Megan put a whole hashtag on the summer and women, college-aged and up, accepted and implemented it into their lives for the season. DaBaby put on padded turtlenecks and stomped around with an inflatable baby on film, while firing off cheeky lyrics that would pass any rapper’s test. And they’re both winning -- quite literally. Megan opened the show with “Hot Girl Summer,” twerking atop the S.S. Hot Girl and moments after, DaBaby slid onstage, joining her for “Cash Shit” -- one out of three times he would hit the stage as a performer for the evening. Later, she snagged an award for Best Mixtape. DaBaby won Best New Artist.
“I really just need to grab a couple quotes, for real,” one journalist was overheard saying on the carpet. “But I don’t think Megan or Baby are doing press.” They were right. Megan wasn’t spotted on the carpet at all but the Charlotte MC made a quick run-through, stopping once or twice to join his protege Stunna 4 Vegas in front of a couple of cameras.
Regardless of times having changed, the level of respect for those who came before was still present on Saturday. Saweetie brought “My Type” to life onstage and invited Lil’ Jon and Petey Pablo to come along and fasten the bow with “Freek-A-Leek.” Rapsody offered a thoughtful performance of “Nina” and “Serena” ahead of a live band and vocalists. Lil Baby and DaBaby dove into their collaborative track “Baby” and the former earnestly showed love to some of the rap pioneers of his city on the flickering overheads -- from Ludacris to Jermaine Dupri. But the image of Atlanta’s late Bankroll Fresh struck a chord. It didn’t flicker. It was posted on the largest screen at the forefront of the stage, with images of A-Town staples running around it.
Rick Ross was tasked with presenting the coveted I Am Hip Hop Award to Lil Kim this year -- the two have a song together on her new LP 9. “Really we just began conversing two years ago,” he told Billboard. “We started bouncing ideas around and Kim is one of those people who has a lot of music stacked up... So when people say, ‘I heard you got a song with Kim,’ I’m always like, ‘Which one?’”
Even Rozay’s set on Saturday night served as a reminder that those who came before, setting real standards, ought to be respected. With overhead views of Miami at night panning his background screens, Ross took the audience through his near flawless catalogue of smashes. T-Pain entered from stage left to assist on “The Boss” and the MMG capo flowed easily through “Hustlin’” and “BMF” to “Stay Schemin’” and his most recent, “Big Time.” Ross had the crowd on their feet for the majority of his performance as if his entire set list was just released last week.
After friends like Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliott offered kind words onscreen. Lil’ Kim accepted her I Am Hip Hop Award, the crown jewel of the evening, dedicating it to her daughter Royal Reign who was in attendance. She then followed up with a story of a conversation she had with her godmother some years before.
“I used to be a little tight,” Kim began, “Because BET ain’t never give me an award.” Some audience members stirred the pot, audibly. The tension increased in the Atlanta Galleria. “Uh oh,” one showgoer murmured, nearby. “My godmother said that those awards weren’t big enough for me and that BET would give me the right award at the right time.”
“When people call you ‘mother’ and ‘queen’...,” she said pointedly to the crowd, cheering affirmatively now, “This award here, ain’t regular.”
She changed out into a glittering hooded onesie and Lil’ Kim, larger than life, reappeared to perform a medley of her greatest hits and featured verses. The crowd bounced along to “Lighters Up,” “Quiet Storm” and Junior Mafia joined the Queen Bee for “Crush On You” and “Benjamins.”
Times may have changed and no one is more aware of this fact than those who are more than a decade deep in the industry, but the up-and-comers know what to do and who they can thank for laying the groundwork. When accepting his award for Best New Artist, DaBaby held on to his mother beside him and solemnly stated, “It’s nothing short of a blessing to share this stage and this building with so many legends.” The future of hip-hop is in good hands.