Unless someone makes a complete drunken ass of themselves, award shows tend to be eminently forgettable, not to mention ephemeral. Everyone remembers the infamous streaking incident at the Academy Awards (and David Niven's droll comeback "You have a small penis, fuckface")and Ol' Dirty Bastard's "Wu-Tang is for the children" outburst but can you name the major winners at either of the infamous above award shows other than Shawn Colvin (who, it should be noted, is good, but not for the children)? Of course not, cause nobody cares except the people involved.
If the 2007 BET Hip Hop Awards are remembered at all, it's as the awards show where T.I was arrested mere hours before he was set to perform. So it merits at least a tiny footnote in pop culture history. But that's not nearly enough to merit putting the whole bloated, stiff, self-serving embarrassment on DVD for posterity just so I could write about it for Epehemereview.
The awards open with a characteristically over-the-top performance of "Can't Tell Me Nothing" " by Kanye West, surrounded by a dense fog of dry ice or smoke or some such nonsense and black-clad dancers strutting around like stoned ballerinas. West was clearly going for something big, dramatic and vaguely classy but it came off like an extended homage to the PCP freak out scenes in Avenging Disco Godfather and Death Drug, both of which also involved dry ice and vaguely menacing dancers with flowing scarves in black tights. Incidentally, has West ever put out a single more middling than "Good Life"? It's not bad but it's not particularly good either.
The suddenly ubiquitous Katt Williams, diamond-encrusted Diplomats chain hanging heavy around his neck, serves as the master of ceremonies. I usually like Williams, the funniest three-foot-tall fake pimp in comedy, but he apparently saves his A game for presiding over Comedy Central roasts. Williams' monologue nevertheless introduces two of the night's recurring themes: stilted, defensive rhetoric about the importance of hip hop as an art form and a tool for empowerment and disconcerting jokes/defenses of quarterback/dog-fighting guru Michael Vick.
"(Michael Vick), we got your back should you want to find some other employment. Now I'm not saying what he did was O.K but I am saying we killed thirty Iraqis today. Let's act like something's happening in the world," Williams thunders to deafening applause. It reminded me of the Todd Barry bit where he talks about a folk singer telling her audience that she hopes the money she pays for parking tickets goes to help the homeless. As Barry points out, there is no direct relationship between the plight of the homeless and the folk singer's shitty parking, just as there's no relationship between the war in Iraq and Vick's war on basic human decency. Even if we were embroiled in World War III that wouldn't justify dogfighting. In the grand scheme of things it might be the lesser of two evils, but it's still pretty fucking evil.
The BET 2007 Hip Hop Awards find the art form at a strange and uncertain crossroads. Instead of asserting the vitality and importance of Hip Hop, the awards simply underline just how bad of a slump Hip Hop has fallen into. This malaise is reflected in the wholly underwhelming nominees, with backpacker icons Common and Kanye West winning multiple awards a piece for albums that are good but considerably less than great and big-time studio gangstas Jay-Z (Kingdom Come) and T.I (T.I. Vs. T.I.P) honored for straight-up duds even their mothers probably have a hard time defending (I can imagine Mrs. Carter listening to the album, putting an empathetic hand on Jay-Z's shoulder and empathizing "Well, you tried your best, son.)
Hip Hop is desperately in need of new blood and new ideas. It needs less ring tone rappers and more substance, fewer silly dances and more passionate revolutionaries. It sure as shit doesn't need the awkward orgy of self-congratulation and clumsy speechifying that define the Hip Hop Awards.
The show comes closest to capturing the raw, electric pulse of hip hop in black and white "Cipher" segments where DJ Premier spins behind some cult rappers who'd probably never appear on BET otherwise, most notably Phonte of Little Brother, Dizee Rascal and Ras Kass, a great rapper who seems doomed to forever wander the margins of hip hop. These stripped-down blast of pure B-Boy energy stand in stark contrast to bloated performances by pop-rap fools like Nelly, who is thoroughly upstaged by a little girl doing crazy dances alongside him.
The Hip Hop Awards offered scattered moments of awesomeness. Where else are you going to see announcer E-40 introducing Cornel West or Michael Dyson? The Tonys maybe? The Peabodys? Yet these moments don't register anywhere near as strongly as a David Banner speech where he passionately argues that there isn't anything wrong with hip hop but "Bootleggers and Limewire". I immediately thought, "What the hell is Limewire? Is that one of those crazy new Mountain Dew flavors?" Then I found out that Limewire is a file-sharing service. I then downloaded all of David Banner's songs. For free! Now I don't have to buy any of his albums! Thanks for the head's up, David Banner! I never would have found out about this great service if it weren't for you.
Banner concludes his speech by hollering, "If the Falcons don't love him no more, we still love you", then triumphantly holds up a Michael Vick jersey while the crowd hoots and hollers in approval, some even giving the gesture a standing ovation. Talk about your mixed messages. The Hip Hop Awards are largely devoted to defending Hip Hop at a time of crisis. But it would be hard to imagine a gesture less likely to win over haters or skeptics than defending Michael Vick. If I were on the fence about hip hop I probably would have interpreted Banner's speech as "Blah blah blah, standard-issue bullshit about gangsta rap merely holding a mirror up to society, blah blah blah, dog-killing is awesome."
I can understand how some in the hip hop community might feel like Vick is being persecuted disproportionately, but only up to a point. Vick's fall from grace isn't a black thing or a white thing. It's a "don't fucking kill dogs for fun and profit" thing. I realize that my criticism might make David Banner angry, and something tells me I wouldn't like him when he's angry.
The rest of the show largely combines the worst of awards shows with the worst of hip hop. So we get awkward teleprompter readings and tacky outfits that look like some sick soul bedazzled the entire line-up of presenters and performers at random; earnest, unconvincing speeches and tacky, shameless self-promotion. It's safe to say that no one who stepped onstage that not-so-magical night was censured for being overly loud and self-promoting.
With T.I out of commission, The South is represented by a dispiriting assortment of flimsy ringtone rappers, the instantly disposable likes of Soulja Boy and Hurricane Chris. I'm not opposed to stupid pop songs; I just think they should be fun, not depressing. Why not show the South love by bringing on a Devin The Dude or Scarface, widely respected and admired veterans who have stood the test of time?
Love him or hate him (I do both), Kanye West can always be relied upon to enliven award shows. That's especially true here, where he pulls a Ving Rhames after winning the "Best Video" award and tries to give it to Big Boi and Brian Barber for UGK and Outkast's "Player's Anthem", who in turn give it to the ghost of Jack Lemmon, who gives it back to Kanye. Everything comes full circle.
There is a misconception that hip hop heads love every aspect of Hip Hop unconditionally, that if you love The Coup or Kanye or UGK, then you automatically co-sign on that obnoxious dance single from Li'l Flash N Z Pan being played eighty times a day on Top 40 radio. That's just not true. Most discerning hip hop fans have a love/hate relationship with the art form. They love it for its truth and swagger and beauty and hate its excesses and misogyny and rote formula and squandered potential. To paraphrase the great Phonte, that ain't hating. It's tough love.