My evening at the 2007 BET Hip-Hop Awards begins with me standing before two closed doors inside the Atlanta Civic Center.
I didn't really expect the show to start on time, but it did. So as I wait outside along with Slim Thug, Blood Raw and several other people, the audience screams as Kanye West takes the stage to perform his two hits "Can't Tell Me Nothing" and "Good Life."
I finally get to my seat just as the evening's host, comedian Katt Williams, walks out to give his opening monologue. Since his memorable performance at the first edition of the awards last year, Williams' monologue has become sort of a State of Hip-Hop address. "I want to thank 50 Cent and Kanye West for fighting without violence," he pronounces as the cameras cut to the two rappers in their seats. "I want all the fighting to stop. I want T.I. to stop fighting T.I.P. so he can see that the police are out there."
LL Cool J presents the first award for CD of the year to Common's Finding Forever and T.I.'s T.I. vs. T.I.P., but only Common accepts his trophy. A long 30-minute interval follows, and rumors fly around the auditorium that T.I. was arrested by the ATF, hence his mysterious absence. (The following morning, news stories announce that at 2:30 p.m., less than four hours before the awards, federal agents arrested T.I. for buying unregistered machine guns.) When Williams retakes the stage, he proclaims, "Thank you for not capturing Osama bin Laden, but taking care of Foxy Brown."
The night's decidedly unmemorable performances by Nelly, Lil Wayne, Soulja Boy, Common and others are overshadowed by numerous acknowledgments of the hip-hop nation's imperiled state. David Banner, one of the speakers at a recent congressional hearing on profane lyrics in hip-hop, says he's proud to be a Southern rapper "who can be like a pimp, and address Congress like a president." Then he holds up disgraced Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick's No. 7 jersey, and the audience applauds wildly. MC Lyte and historian Michael Eric Dyson also give speeches. "All we are are works in progress," says MC Lyte, asking for "lovers of hip-hop" to have patience and understanding for the genre's multitude of troubled artists.
Wyclef Jean pays tribute to T.I. over the strains of the latter's "You Know What It Is," and then rehashes Jimi Hendrix's famed rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" on an electric guitar. Then Alfamega, Busta Rhymes and DJ Drama come out and perform T.I.'s "Hurt." "Free T.I.P.!" shouts Busta. It's a heavy night.
Near the end, Kanye West wins the "Video of the Year" award for "Can't Tell Me Nothing." "I have to be honest, but I think OutKast and UGK should have won this award," he says. It's a surprising gesture from a guy best known for throwing tantrums at awards shows.
West invites Big Boi and UGK's Bun B to take the award for "International Players Anthem." (Wisely, in light of his "fuck Atlanta" comments a few months ago, UGK's Pimp C didn't show up.) Big Boi protests to West, "I think you deserve this award." Then West and Big Boi hold the trophy together. "Now this is what hip-hop is about," Big Boi says. You could feel the love blossom throughout the Civic Center.
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