It may be time for BET to rethink the name of its annual celebration of hip-hop, or at least revisit the way the Hip-Hop Awards are presented. Because once again, last night’s BET Hip-Hop Awards featured the presentation of only three of its 19 honors. The others, like most of the best content gathered during the show’s taping last Friday at the Atlanta Civic Center, were delivered through the network’s website.
Rather than awards and speeches, those who tuned in got a handful of well-produced performances that might indicate BET’s budget for the Hip-Hop Awards has increased, but still missed the mark in some ways. The show opened with an outdoors performance by hometown hero Future, recorded two days earlier at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. Unfortunately, even the Atlanta skyline, complete with the city’s new SkyView Ferris Wheel in the background, couldn’t make his shaky renditions of DS2 singles “March Madness” and “Where Ya At” (sans Drake, of course) more palatable.
That seemed to be the theme for many of the Hip-Hop Awards performances: It was cool, but… T.I.’s appearance alongside Young Dro on his comeback hit “In the City” looked great live, but onscreen, the King of the South’s frenetic energy had him looking like a hyper little kid. “Made You Look” Hip-Hop Style award winner Dej Loaf traded in the sexy black lace jacket she wore on the green carpet for a velvet burgundy bomber and bra top on stage. And while she looked amazing, she didn’t quite own it, which made the performance fall flat. Even OT Genasis’s straight-out-the-audience, possibly staged, impromptu performance of “Coco” (which included no stage set up or anything) packed more of a punch.
We’re still trying to understand how Internet star I Heart Memphis got a full set to perform the viral song du jour “Hit the Quan” when a much greater moment could’ve been created by bringing in, say, Silento (or maybe even combining his performance with Rich Homie Quan himself). The real Quan, dressed in a pinstripe suit and joined onstage by four very flexible dancers, delivered with his performance of the hit single “Flex (Ooh, Ooh, Ooh).” Despite being an interesting choice to close out the show, Travis Scott gave the audience a taste of his Rodeo tour with a performance of “Antidote,” complete with a mini monster truck, desert landscape, and pyrotechnics.
And so without a doubt (and perhaps by default), Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs stole the show! After bringing his Bad Boy Reunion performance to the 2015 BET Awards over the summer, Diddy returned with new music from his forthcoming Puff Daddy & the Family album No Way Out 2. The two-part performance featured another rare Lil’ Kim appearance alongside Styles P and King Los, who all joined Diddy on “Welcome to the Auction.”
Diddy also used his Hip-Hop Awards appearance to debut his latest single, “Workin’,” now available for purchase on iTunes. Joined by a small crowd of dancers including YouTube dance sensation Meechie, Diddy’s performance was the highlight of the evening, even prompting his son Christian to dance along in the wings after making a quick cameo during the transition between the two songs.
While usually the highlight of the show, this year’s BET Cyphers even seemed to fall short, lacking the star power that has made previous Cyphers the trending topic in hip-hop for weeks. This year, we saw Timberland protégé Tink, Busta Rhymes’s newest signee J-Doe and newcomer Joyner Lucas shine where other up-and-coming artists failed to make an impression. This year’s newcomer Cyphers also seemed to be missing cohesive themes, with Atlanta alternative rap darling Raury questionably thrown into a Cali cypher with Casey Veggies, King Mez and Vince Staples.
Though the concept of a beatbox cypher had a few scratching their head at first, Doug E. Fresh, Rahzel and Nicole Paris (another Internet star making her TV debut during the show) definitely packed just as much of a punch into their “Can’t Stop the Beatbox” cypher. But no one could outshine Redman who, out of his “Rapper’s Delight” cypher with Eric Sermon and Keith Murray, seemed like the only one fully ready to stand alongside the lyrical young guns.
Despite the current social climate (and the scrutiny that fell once it was announced the Hip-Hop Awards would take place the same weekend as the Justice or Else March in DC), the show was notably devoid of social commentary. Again, this might have been different if actual awards were presented at the show, thereby giving artists an opportunity to speak up. In fact, there were only two moments when anything outside of music was acknowledged. Ludacris preempted his presentation of Scarface’s “I Am Hip-Hop Award” with a reminder that “as much as we have fun, we must remain socially conscious as well.” And battle rapper Rain, who appeared during the Smack URL live cypher, boldly proclaimed, “No more marches. I’m condoning the riots and all the violence,” a line which was edited during the broadcast.
As for Snoop Dogg as a returning host, the comedic talent that makes him great for the job seemed severely underutilized this year. In fact, some of his best moments got cut—like when he quipped that “[his] man Aubrey [Drake] got away with murder” before playing “Back to Back” in the unedited intro to the show. Or when the Westbrooks’ three attempts at recording their show preview spot prompted Snoop to ask if “we could get some pretty girls who can read next time.”
Overall, the 2015 BET Hip-Hop Awards stayed true to form. And for another year, fans are wondering when the show will evolve and what that evolution may be.
Full List of Winners
I Am Hip-Hop Award: Scarface
Album of the Year: J. Cole, 2014 Forest Hills Drive
Best Club Banger: Big Sean feat. E-40, “IDFWU” (Produced By DJ Dahi, DJ Mustard, Kanye West & Key Wane)
Best Collabo, Duo or Group: Big Sean feat. Drake & Kanye West, “Blessings”
Best Hip-Hop Video: Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”
Best Live Performer: J. Cole
Best Mixtape: Future, 56 Nights
DJ of the Year: DJ Mustard
Hustler of the Year: Dr. Dre
Impact Track: Kendrick Lamar, “Alright”
Lyricist of the Year: Kendrick Lamar
Made You Look Award (Best Hip-Hop Style): Dej Loaf
MVP Of The Year: Drake
People’s Choice Award: Big Sean feat. Drake & Kanye West, “Blessings”
Producer of the Year: DJ Mustard
Sweet 16: Best Featured Verse: Drake, “My Way Remix” (Fetty Wap feat. Drake)
Track of the Year: Fetty Wap, “Trap Queen” produced by Tony Fadd
Video Director of the Year: Benny Boom
Who Blew Up Award: Fetty Wap