The 2020 BET Hip Hop Awards aired yesterday. Speaking to BET ahead of the ceremony, rapper T.I. described the event as the “cornerstone” of the culture. He isn’t wrong. BET is one of the strongest pillars of Black entertainment and as such its Hip Hop Awards ceremony is the only awards show that actually honors the music other academies consider “urban.”
Televised award shows have historically misrepresented Black art – if they include Black people at all. For instance, the five or six nominees that make it to the Grammys’ Best Rap category aren’t always reflective of the music that is soundtracking the culture. The winners certainly aren’t (let’s not even talk about that Macklemore win).
Despite being the tastemakers, Black musicians often lose out on mainstream accolades in the genres they brought forth (still referencing Macklemore here). If not, they’re marginalized to the catch-all “urban” category. Not to mention, the celebrated Best Album category at the Grammys is one that always almost certainly eschews Black artists – there have only been four Black winners over the last 20 years.
Essentially, according to the Grammys, the work of Black artists is good enough to be entertainment, but not good enough to be honored. The BET Awards is one of the few exceptions to the rule. It offers a massive platform to Black entertainers who would normally be overlooked by the other outlets promoting the music industry.
Black music fans especially leaned on the BET Hip Hop Awards to pay proper homage to the music of the culture and the people creating it. Nowhere else will we see an awards show correctly honor Pop Smoke‘s impact, or have Burna Boy use his performance to speak about police brutality in Nigeria, or see Erykah Badu, Teyana Taylor, Brandy, and H.E.R. hop on the mic for an all-ladies cipher.
So before you base an artist’s cultural impact on how many Grammys they’ve won, remember that the BET Awards and BET Hip Hop Awards are a rite of passage for Black musical artists and the entertainment industry equivalent of affirming music’s “street cred” and authenticity.