The BET Hip Hop Awards took on a political consciousness theme as T.I., Big K.R.I.T, Locksmith and other artists spoke out against police brutality. The ceremony, which aired Tuesday night, also featured numerous calls for viewers to vote in the upcoming election.
Big K.R.I.T. wore a police uniform while delivering a spoken-word piece about police violence:
Mommas been crying and they gon’ keep crying
Black folk been dying and they gon’ keep dying
The police been firing and they gon’ keep firing
The government been lying and they gon’ keep lying
Halfway through the emotional performance, the Mississippi native switched the point of view to that of a confrontational police officer:
Why you chilling? F— your feelings. Why you smiling when I’m so serious? I hate patrolling your space, like why you living? Stop asking questions. Why you filming? You look suspicious. I think you dealing. Step out the car. Fit the description.
Christian rapper Lecrae offered another spoken-word performance that referenced Philando Castile, who was fatally shot by a Minnesota police officer in July. Lecrae began:
They tellin’ us “Make America Great Again”
I’m like hold up, when was America great again?
Was it when they took us from our native land?
Or maybe it was when they took the natives’ land?
In addition, per tradition at the annual awards ceremony, a host of artists rapped in a series of cyphers (freestyle group performances) airing throughout the telecast, which was taped in Atlanta last month. Locksmith (half of West Coast rap duo the Frontline) juxtaposed his freestyle with those of artists such as Stic and M-1 of Dead Prez and Oswin Benjamin. Here’s a snippet from Locksmith’s bars, which reference an ingredient commonly found in purple drank:
Racism is an institution created by the lies that hide in white supremacy, but everything black ain’t white, so take ownership, conflict existed before we were on the ship, no justice, no peace, but what’s worse, the promethazine or the police?
Another cypher found Yazz the Greatest (also known as actor Bryshere Y. Gray) rapping alongside his “Empire” and “The New Edition Story” co-star Bre-Z and longtime collaborators Michael Bivins and Ronnie DeVoe of New Edition and Bell Biv DeVoe. Yazz made a few “Empire” references in his playful verse, but earned more social media attention for his spoken sign-off: “Don’t vote for Trump.”
T.I. performed “We Will Not,” a song from his recent EP “Us or Else.” The Atlanta-based rapper channeled the Black Panthers in a beret and a military-style jacket, while rapping lyrics that included:
No we will not stand here in silence
While they take the lives of our brothers and sisters and partners
We will not turn a blind eye to the murder with no repercussions
Oh no, we will not
We will not live on our knees, we will die on our feet
This ain’t no lie that I speak
All you youngins out here in the streets only wanna shoot people who look like you
You can stay home, you too weak
As T.I. performed on an elevated platform, men and women wearing sweatshirts emblazoned with “We Will Not” paced the stage carrying signs that read “Fight the Power,” “United We Stand” and “Black Lives Matter.”
As part of the staged protest, two white performers dressed as police officers weaved through the crowd and tapped each protester with a baton. One by one, the protesters crumpled to the ground, and T.I. signed off with this message: “United we stand, look around and see the power around you. We got to stand together. It’s us or else. It’s do or die. The time is now. They can’t kill us all.”
T.I. has emerged an outspoken activist against police brutality in recent years — a departure from his early career, which was clouded by a string of arrests that ultimately landed him in federal prison (in 2009 and again in 2010). In 2014, he released “The New National Anthem” in response to the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown and has since continued to speak out about other unarmed black men and women killed by police. This summer, he marched alongside people peacefully protesting in Atlanta in response to the African Americans killed in police-involved shootings.
Last month, the rapper was praised for his pointed response to Trevor Noah’s question on “The Daily Show” about why some rappers glorify violence in their lyrics, even as they advocate for social change.
“I think people need to take into consideration that hip-hop, traditionally, has always been a reflection of the environment the artist had to endure before he made it where he was,” T.I. said. “So if you want to change the content of the music, change the environment of the artist and he won’t have such negative things to say.”
At the BET Hip Hop Awards, the message was one of unity — echoed by Snoop Dogg, who accepted the prestigious I Am Hip-Hop Award. Snoop praised the younger generation of rappers, reminding them to “stay who you are, be original, be diverse.”
“I’m loving where hip-hop is going,” Snoop added. “I’m loving how ya’ll are taking it across the world and how ya’ll are uniting people. See, what people don’t understand is that music is the universal language of all people, so this is the way for us to come together.”