Snoop Dogg received the I Am Hip Hop Award at BET’s annual Hip Hop Awards in Atlanta last evening (Sept 17). When asked on the green carpet about their favorite Snoop Dogg track, many attendees grinned brightly before crooning the hook to 1993’s “What’s My Name?” -- from Zaytoven to DJ Holiday, who was in charge of manning the wheels for the event. Big KRIT cited Snoop’s Mississippi connection and his date, Oakland soulstress Mara H. Ruby, spoke lovingly of his influence on her entire home state.
So this year, Snoop, typically on the mic as the host of the Hip Hop Awards, handed the reins to DJ Khaled who gladly stepped into his shoes for the night.
“Love is the key,” DJ Khaled said, just before bringing Betty Wright out for a performance of “Holy Key” to open the show. As always, the program was packed with artist sets -- from Big Baby Dram to OT Genasis, whose set and dance moves were particularly entertaining -- and a spattering of cyphers, but this year the network went the extra mile in pulling Big KRIT and Lecrae to do something exorbitantly special.
Dressed in a police officer’s uniform, KRIT stood center stage with blue and red lights flashing dimly behind him and the audience was silent. There was no beat, there were no distractions from the words he recited which tapped into today’s epidemic of people of color dying by the hands of the police. There was a moment where his voice cracked tearfully and he threw his hat on the stage, KRIT received a standing ovation by the end.
Lecrae had the same task, presumably from the perspective of the people. “They saying ‘Make America Great Again’, I’m like, when was America great again?” then, “Was it when they took us from our native land? Or when they took the natives’ land?” This was no half-baked tribute. It was well-thought out and teeming with love from both artists. These are the kind of spine-tingling moments that make hip-hop palpable, under any circumstance.
T.I. dedicated his own performance to these current affairs as well. Dressed in all black from his beret to his boots, the Hustle Gang capo delivered a powerful performance of his militant track “We Will Not.” There were no dancers, no hypemen -- just a crew of “protesters” carrying picket signs and a couple of crooked cops.
Of course there was the typical youthful exuberance of new artists like Dae Dae and Lil Yachty. Lil Uzi Vert, Isaiah Rashad and 21 Savage also had mini-sets throughout -- all completely different artists but managing to hold the attention of the audience in their own exclusive ways.
Trap rap veteran Gucci Mane performed, donning a three-quarter length fur in front of giant blocks of “ice” as Zaytoven tickled piano keys and everything seemed exactly as they should be in the A.
Young Thug, Travis Scott and Quavo performed “Pick Up the Phone” ahead of a lone phone booth onstage. There was Young M.A. who kept the set simple with her live rendition of “OOOUUU.” But Desiigner may have had the biggest response of all the up-and-comers with his performance of “Timmy Turner,” where he yelped, shook, jumped and hollered alongside a small choir that swayed peacefully. It was oddly fascinating.
The cyphers were thoughtfully executed this year -- from Peedi Crakk, Neef Buck, Omillio Sparks, Freeway and Beanie Sigel repping Philly to the live cypher onstage that featured The Locksmith and dead prez. There were insightful newcomers like Empire’s Bre-Z and District 21 -- out of Calabasas, of all places -- and familiar favorites like 3D Na’Tee and Dave East. There was one that stood out particularly. Hosted by DJ Drama, this ‘one-on-one’ cypher featured Lil Wayne and Kevin Hart’s Chocolate Droppa. Hilarity ensued.
The love spilled over into Snoop’s I Am Hip Hop tribute. Kendrick Lamar was tapped to introduce his OG and he did so with eloquence and grace. “[Snoop] made mistakes but he learned from ‘em and through his examples we learned to transform our mark on a revolutionary art.”
Somehow, even two decades in, Snoop speaks on his career incredulously, as if he still can’t believe he made it. During the montage he was asked about his big break and replied: “The first time I heard myself on the radio... I wanted to smile but it was too many people looking.” Upon taking the stage to accept the award from Lamar, Snoop stopped, started to speak and paused again.
“I didn’t write nothing for this because I wasn’t prepared,” he began with emotion, speaking to a full house on their feet. “All this respect from my peers wasn’t something I strived for. I just wanted to make music.” But sometimes, when you do what you love, as Khaled said earlier that night, it doesn’t feel like a hustle -- it just feels like love, all around. Major key.
The BET Hip Hop Honors will air October 4.