New York

The BET Hip-Hop Awards: A Running Diary

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You might think your holy Christ was near

This thing probably should’ve been a complete clusterfuck. For one thing, there’s already an annual BET Awards show, so this thing really has no reason to exist. For another, all the awards themselves have ridiculous names and nebulous definitions, so I can’t imagine anyone really cares who gets what. And for a good example of how a rap award show can descend into total chaos, see the entire sordid history of the Source Awards. But BET invested some actual production values in this thing, and they limited the numbers of hypemen most of the time, and they got Katt Williams, a guy who’s totally at home in chaotic situations, to host, so this ended up being a pretty decent night of TV. Still, watching it a few hours after Hell Hath No Fury finally leaked means I keep picturing Malice and Pusha T standing outside the venue and cutting everyone’s heads off while the leave.

9:00: Ludacris opens the show walking out onstage to a shower of sparks and doing, weirdly, “Welcome to Atlanta,” a song that’s five years old now. Jermaine Dupri also comes out, wearing some totally unconvincing rap clothes. And Young Jeezy does a verse that I’ve never heard that probably comes from a mixtape or something. Lil Jon yells for a couple of seconds at the end, but the whole thing turned out pretty well: no band, no hypemen, just a DJ and some guys rapping. And a shower of sparks. Even for a network that’s never really paid much lip service to the whole rap history thing, it’s pretty ballsy for them to hold the first annual show in Atlanta, the city that unquestionably runs rap right now.

9:04: Apparently, Katt Williams is “the president of the hip-hop nation.” He comes out to “Hail to the Chief,” complete with fake Secret Service girls and a podium. He launches into a fake presidential speech, namechecking a kajillion old-school rappers and dubiously asserting that Tiger Woods is hip-hop. Halfway through, a bunch of people run out and start playing “Hail to the Chief” over some shitty rudimentary rap drums. Evander Holyfield, in the crowd, appears to be enjoying himself. Williams: “I do not like hip-hop. I like pizza. I live hip-hop.” The whole thing is more than a little ridiculous, but it’s also pretty spectacular, though I guess that pretty much describes everything Katt Williams does.

9:09: Diddy, presenting and award, cannot possibly hope to follow that. He gets everyone to clap for Ed Bradley and Gerald Levert. T.I. wins Video of the Year for “What You Know,” even though it’s not a particularly good video. He’s wearing a leather hoodie, which should look totally ridiculous but somehow doesn’t.

9:17: We get a nice black-and-white video tribute to the ciper, with Papoose and Lupe Fiasco and Styles P all standing on a corner and rapping. Pap eliminates any goodwill he built up with his epic line about “they’re still finding human remains at Ground Zero” with this: “When we say BET, we ain’t tryna spell ‘bet’ / Black Entertainment, Papoose is the best.” Lupe goes off on one of his goofy extended metaphors about how the game is a person (not the Game), and he still manages to bury Pap. Styles is reliably hard, just like always, even though he can’t cuss.

9:20: Lil Wayne does the first verse from “Stuntin’ Like My Daddy” alone onstage. I really love this song. There’s a motorcycle onstage for no reason other than, I guess, the motorcycles that Wayne and Baby ride in the song’s video. Baby comes up on an elevator-riser with his own motorcycle. Don’t they usually use that elevator-riser trick for surprise guests? Baby is not a surprise guest. Still, no hypemen! They’re rapping over their recorded vocals but whatever.

9:25: Monica tells us that the show has “element awards,” which means they’re making excuses to give awards to producers. Busta Rhymes creepily hits on Monica. Jermaine Dupri beats Kanye West for Producer of the Year, which makes me wonder who the fuck picks these things. There’s no onstage tantrum, so Kanye must not be there.

9:28: Lil Jon, doing voiceover for the night, announces that the “Touch It” remix wins best collaboration. Come on.

9:30: Rick Ross runs himself out of breath while walking down an onstage staircase doing the first verse from “Push It.” Some random-ass dudes run out to kill the no-hypemen streak when he starts doing “Hustlin’.” In the crowd, Jay-Z looks actively disgusted. This is all a setup for Ross to present the ill-defined Hip-Hop Hustle of the Year award, which I’m pretty sure is just an excuse to give Jay-Z an award. Rick throws up the Roc diamond, which looks funny. Jay: “Men lie. Women lie. Numbers don’t.” At this point, I’m really rooting for the total commercial failure of Kingdom Come.

