Stray Shots: The Burden And Possible Redemption Of BET
This week, The BET Experience swings into full gear. Questions remain about the network's ability to make changes that aren't just cosmetic and how to properly honor women in Hip Hop.
Once upon a time in a universe far, far away, HipHopDX used to host blogs. Through Meka, Brillyance, Aliya Ewing and others, readers got unfiltered opinions on the most current topics in and beyond Hip Hop. After a few years, a couple redesigns and the collective vision of three different Editors-In-Chief, blogs are back. Sort of. Since our blog section went the way of two-way pagers and physical mixtapes, Twitter, Instagram and Ustream have further accelerated the pace of current events in Hip Hop. Rappers beef with each other 140 characters at a time, entire mixtapes (and their associated artwork) can be released via Instagram, and sometimes these events require a rapid reaction.
As such, we’re reserving this space for a weekly reaction to Hip Hop’s current events. Or whatever else we deem worthy. And the “we” in question is myself, Omar Burgess and Andre Grant. Collectively we serve as HipHopDX’s Features Staff. Aside from tackling stray topics, we may invite artists and other personalities in Hip Hop to join the conversation. Without further delay, here are this week’s “Stray Shots.”
Will the 2014 BET Experience Change How You Think Of BET?
“The BET Awards is for everybody. It’s for white people too. It’s the kind of show where you can get Neil deGrasse Tyson and Superhead on the same show...like Michelle Obama and Rick Ross right next to each other…” –Chris Rock, “The Tonight Show” Interview.
Omar: If you’re in the greater Los Angeles area this week, the all-consuming force that is BET Awards Weekend 2014 is overwhelming you. There are parties, gift bags, struggle rappers, men who epitomize the phrase “thirsty” and the Instagram thots they’ve been lusting after from near and far all in the same five-mile radius. Sadly, some of these things are indigenous to L.A., but fairly or unfairly, some of these elements will be directly attributed to BET and its annual award show. This is usually the time when outlets break out their annual think pieces on the social and cultural value of BET as a whole. None of them will likely top the infamous “Hunger Strike” episode of The Boondocks. In 2014, does the perception of BET match reality?
In my 34 years on this planet, I’ve seen the highs and lows of Black Entertainment Television. Shows like Video Soul and Rap City provided a platform for artists like Luther Vandross and Paris who rarely if ever got exposure on MTV. There was social commentary in the form of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech being named the best video of the millennium, Teen Summit and interim Planet Groove host Rachel Stuart asking Ghostface Killah to break down his lyrics from Supreme Clientele’s “Saturday Nite.” But for every peak, there was an equal (or arguably lower) valley. Between the guilty pleasure of BET: Uncut, the CGI hostess of Cita’s World, the Hell Date midget and Hot Ghetto Mess (later and fittingly renamed We Got To Do Better), there were times where I wished BET would just drop the B. The cooning was reaching levels so low it felt like the televised representation of Black America’s worst elements.
But I guess it’s important to note the “E” in BET stands for entertainment not education. And no publicly traded corporation is going to uplift a race or a culture, even if they’ve been saddled with that unfair expectation due to a lack of diversity on television. I think results have been mixed since the 2000 acquisition of BET by Viacom for $2.3 billion. The increased resources have upped the production value, and there has been some actual “black star power,” as evidenced by the rare Michael Jackson appearance in 2003. There’s still ratchet shit happening like the 2012 skirmish between Rick Ross and Jeezy. But the 2013 edition hit a four-year ratings high with 7.7 million viewers, and the network reversed the trend of creating low-budget, black versions of popular MTV reality fare by obtaining The Game. Prior to taking a nosedive, the sitcom debuted on BET with 7.7 million viewers. But now that BET is behind cultural “water cooler” moments like Chris Brown’s 2010 breakdown/redemption, I’m not sure if that means they’ve turned a corner or just finally have enough money to hide the proverbial carpet stains. OutKast’s involvement in this year’s festivities is cause for momentary hope. And I guess as long as we don’t expect BET to be some kind of cultural benchmark for excellence, things have improved or at least evolved.
Andre: The BET Awards have been transformed into the BET Experience—a three-day extravaganza featuring the latest and greatest in Hip Hop and R&B culture. This year they’ve managed to rangle performances from Jill Scott, A$AP Rocky, and the legendary OutKast amongst others. The experience gets larger and grander with each iteration. Save for some violence at the end of 2012 involving Rick Ross and Young Jeezy, the show is mostly laughs, decent performances, and at least one or two artists that you haven’t heard from in years getting nominated. At least once every show there’s someone that makes you say, “Who the hell is... Oh!” And you wouldn’t be mistaken for asking yourself how the hell those folks got nominated. This year it’s Charli Baltimore, whose 2013 mixtape Hard 2 Kill, floated-on-by with little to no fanfare. That’s not to say it was terrible. Her single “Hunnids” feat Trick Trick and Cash Paid was also not much lauded, but she’s continued to strive toward a viable career and with a Grammy nomination under her belt for her 2003 single “Diary,” it isn’t implausible. Everyone loves a comeback, right? Last year it was Rasheeda off her singles “Marry Me” and “Hit It From The Back,” which were showcased on The Breakfast Club and just straight-up-fodder. For 2011 it was Cymphonique, daughter of Master P, and general doer of nothing deserving a BET award.
So why the struggle in the Best Female Hip Hop Artist category? Well, because it isn’t necessary… at least not in its current iteration. The Best Female Hip Hop Category will always be filled with superstar Nicki Minaj and now you can add Down Under upstart Iggy Azalea who already has two top charting Billboard singles and is angling for a third, but there’s an issue at play here that we’re not talking about: Hip Hop has expanded, and the best female Hip Hop artists aren’t necessarily rapping over boom-bap baselines and samples. Santigold has never been nominated for a BET award. Neither has Jean Grae and out of the 13 BET awards garnered since the award began, Missy Elliot has won five times, while Nicki Minaj has won the last four. Either the category needs to expanded or abolished altogether, but it cannot stay the same.
Omar Burgess is a Long Beach, California native who has contributed to various magazines, newspapers and has been an editor at HipHopDX since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @omarburgess.
Andre Grant is an NYC native turned L.A. transplant who’s contributed to a few different properties on the web and is now the Senior Features Writer for HipHopDX. He’s also trying to live it to the limit and love it a lot. Follow him on Twitter @drejones.