Performing as a an actor portraying a police officer pressed his knee on his neck, replicating the last moments of George Floyd’s life, multi-platinum rapper DaBaby rapped a verse from the Black Lives Matter remix of his hit song “Rockstar” at the BET Awards.
Sunday’s show, a virtual event because of the coronavirus pandemic, featured a number of highly produced, well-crafted and pre-taped performances. DaBaby’s clip, featuring Roddy Ricch, also featured images from protests, a reflection of the current world in the wake of Floyd’s death and the death of others, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
The BET Awards, celebrating its 20th anniversary, kicked off Sunday with a performance featuring Black artists rapping and singing anthems about the Black experience and fighting for equal rights.
The 12-year-old sensation Keedron Bryant, who turned heads on social media with his passionate performance about being a young Black man in today’s world, started the show with an a cappella performance of his poignant song “I Just Wanna Live,” which earned him a record deal. That was followed by an all-star performance of Public Enemy’s 1989 anthem “Fight the Power,” featuring Nas, Black Thought, Rapsody and YG adding new lyrics to the song, even namedropping Taylor and others.
Chuck D kicked off the performance, replacing the year 1989 with 2020. “Fight the Power” topped the Billboard rap charts more three decades ago and was featured in Spike Lee’s epic “Do the Right Thing.” Flavor Flav, Questlove and Black Thought and Chuck D’s artist Jahi were also part of the performance.
Sunday’s show also celebrates BET’s 40th year as a network. The three-hour show, airing on CBS for the first time, is being hosted by comedian, actress and TV personality Amanda Seales, who starred in several skits, including one about women who identify as “Karen,” a common stereotype and term for racist and privileged white women.
Other artists were political during their performances, including Ricch, who wore a Black Lives Matter shirt while he rapped, Alicia Keys, Anderson Paak and Jay Rock, as well as brothers SiR and D Smoke, who performed with their mother Jackie Gouché.
Lil Wayne paid tribute to NBA icon Kobe Bryant, who died in January, with a performance of his 2009 song “Kobe Bryant,” weaving in new lyrics. Wayne Brady, in a glittery suit, rolled around on top of a piano as he sang a medley of Little Richard hits.
Nipsey Hussle, who was named best male hip-hop artist and earned the humanitarian award at last year’s BET Awards, won video of the year for “Higher,” a clip he filmed with DJ Khaled and John Legend shortly before he died .
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The BET Awards, one of the first awards shows to air virtually, featured performances that were sharp with artsy stage production, giving extra life to the songs being performed. It was a welcomed break from the “living room” and homebound performances hundreds of artists have shared on social media since the pandemic hit in March.
Megan Thee Stallion went to the desert with background dancers as she twerked and rapped her No. 1 hit “Savage.” She won best female hip-hop artist, beating out Cardi B and Nicki Minaj.
“Oh my God, I probably recorded this video like 10 times. It feels so crazy doing this from my house,” she said. “I used to watch the BET Awards all the time thinking, ‘One day that’s going to be me going up there accepting my award’ — and now it is.”
Later in the show Beyoncé will earn the humanitarian award, to be presented by Michelle Obama.
The show is an annual celebration of Black entertainment and culture, and this year’s ceremony is the first major awards show since the May 25 death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, which sparked global protests aimed at reforming police actions and removing statues and symbols considered racist from public places.