The show opened up with the indisputable king of R&B of today, Chris Brown, who launched into a medley of hits from his more humble beginnings (“Yo (Excuse Me Miss)”) to today’s more edgy smash hit “Loyal,” which took home Soul Train awards for “Best Hip Hop Song” and “Best Collaboration.” It was vintage Brown as the 25-year-old bounded across the stage with energetic moves as dancers flanked him. Later on, Brown would miss his accepting the “Best Collaboration” award when he took a bathroom break during Trey Songz and Sevyn Streeter’s announcement. Fortunately, it’s a taped show so once Brown returned from the restroom, they shot the segment again.
From there, the show took a trip down nostalgic highways as host Wendy Williams helped guide the tour. Performances by Nico & Vinz, a high octane “2 On” from Tinashe, Kem (who brought Ledisi along for “If It’s Love”), 3WB (Three Winans Brothers) and We Are Toonz showing the 40-somethings in the crowd how to “Nae Nae” were mere precursors for the sentimental magic that would grace the stage.
Jodeci -- in their trademark all black outfits -- launched into their 1995 hit “Freek’n You” as JoJo swung his white towel and donned the familiar Chicago White Sox hat as he cooed through the sensual single. The quartet followed with “Stay,” which has aged well despite the song being nearly 25 years old. Things got a little awkward when B.o.B. trotted onto the stage to assist with the group’s new single “Nobody Wins.” But that was more because the shift from classics to new school was a bit jarring, as the contingency in the arena had been gliding effortlessly down memory lane. They got back on course and closed with “Come and Talk to Me” and “Forever My Lady” as the audience sung backup for the reunited group from North Carolina.
Although Jodeci’s presence would be the most high profile of the night, it wasn’t the only noteworthy trip down memory lane. Stephanie Mills brought the house down with “Home” after Wendy Williams set the stage with a monologue about being back on the East Coast for the holidays.
Doug E. Fresh, Elle Varner, MC Lyte, Tamar Braxton, Joe, Liv Warfield, Tessanne Chin and Mase all performed songs to honor 50 years in the music business for Kool & the Gang. The soul icons, who are the most sampled band in hip-hop, watched Mase glide across the stage to “Feels So Good” -- which sampled the group’s 1974 hit “Hollywood Swinging” -- while MC Lyte and Elle Varner performed the “Summertime Madness” sampled DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince smash hit “Summertime.”
The band -- which now consists of Robert “Kool” Bell, Ronald Bell, George Brown and Dennis Thomas -- took to the stage to accept their Legend Award and thanked their fans for keeping them relevant after a half decade.
“It’s harder to keep a band together than it is to make a hit record,” Robert Bell said during his speech.
To close the evening, Lil Kim, Missy Elliot and Da Brat reunited on stage to rock the house with their own take on a Kool & the Gang classic as they performed 1997’s “Not Tonight” and proved that they haven’t lost a step in the 17 years since the song released. Although Angie Martinez wasn’t present and the late Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes was paid homage to on the big screen for her verse, the girl power on stage was evident.
After Eric Benet opened with the hook, Lil Kim trotted out as the crowd rapped along to her verse. She even took the time to throw in a Schmoney Dance much to the glee of the crowd. Da Brat, dressed in a gold jacket and shimmering custom Nikes fricasseed her bars like she had never left the music industry. A slimmed down Missy Elliot rose from the left of the stage to deliver her trademark closing verse as several other blasts from the past; including Kima and Pam from Total and The Lady Of Rage appeared on stage to join the party.
All in all, it was an eventful night that was heavily dipped in nostalgia and continued to showcase BET’s knack for paying homage to the legends of R&B and Soul.