Hip-hop veterans and newer artists came together this week for the 2023 BET Hip Hop Awards, even though most of the ceremony’s biggest winners (Kendrick Lamar, Drake, and 21 Savage) were no-shows. Fat Joe hosted the event, which took eat Oct. 3 at Cobb Energy Centre in Atlanta, and was televised Tuesday on BET and several other Paramount-owned TV networks.
Lamar won the most prizes (four): Hip Hop Artist of the Year, Lyricist of the Year, Best Live Performer, and Video Director of the Year, an award he shares with Dave Free. Drake and 21 Savage’s collaboration on “Her Loss” earned them two prizes: Album of the Year and Best Duo or Group. Voting for the BET Hip Hop Awards is open to the public and takes place on BET’s website.
DJ battles took place throughout the ceremony with participants that included Scott Storch, Spinderella, Lady London, Lola Brooke, Scar Lip, and Symba.
“Tonight, we’re going to do it different,” Fat Joe said on stage before introducing the battle between DJ D-Nice and Kid Capri.
“We’re going to represent for the DJs and the producers. It’s the DJs who started all of hip-hop. That’s why you have DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. That’s why you had Eric B. and Rakim, Jam Master Jay [from] Run-DMC,” he said, also namechecking DJ Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash as pioneers of hip-hop.
Fat Joe recognized the producers of those pioneers too.
“There would be no Snoop Dogg without Dr. Dre. There would be no Drake without 40, There would be no Missy [Elliott] without Timbaland,” he said.
Timbaland and Swizz Beatz won the Rock the Bells Cultural Influence Award. In 2020, the two artists co-founded the Web series “Verzuz,” which features two artists per episode going head-to-head performing music from their discographies. The show was the subject of a 2021 lawsuit (which has since been settled), in which Timbaland and Swizz Beatz claimed they were owed $28 million from their sale of Verzuz to social media company Triller. Timbaland commented in his acceptance speech about getting back ownership of Verzuz when he said, “Me and my brother created something special, and it ain’t over … Black-owned. Me and Swizz Beatz. ‘Verzuz’ … I’m glad to share this moment with my brother.”
In his part of the acceptance speech, Swizz Beatz thanked creatives, artists, the Ruff Ryders family and rapper DMX, a former Ruff Ryders artist who died of a heart attack in 2021.
“Without all of these foundations, I wouldn’t be where I’m at,” Swizz Beatz added. “Like Tim said, we own ‘Verzuz’ again. We got quiet for a minute, but we’re going to come back and show you what it is. That wasn’t just something for the pandemic. That was something for the world.”
Timbaland and Swizz Beatz also led the event’s cypher (multiple people performing in a cyclical manner), featuring DJ E Feezy and DJ Runna doing turntable duties, with lyricists Bun B, Cassidy, Foggieraw, Gloss Up, Lady London, Lola Brooke, Scar Lip, and Symba doing head-to-head battles. The digital cypher featured DJ Hed, LaNell Grant, Maiya The Don, and That Mexican OT.
Marley Marl, recipient of the I Am Hip-Hop Award, commented in his speech: “I brought sampling to hip-hop. That changed my world.” He added, “This all started out from a little dream in the crib. Queensbridge, I love you. This goes out to you too.”
Later, LL Cool J and Rakim led an all-star tribute to Marley Marl, who performed with Jazzy Jeff, DJ Technician, and the Adam Blackstone Band. The show also included a 30th Anniversary tribute to the So So Def music company and So So Def founder Jermaine Dupri, who were honored with a tribute performance by Bonecrusher, Chingy, Lil Jon, Ludacris, Nelly, Bow Wow, Da Brat, Dem Franchize Boyz, and Tyrese.
Black Sherif, winner of Best International Flow, gave one of the most confident acceptance speeches of the night. He thanked BET and said, “I started making music four years ago in a small city in Ghana called Konongo-Zongo. And there was no way nobody could convince me that I wouldn’t be here, that my music wasn’t going global.”
Kiernan “AKA” Forbes received the Global Visionary Award posthumously for his influence on the global hip-hop culture. In February, the South African rapper/producer was fatally shot outside a restaurant in Durban, South Africa. He was 35. According to a BET press release, his family members Lynn and Tony Forbes “accepted the award on his behalf during a tribute segment for the International airings” of the 2023 BET Hip Hop Awards.
Performers at the event included Sexyy Redd, who kicked off the show with a performance medley of her hits “Pound Town,” “Shake Yo Dreads” and “SkeeYee.”
GloRilla performed “Pop It” and was later joined by Fivio Foreign on “Cha Cha Cha.” City Girls “No Bars” and “Face Down.” DaBaby did a medley of “Ghetto Girls” and “Shake Sumn Remix” (with Sexyy Redd) and a collaboration with Juvenile and Mannie Fresh on “Project Chick.”
Other celebrities who appeared on stage at the event included DJ Young Fly; DJ Envy; “The Impact: ATL” cast members Ari Fletcher and Lakeyah; and “Basketball Wives” stars Brooke Bailey, Nique Brown, and Mehgan James.
A complete list of winners can be found at the official BET Hip Hop Awards website.