LOS ANGELES — The 2023 BET Awards celebrated 50 years of hip-hop with tributes to the genre’s earliest voices, late legends, and new talent during a performance-packed show that consistently felt like a party.
Sunday’s biggest surprise was a rare public performance by Quavo and Offset, the surviving members of Migos, who did a rendition of “Bad and Boujee” in front of an image of Takeoff, who died in a shooting last December. He was 28.
“BET, do it for Take,” the duo shouted near the beginning of their set, as their backdrop switched from the image of a space shuttle to one of Takeoff pointing in the air.
Throughout the show, whether it was Tupac, Warren G, Notorious B.I.G., Biz Markie or Pop Smoke, performers and emcee Kid Capri paid homage to late hip-hop stars, often by quickly highlighting a taste of their best-known hits. In a show where the awards are few and far between, Capri and BET kept the emphasis on the music.
Busta Rhymes took home the Lifetime Achievement Award, handed to him by Swizz Beatz — one of the highest honors at the 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.
Diddy, Janet Jackson, Chuck D, Missy Elliot, Pharrell Williams, and Mariah Carey recorded a video tribute to Rhymes.
Elsewhere, too, old school hip-hop heroes and modern stars mixed it up onstage, performing tracks celebrating rap’s most influential cities and innovation.
Audience members sang along (and a few hopped up on stage) while Capri and MC Lyte kept the hostless show moving. It was mostly hiccup free — save for a brief moment of dead air, a hitch during Patti LaBelle’s performing and the show running nearly four hours — particularly noteworthy for an event scheduled in the midst of the ongoing Hollywood writers’ strike.
LaBelle honored the late Tina Turner with a performance of her hit “The Best,” telling the audience at one point she couldn’t see the words. “I’m trying, y’all!” she said before powering into the chorus.
The coveted best new artist award went to Coco Jones, in a category that 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.”
The show did a somber turn for its in memoriam tribute to Black luminaries, including jazz legend Wayne Shorter, “The Wire” actor Lance Reddick, actor and civil rights activist Harry Belafonte, NBA star Bill Russell and Houston rapper Big Pokey, who died this month.