Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs, hip-hop celebrated at 2023 MTV Video Music Awards

Sean Combs won the Global Icon Award, and stars paid tribute to hip-hop’s 50th anniversary during the 2023 MTV Video Music Awards, held Tuesday night at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. MTV televised the show simultaneously with several other Paramount-owned networks, including BET, BET Her, MTV2, VH1, Nickelodeon, and Comedy Central.

The star-studded, nearly four-hour ceremony was a mixed and long-winded bag of nostalgia and new music with no real surprise winners. Clocking in at three hours and 51 minutes, the 40th annual MTV VMAs was hosted by Nicki Minaj, who also performed twice and accepted an award. Halle and Chloe Bailey, Billy Porter and Saweetie were among the presenters.

Sean "Diddy" Combs performs during the MTV Video Music Awards on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Photo credit: Charles Sykes, Invision/The Associated Press
Sean “Diddy” Combs performs during the MTV Video Music Awards on Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2023, at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. Photo credit: Charles Sykes, Invision/The Associated Press

Minaj’s hosting duties could best be described as minimal. After a few introductory words on stage, she was rarely seen for the rest of the show as a host. The Writers Guild of America strike has forced many major U.S. awards shows to go without scripts, but Minaj spent more time on stage performing than as an emcee.

Taylor Swift and her “Anti-Hero” video, which she directed, won the most awards (nine), including Video of the Year, Artist of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Direction. Beyoncé, who did not attend, was nominated for four MTV VMAs, including Artist of the Year, but she did not win in any category.

The MTV VMAs are voted for online by the public.

Black artists who took home awards were Ice Spice (Best New Artist); Minaj (Best Hip-Hop for “Super Freaky Girl”); and SZA (Best R&B, for “Shirt”). Rema won the newly created Best Afrobeats award for “Calm Down,” a prize shared with Selena Gomez, his duet partner on the song. Jon Batiste won as a featured artist on Lana Del Rey’s “Candy Necklace,” awarded the prize for Best Alternative. SZA and Batiste did not attend.

Several Black artists also performed. Lil Wayne opened the show with “Uproar” and “Kat Food.” Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion teamed up for “Bongos.” Metro Boomin, Swae Lee, Future, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, and Indian Canadian rapper Nav collaborated on “Last Time I Saw You” and “Big Difference.”

Doja Cat performed “Attention,” “Paint the Town Red,” and “Demons.” Minaj took the stage to perform “Last Time I Saw You” and “Big Difference.”

Minaj was also part of the all-star hip-hop tribute that included Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run-DMC fame, Doug E. Fresh, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Lil Wayne, and LL Cool J. The hip-hop tribute was a medley of “The Message,” “The Show,” “Itty Bitty Piggy,” “Red Ruby Da Sleeze,” “I’m Bad,” [Note: Beginning quote mark needed here.] “Mama Said Knock You Out,” “Rock Box,” and “Walk This Way.”

Before receiving the Global Icon Award, Combs was introduced by longtime friend Mary J. Blige and performed a medley of four of his hits: “I’ll Be Missing You,” “Bad Boy for Life,” “I Need a Girl (Part Two)” and “Last Night.” Keyshia Cole and Combs’ son King Combs were part of the performance too.

Combs was then surrounded on stage by son King and daughters Chance, D’Lila, and Jessie Combs as he gave an acceptance speech for his Global Icon Award. Combs called God his “secret weapon” and said, “This is a dream come true for me. I grew up watching MTV, [thinking at the time], ‘Man, I wish I could be up there.’ ” Combs also talked about how he originally wanted to be a football player for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but that dream was dashed after he broke his leg in high school. Combs was later dancer in music videos. “That’s how I fell in love with the music business,” Combs added. “I saw the executives. I wanted to chase that dream.”

At the end of the speech, Combs promoted his latest album, “The Love Album: Off the Grid,” while his twin daughters D’Lila and Jessie emulated “The Price is Right” models by walking around on stage while holding up copies of the album.

Minaj said in her acceptance speech for Best Hip-Hop: “This morning when I woke up, I really had this strong sense of gratitude.” She added: “MTV, thank you for showcasing rap, and thank you for showing me love.” 

In her Best New Artist acceptance speech, Ice Spice thanked her fans (who are called Munchkins), her manager, her producer RiotUSA, the other category nominees, her record company, New York’s City’s Bronx borough (where she grew up), and God. “Without God, none of this would be possible,” she said. Rema, who is from Nigeria, also thanked his fans and God in his acceptance speech for Best Afrobeats. He showed gratitude to Afrobeats pioneers and said, “And I want to give a big shout-out to the new generation of the Afrobeats. We’re here to take it to the rest of the world.”

Comedian/actress Tiffany Haddish, who was a presenter at the show, did some brash self-promotion when she strutted on stage and repeatedly announced that she’s now a singer and a recording artist. The other Black presenters at the 2023 MTV VMAs were Timbaland, Ashanti, Ice Spice, Wyclef Jean, Billy Porter, Coco Jones, Shenseea, Saweetie, Minaj, Chloe Bailey, Halle Bailey, Metro Boomin, Swae Lee, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, and LL Cool J. 

A complete list of winners can be found at the official MTV Video Music Awards website.

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