A Thought: The BET Hip-Hop Awards Are Still In Middle School, But Have Potential

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We all know hip-hop needs a legitimate alternative entity to the GRAMMYs to annually acknowledge and award the best of the best in the genre. Begrudgingly, we accept that the BET Hip-Hop Awards are next up, but we don’t do our best to gas up the ceremony. In fairness, there are reasons why the BET HHA do and don’t deserve more of our attention.

The “BET Hip-Hop Awards are corny” side of the debate

  • They give out silly, low-stakes awards like the “Made-You-Look Award” and the “Hustler of the Year” award.
  • Even in categories meant to reward artists for creative merit (e.g. Lyricist of the Year), the nominees are often just the same big names in all the other categories. Though Kendrick Lamar, who won LOTY this year, is always a respectable choice, the Black Panther soundtrack shouldn’t be enough to outshine many top-tier lyricists that put out proper solo projects. The BET HHA prioritizes the hottest artists rather than the best artists, making it feel more like an ass-kissing who’s-who party than a high-class night of recognition. We don’t need that from BET, The GRAMMYs do that already.
  • The show leans too much into farce and satire. It doesn’t take itself seriously. For instance, I love “Smile” by Lil Duval, but don’t let that nigga CLOSE OUT THE SHOW. And as much as the lighthearted, at-home feel of the annual hosts makes the ceremony authentic and Black-centric, the constant roasting doesn’t pair well with the not-so-serious awards and questionable organization of the performance line-up.

The “Let’s Support Each Other/Fuck the GRAMMYs” side of the debate

  • The GRAMMYs are not going to care about hip-hop achievements outside of major-label LPs and singles being offered in any given year. Awards such as “Best Featured Verse,” “Video Director of the Year” and “Best Mixtape” preserve some crucial elements of the culture that we care about but the GRAMMYs don’t.
  • For as much as the BET sucks up to the artists doing numbers, it does have moments where hip-hop creatives can shine regardless of the screen time they got the previous year. Along with “Best Mixtape,” the “Impact Track of the Year” award tends to nominate a stronger variety of artists and unique, critically-acclaimed tracks (e.g. Dej Loaf and Leon Bridges’ “Liberated”, Meek Mill’s “Stay Woke” feat. Miguel). Also, “Producer of the Year” shines light on the entire other half of the record-making process. As far as I know, names like Ben Billions and Metro Boomin aren’t being said on mainstream air waves outside of the BET HHA.
  • The artists truly care about the HHA. Winning the “I Am Hip Hop” award meant something to Lil Wayne. Cardi B slayed her performance. Newer/lesser known artists such as Pardison Fontaine and Flipp Dinero took their opportunities on stage seriously and gave us quality looks in their limited time. Why should we wait until hip-hop/R&B artists are rated by music industry elites until we go to bat for them when they have chances at recognition in a friendlier environment?

All I’m saying is, I’d rather argue about how an award ceremony for-us-by-us can raise its stock than pout and stomp around in circles about how a music industry award show continues to snub hip-hop in (obvious) favor of the music industry’s agenda.

Thoughts? Comments from anyone welcome, with the obvious implication that this conversation affects hip-hop fans/contributors of color more heavily.

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