9:36: All the performances so far have been pretty simple and free of frills, but here’s Snoop Dogg, sitting on a throne while some girl pretends to do his nails and a bunch of girls in lycra dresses scatter rose petals on the floor. Snoop’s new album is shockingly good, but you wouldn’t know it from this anemic performance. He does the R. Kelly song from the album, but R. Kelly isn’t there. Even his hypemen look bored.

9:45: Avon Barksdale and Stringer Bell are here to announce that BET is going to start showing reruns of The Wire in January. WTF? That’s my favorite show in the world, and I’m glad to see everyone getting paid, but I can’t imagine what they’re going to have to do to the show so it’s fit to broadcast on basic cable. If people aren’t getting killed or fucking, they’re having a conversation comprised entirely of cusswords. I’m never, ever going to get used to hearing Stringer Bell talk in a British accent. They present Chamillionaire with Rookie of the Year, which I guess means we’re all supposed to pretend that Get Ya Mind Correct never existed. Chamillionaire wants us to know that he’s not pretending to appreciate the award; he really does. Katt Williams makes fun of him: “He really went deep with it!”

9:48: You knew Luda and Jeezy weren’t just going to do “Welcome to Atlanta” and go home, so here they are again, doing “Grew Up a Screw Up,” onstage with a car and a bunch of dry ice and little kids. It’s a mess, but Luda sounds heated.

9:55: Another cipher, this time with the a truly motley group of rappers: Remy Ma, Saigon, Sway (the British one, not the MTV News one), and Rhymefest. All of them keep their verses short, and all of them sound really great, which I can’t say I was expecting.

9:57: Game does “One Blood” with Junior Reid, which is pretty awesome. Game has motorcycle gloves on, and he looks pretty funny. He loses his place on the “word to Eazy” bit. The beat drops out halfway through, and Game says, “Ain’t got no beef with 50, peace to Jay,” while the camera cuts to Jay sitting in the crowd and looking uncomfortable. The track switches to the infinitely more boring “Let’s Ride” with hypemen and a whole bunch of rims onstage.

10:04: Big Tigger, Melyssa Ford, and some random contest winner present the People’s Champ award, which I guess is this show’s equivalent of the Viewers’ Choice award. Chamillionaire wins and says BET is his favorite channel.

10:10: It’s Flavor Flav and Deelishis! Flav can’t read the teleprompter! I’m forced to acknowledge the existence of Flavor of Love! It’s a bad minute for everyone. Busta Rhymes wins the Move the Crowd award, whatever that is.

10:15: T.I.’s “live from backstage” skit is blatantly not live, judging by the cheesed-out special effects. The spiffy T.I. looks in the mirror and sees the gutter T.I., who tells him to sit down, which is weird. T.I. runs out on the huge stage doing “Top Back” by himself, and every rapper in the crowd should probably take notes on how to hold a stage. Young Dro, uncharacteristically intense, runs out for his verse. Big Kuntry mostly stays out of the way. And B.G., Grand Hustle’s new signing, looks absolutely ecstatic to be on TV again; I can’t wait to hear what he can do now that he’s got a decent recording budget again. The whole thing looks somehow iconic; it’s easily the performance of the night.

10:25: More Jeezy? Even though he’s a godawful live performer? He does “I Love It” while a bunch of girls dance on stripper poles onstage. This was unnecessary.

10:30: Nelly presents Lyricist of the Year, which is pretty funny. Even funnier: Busta Rhymes is nominated. Commons wins; whatever.

10:31: Snap wins dance of the year? What the hell is that? The Yung Joc motorcycle dance was robbed.

10:35: Jim Jones does “We Fly High”; I guess this was inevitable. Juelz Santana is on hypeman duty. T.I., in the crowd, does the jumpshot dance. I’m not totally sure about this, but the crowd shot makes it look like Baby is sitting directly behind B.G.; I wonder if he’s kicking himself for leaving his piano-wire at home. Katt Williams stands awkwardly behind Jones onstage. No shot of Jay-Z; maybe he’s in the bathroom or something. This song is terrible.

10:39: Jermaine Dupri presents the Icon Award to Grandmaster Flash? Does that make sense to anyone? Dupri totally fumbles through Flash’s intro. Flash talks about how important the DJ is and shouts out a whole bunch of old-school people. In a pretty hilarious moment, Lil Jon follows this up by screaming that DJ Unk will be performing next.

10:49: A huge crowd of little kids walk it out. I really like this song.

10:53: T.I. accepts MVP of the year with an inspirational speech about the success of crack-rap.

10:58: Katt Williams ends the show by reminding people not to take batons and guns through the airport.