused sexual assaulter Nelly has been added to the ACM Honors lineup. Not only is Nelly not a country artist, his very troubling record with sexual assault accusations makes him the antithesis of the type of person the ACM Honors should be highlighting. Nelly also has prior run-ins with the law due to drug and weapon possessions, as well as tax liens.
Yet for some reason, whenever these types of events come up, Nelly is included with a curiously common frequency while his very troubling record constantly gets swept under the rug. Nelly is being invited to the event to recognize his 2004 collaboration with Tim McGraw on the genre-bending song “Over and Over.” McGraw is being presented with the “ACM Icon” award at the event.
Nelly was arrested October 7th, 2017 in Auburn, Washington after he was accused of sexual assault by a local woman. Nelly, whose real name is Cornell Iral Haynes Jr., was arrested on his tour bus in a Wal-Mart parking lot where the alleged rape occurred. The rapper had performed earlier that evening at the White River Amphitheatre as part of Florida Georgia Line’s 2017 “Smooth Tour.”
According to Steve Stocker of the Auburn police, the woman called 911 and reported the rape at 3:48 am. After an investigation, police decided to charge Nelly on 2nd degree rape, and placed him under arrest.
Later those charges were dropped by local authorities after the alleged victim—22-year-old Monique Green—said she was being harassed and smeared in the media after leaks from the local police department ended up on TMZ. She said she couldn’t trust the local police to fairly prosecute her case. Multiple stories involving Nelly’s attorney Scott Rosenblum appeared on TMZ accusing Monique Green of being a gold digger and a liar.
Shortly after the arrest for 2nd degree rape, two more accusations against Nelly emerged. One was from a woman who says that Nelly assaulted her at an afterparty following a concert at Koko, which is a club in London, England. The victim alleges Nelly groped her, despite repeatedly staving off his unwelcomed advances in June of 2016. The woman said hearing the story of another victim in Washington State compelled her to come forward.
Then another sexual assault investigation commenced against Nelly by police in Essex, England less than 2 months after Nelly was arrested in Washington State. A woman claimed that after a show at Cliffs Pavilion in Essex on December 5th, 2017, she approached Nelly to take a picture with him. Nelly allegedly grabbed the woman by the arm and took her to his dressing room where he began to masturbate in front of her and tried take her top off and force her to perform oral sex on him. As she ran away, the accuser claims Nelly yelled at her and called her a “c*nt.”
Subsequently, a civil suit between Nelly and Monique Green was settled privately. The woman in the Cliff’s Pavilion incident also did not cooperate with authorities for undisclosed reasons. Nelly has never been convicted of any crime against a woman, and everyone has a right to be considered innocent until proven guilty. But despite the gravity of the charges—even when they were fresh and he was actively under investigation for rape—Nelly was allowed to continue on tour with Florida Georgia Line, and has since appeared at numerous country festivals, CMT specials, and now the ACM Honors.
Nelly collaborated with another accused sexual assaulter, Jimmie Allen, on the 2020 song “Good Times Roll.” Where Jimmie Allen’s career has completely imploded after his day-to-day manager and another woman came forward to claim sexual assault and abuse, Nelly remains in the clear, likely because the accusations again the rapper came out right before the #MeToo movement took shape.
Nelly has never been convicted of any sex crime and certainly has the right to continue to work in the music business and collaborate with whomever he chooses. But naming him as a participant in the ACM Honors which is supposed to be about the character of performers over commercial performance is a very troubling development.
It speaks both to how the rapper has curiously skirted public scrutiny over the three credible accusations against him for sexual assault, and how despite public pronouncements, country music continues to have a dubious record with taking sexual assault accusations against professionals seriously, underscored by the continued presence of accused sexual assaulter Kirt Webster in the industry, and the continued blind eye turned by the media in his case as well.
If anything, organizations like the Academy of Country Music and the ACM Honors should be taking the lead on addressing these issues in the country music industry as opposed to inviting accused rapists to their events.