6 Takeaways From the 2021 BET Hip Hop Awards

Though they were preceded with a nostalgic special edition of the long-retired Rap City and capped with a medley of Nelly’s hits through the aughts, this year’s annual BET Hip Hop Awards was at its best when it highlighted new talent in the world of rap. Here are the best moments from last night’s show:

1. The Real Stars of the Night Were The Hosts

With nearly two million YouTube subscribers and an accompanying podcast, the 85 South Show thrives at the intersection of Black comedy, music and culture. In one of the best decisions of the night, BET called upon the 85 South Show’s comics — DC Young Fly, Chico Bean, and Karlous Miller — to host the awards for the second year in a row. From the moment they stepped on stage channeling Pimp C and cranking that Soulja Boy, the trio poked good fun at hip-hop and the world it’s built through dance, film, and even the network employing them. (As the credits rolled, they aptly predicted BET would soon replay the Awards, as the channel is wont to repeat programming. It did in fact air the Hip Hop Awards again immediately after its premiere.)

2. Latto Hits the Jackpot With ‘Big Energy’ and Smooth Moves

Latto is a formidable performer. After a memorable set at Rolling Loud and a spot at the MTV VMAs this year, she’s proving herself good for strong live vocals and titillating dancing — often at the same time. She slides from move to move with ease and power and performs over a special live arrangement of her growing discography. In an especially cool use of manpower, in this rendition of her Tom-Tom-Club-sampling single “Big Energy,” she appeared in an optical illusion of a dress — the bottom of it revealed to be the feathery hand-fans of dancers that emerged from under her.

3. Tyler The Creator: Master Orator 

Since his electric performance at the 2020 Grammys and subsequent commentary on the institution’s understanding of Black music, Tyler the Creator has been especially intriguing to watch in awards spaces. While accepting the inaugural Rock The Bells Cultural Influence Award last night, he was charismatically playful and endearing as well. “Playboi Carti has a line where he says ‘bought my mom a house off this mumbling shit,’ and I always get teared up when he says that,” he said in a speech on the transformative power of hip-hop. “I wouldn’t be here or up on this stage or have this silly hat or anything without the Q-Tips, the André 3000s, the Hugos, the Pharrells, the Kanye Wests, the Missy Elliotts…” he added, paying homage to his forebears in the genre. 

4. Tobe Nwigwe and Fat Nwigwe Bring That ‘Fye’

Other Hip Hop Awards performers could stand to learn that it doesn’t take flames or sparks to light up a show. Decked in what’s become signature mint colored garb, Houston rapper Tobe Nwigwe simultaneously melded into and led a pack of high-octane dancers in his set of his single “Fye Fye,” commanding the full breadth of the stage. The energy only heightened when his wife and musical partner Fat wasa wheeled on onstage in a giant head wrap that had to be delicately (and seamlessly) lifted off her so she could throw her petite frame across the stage in a fit of rage and passion. “ I ain’t Kim/Tobe can’t ever go Kanye!” she screamed.

5. Doechii Dazzles With Isaiah Rashad

A relative newbie to the small screen, Doechii, — who broke through streaming this year with a song inspired, in part, by kid-novel character Junie B. Jones — gave a grown and potent performance of her verse on Isaiah Rashad’s “Wat U Sed” during the Chattanooga rapper’s compelling set. With flawless breath control as she sing-rapped while keeping up with a handful of dancers, her sharp ticks and liquid rolls delighted at every turn. Staying on par with Isaiah Rashad, a strong and seasoned performer in his own right, is no small feat. 

6. Smino, Erica Banks, Toosii and Kidd Kenn Make the Most Out of the Cyphers 

Perhaps the most beloved elements of the show, the BET Hip Hop Awards cyphers have been constructed differently over the years. In 2020, they were delineated by topic, genre, and gender over a diverse set of beats. This year, to the frustration of some fans, twelve rappers in three pods each performed over the same droning loop from DJ Khaled’s Lil Durk & Lil Baby-assisted “Every Chance I Get.”  “We all wanted a different beat!” Tierra Whack, one of the featured MCs, said during the airing in a since-deleted tweet. Rappers Smino, Erica Banks, Toosii, and Kidd Kenn best managed to make the unfortunate song choice their own with steady delivery and unique panache. “They hella mad/I’m hella gay,” said Kidd Kenn boldly before one of several impressive flow switches.

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