Due to the chaotic state of America, as well as the passing of one of the most influential and beloved artists of the time, Prince, the BET Awards’ stage was already set to be remarkable.
The night kicked off with an amazing surprise performance by Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar with their collaborative song “Freedom” from Bey’s newest hit album “Lemonade.” The performance was vibrant and passion-filled as Kendrick and Bee danced on a blood-red pool, chanting for the abolition of oppression and, subsequently, the rise of freedom for people of color.
To go along with that resounding theme, another key moment of the Awards was when actor and activist Jesse William’s received the Humanitarian award in recognition of his efforts toward equal rights and the Black Lives Matter Movement. In response, he delivered a powerful speech that remained ingrained in the memories of the masses, so much so that it was even the cause of confusion on Twitter between Justin Timberlake and his critics. William’s speech was another call for equality, but so eloquently put that they evoked a new wave of awakened individuals, specifically in regards to the upcoming election. He critiqued people, mainly Trump supporters, who argue that non-whites are the new racists of America—a claim he so memorably shot down with the line: “the burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander.”
More memorable moments included Usher and Young Thug’s incredible show of “No Limit,” which turned an award show into a live music video with their top-notch choreography. Another notable moment was the appearance of old school R&B singer Maxwell, who, after singing his own “Lake,” honored Prince by fading into The Artist’s “Nothing Compares 2 U,” which conveyed the loss Maxwell felt following the beloved musician’s passing.
Some moments which were not so remarkable included the famous Broadway show “Hamilton” receiving a “trap” makeover by “Blackish” stars Tracee Ellis Ross and Anthony Anderson, who brought in Anthony Hamilton, another familiar name in the R&B genre, whose famous “Comin’ From Where I’m From” was cut devastatingly short in order to carry out the parody. Another moment was Alicia Keys’ “In Common,” which, instead of her skillful classical piano skills, instead required synthetic loop pedals and a very rough vocal performance on her part.
These moments would have stood out in stark contrast were it not for the best part of the entire show: a four-part tribute to Prince. It opened with a rare appearance of comedian Dave Chappell, who made a skit based off a real life basketball experience that was so well liked by Prince himself that a friendship was formed between the two because of it. Next came Erykah Badu and Bilal, who sang “The Ballad of Dorothy Parker” and “The Beautiful Ones.” Then Stevie Wonder, Tori Kelly, and Jennifer Hudson—who, by the way, blew everyone away with her otherworldly vocal pipes—performed “Take Me With U” and Hudson took on “Purple Rain” by herself and proved the task was not too much for her. Janelle Monáe came next, rocking the stage with her renditions of “Delirious,” “Kiss,” “Pop Life,” and lastly, “I Would Die 4 U.”
Last of all, the tribute came to a triumphant close the of Prince’s best friend Sheila E, who honored The Artist with a finale medley which included “Housequake,” “Erotic City,” “Let’s Work,” “U Got the Look,” “The Glamorous Life,” “America,” and “Baby I’m a Star,” most of the while completely barefoot. She rocked the drums and beat her freed feet to the music as she gave the world a performance so reminiscent of the late Prince, it will probably remain the closest anyone will ever get to seeing him live in the flesh again.
The 2016 BET Awards, over all, was a commendation to an artist so beloved, so influential, because his impact reached far beyond the world of music. His talent, his passion, and his style touched the hearts of millions of people around the world, and his loss was a weight on us all. However, the 2016 BET Awards made it clear that his spirit will live on, dancing, singing, living right along with the rest of the world.