On The Scene: BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards Celebrate a Year of Smash Hits

“Rick Ross is charming as [heck].”

That’s the text I fired off as one of rap’s looming figures made his way toward me in the press line at the 2015 BMI R&B/Hip-Hop Awards. I know his singles, I know his beefs, I know his legal troubles.

All of that took a back seat, though, when I saw him in person. This moment was about admiring how sharp and professional he is; how he treats everyone with respect while still proclaiming himself the most important rapper in the world. Repeatedly.

This day was a blast. I stood five feet from folks I’ve grown up admiring. Deborah Cox was my second crush, right after LaTavia from Destiny’s Child, and she was right there.

B.O.B. was for a time my favorite rapper, after he cornered the alt-y Black dude market by playing instruments and covering indie hits. He was right there. 

This night was all about Nile Rodgers. He received an ICON award, which he was reluctant to accept.

“I’ve got thousands of records in me,” he noted. He’s not wrong.

Nile is a legend, which feels silly to type. It’s like saying food is good, or cats are terrible. These things are implicit.

He’s a founding member of Chic, the legendary 70’s disco-funk outfit that wrote all of your favorite songs (“Le Freak”, “Good Times”). He also produced, wrote or played on songs by everyone from David Bowie to Sam Smith.

Rodgers is in the middle of a career resurgence, after Pharrell and Daft Punk tapped him to play on last Summer’s inescapable jam, “Get Lucky.” It just started playing in your head, didn’t it? It’s that popular.

Before we could get to his shining moment, though, the Ray J-hosted ceremony moved through the usual awards show paces; awards, awards, awards—performance—awards, awards, awards.

B.O.B. kicked off the show with boundless verve. He jumped on things, played bass, and incessantly worked the crowd. I’d never seen him live. He good.

The night’s first award, Social Media Star, went to Somo, who I’d never heard of before tonight. Come to think of it he was also the first to walk the carpet.

His big hit played over the house speakers several times throughout the night, and you know what, it’s a really dope song. Saccharine for sure, but that chorus makes me want to cry-dance. Rare feat.

Makonnen played the inescapable “Tuesday,” which is my personal anthem. Going out on weekends sucks.

I was shocked by how strong his vocal was. He sang even better than on the record, and added little melodic twists. He’s a weird dude, which I already knew and liked about him. This performance conveyed that off-kilter appeal.

John Legend accepted an award via video for Most Performed Song of the year for “All of Me,” that schmaltzy pop-ballad. His speech was deeply personal. He thanked BMI for helping him get scholarships while he was in college, which is something I didn’t know they did. He also dedicated the song to his also-famous wife, Chrissy Teigen.

The night’s big winner was DJ Mustard, who seemingly produced every hit song in the last calendar year. He took home a truckload of awards, including Songwriter of the Year.

A producer friend of mine once showed me a video of Mustard talking about his process, and it was inspirational. He’s incredibly modest, and seemingly prizes hard work and family over everything. Which is funny, because he supplies the soundscape to some filthy songs.

Then it was Nile time. He received his award, gave his speech. He came off like the fun uncle at the barbecue who never runs out of stories. Apparently the refrain “freak out” was originally called “f*ck off,” which is hilarious.

All of the night’s tribute performances were tremendous; veteran singers absolutely demolishing his biggest hits. Kelly Price, however, tore the roof off the sucka. I don’t know if I’ve ever heard someone sing that well.

With a mix of power and savvy melodic maneuvering, she added a very gospel-church-like coda to her medley, during which she dropped insane runs and walked off the stage cackling. I adore her.

The night was winding down at this point, and I left early to beat the traffic. I want to come back next year, because this show was fantastic.

Photo Caption: Songwriter and Producer of the year DJ Mustard; BMI President & CEO Mike O’Neill; BMI Icon Nile Rodgers; and BMI VP, Vice President, Writer/Publisher Relations, Atlanta, Catherine Brewton.

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