BET Awards Open with Celebration of 50 years of Hip-Hop, Medley of the Genre’s Early Hits

Big Daddy Kane performs a medley at the BET Awards on Sunday, June 25, 2023, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A masked Lil Uzi Vert opened the 2023 BET Awards on a platform suspended from the ceiling and jumped into a pyrotechnic-filled kickoff performance before the show quickly turned into a celebration of hip-hop’s early years.

For a show promising to celebrate 50 years of hip-hop, it set the tone for a hip-hop history lesson: DJ Kid Capri walked the audience through a medley of the earliest days of New York City ’80s rap culture featuring The Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” MC LYTE’s “Cha Cha Cha”, D-NICE’s “Call ME D-Nice” and Big Daddy Kane’s “Raw,” into a partial cover of “Just A Friend,” an homage to the late great Biz Markie.

“I would not be in this business on the stage tonight if it wasn’t for one person,” Big Daddy Kane said introducing the song. “Rest in peace.” He invited audience members to sing along to the song’s infectious chorus and point toward a photo of Markie shows on stage.

Vert got the show started suspended above the stage for “Spin Again,” then shifting into “Just Wanna Rock.”

The first award of the night, the coveted best new artist, went to Coco Jones, in a category which featured only female performers.

“For all of my black girls, we do have to fight a little harder to get what we deserve,” she said in her acceptance speech. “But don’t stop fighting even when it doesn’t make sense. And you’re not sure how you’re going to get out of those circumstances. Keep pushing because we are deserving of great things.” (edited)

The show began at 8 p.m. EDT, broadcasted on BET, BET HER and numerous Paramount channels including Comedy Central, MTV, Nickelodeon and VH1.

Drake led the nominations, with seven: He’s up for best male hip-hop artist and male R&B/pop artist, as well as a few shared titles, including best collaboration and viewer’s choice with Future and Tems for their song “Wait for U.” Drake is also nominated for album of the year and best group for his collaboration with 21 Savage, “Her Loss,” and viewer’s choice for their hit “Jimmy Cooks.”

Lizzo and 21 Savage are tied for the second-most noms, with five each.

Busta Rhymes will take home the Lifetime Achievement Award — one of the highest honors at the ceremony, given to Sean “Diddy” Combs at last year’s ceremony. The 12-time Grammy Award nominated rapper, producer, and pioneering hip-hop figure is widely regarded as one of the great MCs, with seven Top 10 Billboard Hot 100 hits to his name.

Bia, Coi Leray, Cutty Ranks, Dexta Daps, M.O.P., Rah Digga, ScarLip, Spice, Supercat, and Swizz Beatz are scheduled to pay tribute to Rhymes.

It’s one of several moments that will honor the legacy of hip-hop, which BET has supported for decades through shows like “Rap City” and “106 & Park.”

Patti Labelle will also pay tribute to the late Tina Turner.

Other performers at the 2023 BET Awards include Chief Keef, DJ Unk, E-40, Fast Life Yungstaz & Easton (F.L.Y.), Fat Joe, Soulja Boy, The Sugarhill Gang, Tyga, Ying Yang Twins and Yo-Yo.