After a day of events leading up to the BET Awards on Sunday night (June 22), the BET Experience concluded at the Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles on Saturday (June 21), where Roddy Ricch, A Boogie wit da Hoodie, Meek Mill and YG performed to a sold-out arena.
Mere minutes past 7 p.m., Compton native Roddy Ricch kicked off the star-studded lineup, hitting the expansive stage in an oversized white puffer jacket and jeans. Although much of the audience began to trickle in midway through the set, Rich launched straight into an enthusiastic rendition of the Marshmello-featured “Project Dreams” before addressing the crowd.
“This is my muthafuckin’ city, you know?” he shared as the opening chords of “Down Below” washed over the arena. Ricch went on to set a slightly serious tenor for the evening when he took another moment to address concert attendees, whom he asked to observe a moment of remembrance for the late Nipsey Hussle.
“Long live Nipsey Hussle. No one can replace that man,” reflected Ricch of as he prepared to rip through his verse on “Racks in the Middle,” the last song Hussle released before he was gunned down in front of his Marathon Store. Ricch himself has been in two car accidents in the last week alone, and the topic of loss seemingly prompted him to ask for prayers before ending his set on a somber note with “Die Young”: “If you ain’t trying to die young let me hear you on this one.”
Following Ricch’s set, 22-year-old fellow Los Angeles native Blueface sauntered onto the stage to thunderous applause and lead the screaming crowd through a call-and-repeat style chant of “Blueface Baby.” Clad in an orange shirt, which he soon stripped off, the rapper then crip-walked his way through an enthusiastic performance of “Next Big Thing.” “LA, y’all ready for some new shit?” he teased before effortlessly transitioning into his latest release, the Rich the Kid featured single, “Daddy.”
Though the “Thotiana” rapper recently had to defend himself against online critics who claimed his songs sound the same, the crowd at hand certainly didn’t share the sentiment; the arena fairly shook as those who packed it sang and danced along with him. Before wrapping the high-energy set he made sure to run through crowd favorite “Thotiana” as well as “Freak Bitch” and “Bleed It,” for which he brought out his now-signature mop, which made its first appearance in the song’s music video.
Next up and hailing from the Bronx, A Boogie took the stage, breaking up the L.A.-centric lineup with favorites from Hoodie SZN, his well-received sophomore album. He smartly played up the audience’s post-Blueface high by launching straight into crowd-pleaser “Look Back at It.” After taking a brief pause for a quick exchange with his DJ, he continued with a rendition of “Voices in My Head” followed by “Swervin’” — minus a verse from the embattled rapper 6ix9ine, whose image would later appear as part of the backdrop during YG’s performance of “Stop Snitchin.’”
The Highbridge-bred emcee then transitioned into “Startender,” editing out Tyga and Offset’s verses in favor of flowing directly into “Bosses and Workers”. The track features Highbridge label signee Trap Manny, who made an appearance to run through his verse. Before ceding the stage to Meek Mill, A Boogie also announced his third album Artist 2.0 was on the way and then launched into his final three selections which included 2016’s “My Shit” and his breakout single, “Drowning.”
For any other performer, coming out to Queen’s “We Are The Champions” might seem disingenuous, but for an artist like Meek Mill, whose career has been defined by bouncing back from seemingly impossible circumstances, it felt appropriate.
“I go by the name of Meek Milly and I represent the streets. I’m finna take y’all to Philly,” he said as six black-clad dancers entered from the wings and flanked him on stage. As the dancers gyrated, Meek worked his way through the intro of his fourth album Championships before seamlessly transitioning into “Uptown Vibes.”
Like Roddy Ricch, Meek also didn’t shy away from the themes of trauma and loss in his music, but embraced them. During a brief pause the rapper played an interview from Tupac Shakur in which the late hip-hop legend talks about the mental impact of police brutality and the failure of the media to fully report on the circumstances of his arrest. The message was clear, particularly in relation to Meek’s own experiences with America’s legal system.
“I don’t wanna keep y’all sad and down but I gotta represent for the real soldiers,” Meek said later in the evening after moving from celebratory selections like “House Party” to more serious songs like “Trauma” and “Racks in the Middle” in honor of Hussle, his friend for over a decade. Meek also asked the audience to hold their lighters in the air for Hussle and his close friend Lil Snupe, to whom he dedicated “Lil Nigga Snupe.” As he performed, images of young black men who lost their lives, from Trayvon Martin to rappers Chinx and Hussle, flashed across the screen. Meek ended his set on a high note, though, recapturing the spirit of celebration with surprise appearances from YG, DJ Khaled and Ella Mai who performed “24/7” alongside him. They also treated the audience to an impromptu performance of her hit song “Boo’d Up.”
YG capped off the evening with an explosive set which began with a statement piece of fashion. The Angeleno hit the stage wearing a vest emblazoned with Hussle’s face on the back and “The Marathon Continues” embroidered on the front. Throughout the night YG reflected on the unfairness of Hussle’s death, and at one point scolded the front row for not standing in respect to Hussle during a toast to his life. Keeping in the spirit of surprises, YG brought out both Kamaiyah and G-Eazy who rallied the crowd for a performance of “Do Not Disturb.” Giving a shoutout to his hometown, the rapper also made sure to run through old favorites like “Twist My Fingaz,” “Who Do You Love?,” “My Hitta” and “Still Brazy.”