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BET Awards kick off with all-star performance of “Fight the Power”

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(CBS) The BET Awards, celebrating its 20th anniversary, kicked off with a performance reflecting the current times as black artists rapped and sang anthems about the black experience and fighting for equal rights. Sunday’s show, a virtual event because of the coronavirus pandemic, featured a number of highly-produced, well-crafted and pre-taped performances.

The 12-year-old sensation Keedron Bryant, who turned heads on social media with his passionate performance about being a young black man in today’s world, started Sunday’s show with an a cappella performance of his poignant song “I Just Wanna Live,” which earned him a record deal. That was followed by an all-star performance of Public Enemy’s 1989 anthem “Fight the Power,” featuring Nas, Black Thought, Rapsody and YG adding new lyrics to the song, even namedropping Breonna Taylor and others.

Chuck D kicked off the performance, replacing the year 1989 with 2020. “Fight the Power” topped the Billboard rap charts more than three decades ago and was featured in Spike Lee’s epic “Do the Right Thing.” Flavor Flav, Questlove and Black Thought and Chuck D’s artist Jahi were also part of the performance. 

Performing as a police officer pressed his knee on his neck, replicating the last moments of George Floyd’s life, multi-platinum rapper DaBaby rapped a verse from the Black Lives Matter remix of his hit song “Rockstar.” DaBaby’s clip, featuring Roddy Ricch, also featured images from protests, a reflection of the current world in the wake of Floyd’s death and the death of others, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.    

Sunday’s show also celebrates BET’s 40th year as a network. The three-hour show, hosted by comedian, actress and TV personality Amanda Seales, is airing on CBS for the first time, as well as BET and BET HER.

Other artists were political during their performances, including Ricch, who wore a Black Lives Matter shirt while he rapped, Alicia Keys, Anderson Paak and Jay Rock, as well as brothers SiR and D Smoke, who performed with their mother Jackie Gouché.

Lil Wayne paid tribute to NBA icon Kobe Bryant, who died in January, with a performance of his 2009 song “Kobe Bryant,” weaving in new lyrics. Wayne Brady, in a glittery suit, rolled around on top of a piano as he sang a medley of Little Richard hits.

Nipsey Hussle, who was named best male hip-hop artist and earned the humanitarian award at last year’s BET Awards, won video of the year for “Higher,” a clip he filmed with DJ Khaled and John Legend shortly before he died .

“This is for Nipsey Hussle and hip-hop,” Khaled said in a taped video. “Nipsey Hussle, thank you for working with me on this ‘Higher’ record. I appreciate you. Nipsey’s family, we love you.”

The BET Awards, one of the first awards shows to air virtually, featured performances that were sharp with artsy stage production, giving extra life to the songs being performed. It was a welcomed break from the “living room” and homebound performances hundreds of artists have shared on social media since the pandemic hit in March.

Megan Thee Stallion went to the desert with background dancers as she twerked and rapped her No. 1 hit “Savage.” She won best female hip-hop artist, beating out Cardi B and Nicki Minaj. 

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