Yates is the local editor for Express and a contributor to TheRootDC.
Last night, I made the BET Awards appointment viewing. Twitter makes for a fantastic experience for these types of events and Sunday didn't disappoint.
But black entertainment as a culture — not a television station — is at an interesting point in history. Black artists and their music are as popular and integrated into mainstream culture as they've ever been. The generation that came up in the latest iteration of what was “cool” is just hitting that age where everything they liked as teens is automatically qualified as “better” than what's out now.
So when the young Mindless Behavior kids went on stage and made a crack about Lauryn Hill's guilty plea in a tax evasion case, people went nuts. How dare a child make fun of music legend's personal matters? Beyonce received the award, then oddly made a nod to Lauryn, thereby cementing the fact that a boy band had affected Queen Bey's night.
Let's be clear about something: any joke about Lauryn Hill's tax situation is completely in bounds at an awards show. Nobody insulted her contributions to the music world, or, say, her skills as a mother. If you don't want people to clown you about tax evasion, pay your taxes.
But for all the awkward or potentially low-brow moments, three things in particular shined last night and they all involved legends in their respective games.
For one, the tribute to Whitney Houston was fantastic. Mariah Carey had a kind, if self-centered, statement about the late diva which led to strong performances by Monica, Brandy and Cissy Houston, Whitney's mother. Monica can still blow, Brandy executed Whit's 80s two-step skip dance to perfection and Cissy is Cissy.
To an extent, it was everything the Grammys tribute was not. Whitney fans were not disappointed.
Al Sharpton received the Humanitarian Award and managed to weave a reference to Jay-Z into his speech. For a guy who takes a fair amount of heat for not really being a leader of Black America, and just playing one on TV, he didn't stoke that fire last night. He told a nice family anecdote and took the award with class. In short, it was impressive.
But the most important moment of the night was obvious. Maze featuring Frankie Beverly won the lifetime achievement award — sponsored by Cadillac — and performed. Tyrese said after the show it was the first time the group had performed live on national television, a fact which, if true, is shocking.
And when they played "Before I Let Go," everyone was smiling. Maze is that band that your whole family always tells you that you "don't know ANYTHING about" even though they've been playing them your whole life at cookouts and family reunions.
It was a great moment.
It's easy to dismiss BET as problematic because it doesn’t play videos as much as it used to and generally doesn’t hold up what some consider to be responsible community standards. But no matter your age or generation, last night, you got something to make you happy.
From ratchet to righteous, the award show offered it all. BET got it exactly right. Black entertainment isn't just what one group of tastemakers decides it should be. It's a layered and complicated tapestry that includes all sorts of genres, attitudes and approaches. Sunday, we saw all that in one show.
Like it or not, BET is the only television network out there tapping directly into the vein of what is black entertainment's lifeblood. And they proved it last night.
Follow Clinton on Twitter @clintonyates.