When the BET Hip-Hop Awards came to town, the city barricaded three blocks along Peachtree Street. On Sunday night, screaming fans lined the streets, cheering when hip-hop and R&B celebrities walked a red carpet leading up to the Fox Theatre and angling for attention when BET and radio personality Big Tigger walked over to greet them. Their breathless enthusiasm -- they continued to man the barricades until well after the ceremony -- was a reminder of why BET picked Atlanta for its inaugural hip-hop honors.
Inside the Fox Theatre, BET President Reggie Hudlin took the stage at 6:05 p.m. to preview a six-part TV series, "American Gangster." With its serious-minded depictions of famous black criminals such as Nicky Barnes, "Freeway" Rick Ross and Stanley "Tookie" Williams, the show eerily reflected much of the hip-hop industry's thematic aspirations.
Ludacris, Jermaine Dupri, Young Jeezy and Lil Jon then emerged to give an inspired rendition of "Welcome to Atlanta" as an "A" banner hung behind them. The show's host, comedian Katt Williams, followed with a satirical speech. Standing at a podium adorned with a presidential-like seal, he said, "I do not stand here as a man who likes hip-hop. I like pizza ... I live hip-hop. And thanks to you, I am hip-hop. Give me hip-hop or give me death."
Meanwhile, the first award went to T.I., whose "What You Know" earned Hip-Hop Video of the Year.
For the next two-and-a-half hours, the evening went like this: a 10-minute taped segment (usually a performance and award presentation) followed by five minutes of frantic stage preparation. Each performance was a theatrical set piece, such as Snoop Dogg's performance of his new single "That's That." He emerged seated on a gilded throne as four women walked before him, tossing flower petals to the ground (evoking the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America).
Unfortunately, some of the sets drew on boorish stereotypes: Jeezy performed "I Love It" while women pumped against gold poles and the logo "Jeezy City" flashed in the background, paying homage to strip club Magic City.
Days before the awards, music-industry types wondered if Jay-Z, the so-called king of hip-hop, would show up. (He did.) The audience that night included a full range of Atlanta artists, from DJ UNK to Blak Jak, but other cities and regions were scarcely represented. Heavily skewed toward the Southern rap scene's sales dominance, the audience didn't look representative of the hip-hop community's diversity and range. DJ Drama, who spun music between taped segments, underlined this; save for a brief flurry of Jay-Z classics such as "Public Service Announcement," Drama adhered to a strict Southern-fried rap diet and ignored the rest of the country's output.
All year, there's been talk of a rivalry between the South and the East Coast, the home of hip-hop culture and, in recent years, a less-dependable source for national hits. If the tension hasn't boiled over into open warfare like the notorious East Coast-West Coast beef of the mid-1990s, it's only because the Southern rap industry doesn't care. While it would like more respect from New York tastemakers, it is more concerned with record sales, success and money.
Houston rapper Chamillionaire (thanks to his big single "Ridin' Dirty") and T.I. were the BET Hip-Hop Awards' big winners, claiming two trophies each. As T.I. won Hip-Hop MVP of the Year, he seemed to sum it all up: "You can hate if you want to, but you're just wasting your time."
CD RELEASES: Rock fiddler Bobby Yang premieres Yang It! Live at Eddie's Attic during two concerts on Fri., Nov. 17, at Eddie's Attic. Walton High School's String Break opens an early all-ages show, and Birds & Wire opens the 21-and-over show. ... Atmospheric country-ish band Tova Rinah & the Way Home releases a self-titled EP on Sat., Nov. 18, at the 585. Quiet as a Cathedral, Cameron Lawrence and Epocha open. ... Country-rock band South 70 drops Two Lane Road on Wed., Nov. 22, at Eddie's Attic. Sonia Leigh opens.
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