After the BET Awards’ dedication to Michael Jackson, which was met with mixed reviews, the network went back to the drawing board for the 2009 BET Hip-Hop Awards, held annually in Atlanta. In spite of the obvious skepticism, this year BET put together a surprisingly balanced event showcasing the underground, mainstream, and past stars of Hip-Hop culture.
Unfortunately, this year security was very strict about any type of cameras or recording materials. Of course, this couldn’t stop people from furiously tweeting throughout the show.
The festivities kicked off with an orchestral ensemble of drums and string instruments backing Young Jeezy, who came out promptly for the Blueprint 3 track “Real As It Gets.” Jeezy was shown love as a hometown favorite, but it was almost as if the crowd didn’t expect Jay to appear. When he did, there was a huge ovation as both men spit their verses in matching black outfits and mist effects behind them. In an allusion to his stolen MTV Awards moment last month, Jay hit his b-boy stance again, and thankfully this time pint-sized spoiler Lil Mama was nowhere to be seen.
Mike Epps was solid in the role of host, never going overboard with any jokes and keeping the crowd amused after being forced to repeat a segment several times for mispronouncing “choreographer.” (“I know how to say choreographer! You didn’t have to bring the white man out here.”). Of course he had Lil Mama jokes as well, explaining that she was really 46 years old, and just hopped on stage to check on her grandkids.
For 2009, this event’s theme was “Hip-Hop giving back.” Here, emcees got to answer the ever recurring question of what they were doing for their communities. The acknowledged organizations included 50 Cent’s G-Unity Foundation (http://www.gunityfoundation.org/), Busta Rhymes with the Orange Rock Corps (http://www.orangerockcorps.co.uk), Young Jeezy’s Street Dreams Foundation (www.usda2day.com), and Jim Jones with the Entertainers 4 Education (http://www.e4ea.org).
Gucci Mane’s presence was the musical centerpiece of the show. The east Atlanta representer was a part of several performances, first starting with his verse on Mario’s#### single “Break Up.” His appearance was treated like a big event, and pyro flashed in the background as Gucci strutted on stage clad in a garish fur coat. His audience reception was bigger than Jay-Z’s and after Mario and his dancers vacated, Gucci went into “Wasted,” and Plies ran out to another huge ovation. It came across very good live, but we’ll see how it translates on TV.
Later, Gucci returned for protégé Soulja Boy’s “Gucci Bandana.” SB’s collection was determined by tweet requests from his over 1 million followers. Gucci was still the most popular rapper among the performing trio (SB, Shawty Lo, Gucci), but Shawty Lo’s appearance was the most memorable courtesy of an outfit ensemble featuring a Mary Poppins-esque umbrella and galoshes. Finally, Gucci ended his night hitting the stage with Wale and go-go band UCB for “Pretty Girls.”
The first great moment was Kid N Play coming out to hit their classic dance steps after the New Boyz claimed that “Hip-Hop needed a change” and they were bringing dance to the culture. Kid N Play brought everyone to their feet with their kick, spin routine, and encouraged the New Boyz to keep cultivating their sound.
Undoubtedly, the main reason to watch this show is for the three cyphers. DJ Premier was on the boards for all three, and the first featured Wale, Nipsey Hussle, G-SAN, and KRS-One. The preceding three did well, but as a veteran freestyler it was the Blastmaster who emerged with the best verse. The second group featured Nicki Minaj, Buckshot, Crown Royal, and Joe Budden. Minaj surprised many in the crowd with an engaging verse highlighted by a clear, precise flow, and several vocal inflection changes mimicking the chipmunk soul sample effect and the snobbish accent of an aristocrat. The flair and energy Minaj showed had everyone thinking she took this round. That is, until Joe Budden ended matters.
The controversial Jersey lyricist casually strolled front and center and shut down the mic. Even though this type of Atlanta crowd wasn’t familiar with his history, his bars were too good and an audience that was previously going wild over Soulja Boy and Gucci Mane was mesmerized by his performance. Even with the physical assault from the Wu and scrutiny from other vets like Melle Mel, Budden didn’t hesitate to throw a few subliminals their way (“I said something that got the vets upset/But I’m a student of the game/Not a teacher’s pet.”). There were further nice lines about artists needing majors to succeed, while he just needed an “ethernet cable,” which was juxtaposed with a previous line reference to the classic diss “Ether.”
And when everyone thought the cyphers were done, we saw Premier again flashed on the screen surrounded by Mos Def, Black Thought, and Eminem. Before they said a word, the crowd started buzzing and clapping (especially among press row), because anyone with a semblance of Hip-Hop awareness knew what was about to go down.
Mos started first, and ripped it with a verse showcasing veneration for Islam and its offshoots like the Nation of Gods and Earths. Midway, Mos started going back and forth between traditional rhyme schemes and the Jamaican toasting that originated Hip-Hop, eliciting claps from the audience. Black Thought went in next, and brought his usual rapid-fire, flawless flow. He spit longer than Mos, and got the crowd even more engaged as Eminem stood next to him nodding and taking in the bars. The crowd buzzed anytime Em appeared on screen, no doubt anticipating a great closer as each emcee’s verses built further anticipation.
People have marveled at Eminem’s verse of “Forever.” It you were impressed with that, just make sure to tune into this award show. I gave up trying to write down what he was saying because the flow was too nasty and fast for my hand, but I can verify the crowd went crazy when he brought an assonance heavy rhyme scheme that brought together several Arabic names to highlight how he was mixture of several figures like Barack Obama and Saddam Hussein. Honestly, once he finished the show could’ve ended right there.
Ice Cube was honored with the “I Am Hip-Hop Award,” acknowledging his achievements as an emcee, actor, and film producer. Chuck D introduced him, and Cube had words for both Hip-Hip newcomers and veterans.
“We gotta do what we feel. We can’t be slaves to video programmers, labels, or networks,” Cube explained. “To the veterans, don’t let yourself be pushed out… If you have a tongue, you’re not too old to rap.”
The closing performance was from the newly reunited Goodie Mob. Cee-Lo began the two-song set with a piano melody before going into the classic single “Cell Therapy.” ATL fans knew their history, and rose to their feet to sing along with the influential collective. They ended with Big Boi joining them for “Get Rich to This” to close out the show. While originally maligned by fans when it was released, fans gave the track love, and Goodie looked rejuvenated and ready for their just announced nationwide tour.
All in all, the BET’s 2009 Hip-Hop Awards has something for everyone. The award winners won’t be spoiled here, but the real meat and potatoes of the show are the cyphers and Ice Cube’s award win. In addition, the show will have an all-star remix (Snoop, Jim Jones, Soulja Boy, and Nipsey Hussle) of Dorrough’s “Ice Cream Paint Job,” Fabolous and the Dream (“Throw It in the Bag”), new tracks from Ludacris and Lil Scrappy, and Snoop Dogg featuring the Dream (“Gangsta Luv,” “Gin N Juice”).
The BET Hip-Hop Awards will air on October 27 at 8PM.