In the last couple of years, the BET Hip-Hop Awards have proven to be the most ironic awards show on television. There's little to no merit in an artist actually taking home an award anymore, unless you get the I Am Hip Hop lifetime achievement honor. The most important accolade an artist can really hope to achieve on this night is a successful outing in the annual freestyle cyphers.
Each year, the network curates groups of emcees based on affiliation, talent level, or hype level, and has them freestyle over DJ Premier. The cyphers are the only place in the entire BET media empire where lyrical skill is valued over money and major labels. When the awards originated in 2006, they produced three small cyphers to use as commercial break bumpers. Since 2010, they've increased to six to seven per year, including about 30 different emcees from various sub-genres and lanes. The performances of the BET Hip-Hop Awards now actually outweigh the amount of airtime dedicated to the award-giving itself, making the annual cyphers the equivalent of the rap Super Bowl. If you didn't tune in last night, here's what you missed.
Grand Hustle: Trae Tha Truth, Chip, Iggy Azalea, B.O.B., and TI In their first cypher together, Grand Hustle made out pretty well. Starting off with a sick opening sixteen bars, Houston's own Trae Tha Truth rocked an "I'm from Texas" shirt in his first BET cypher appearance. And it's about damn time. British newcomer Chip had a good first outing as well, proving there's definitely a place for a Londoner in the Dirty South. While it wasn't the worst I've seen, Iggy Azalea's performance left much to be desired, especially compared to the some of the females we'd hear later in the night. B.O.B. did better than last year, and TI closed out the first round of the night, bookending Grand Hustle's set with it's most impressive performances. Grade: B
The Raw: Sprite Hot 16 contest winner Jaybird The Purdi Boi, Hopsin, Schoolboy Q, Mac Miller, Mystikal I hate to be the one to hate on the contest winner, but that really didn't do much for me. Hopsin didn't disappoint, spitting horror rap imagery in a Beavis and Butthead shirt, wearing crazy Halloween contacts. Schoolboy shouted out Kendrick Lamar's upcoming album release on a solid 16 where he described smoking out the devil, and his concerns with Mitt Romney. Mac Miller, who's in town this Friday, brought some effective wordplay and this round's best punchline with, "I'm sorry that's just extra there/ I'm going crazy like Clint Eastwood in an empty chair." But there's no debate that Mystikal saved this overall lukewarm round. The New Orleans screamer popped in to remind us that things just ain't been the same since his hiatus from the rap game. Grade: B-
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The True School: Jean Grae, Sarkodie, Ab Soul, Talib Kweli Cape Town native and New York veteran Jean Grae started off with, "It's 2012, stop saying 'femcee'/ It's not a word/I hop the curb and hit you with my 10 speed," and served sixteen bars of straight truth. Ghana's Sarkodie kind of lost me in the middle of his verse, possibly due to subtitling disconnect. Ab Soul came strong, spitting, "They finally let the nerd with the swag in/I was playing the background like an ad lib/But now I'm greedy like a fat kid," and warned us that we won't be hearing the last of him anytime soon. Talib seriously slayed, with each line better than the last, closing out the round with, "I stay open cause I'm better with words/I'm Frank Ocean at a Chik-Fil-A/I'll never get served," possibly the best punchline of the whole night. Grade: B+
The Iron Mic: Angel Haze, Joey Bada$$, Driicky Graham, Childish Gambino and A$AP Rocky To promote his upcoming Quentin Tarantino movie, The Man with the Iron Fists, RZA manned the decks for some of the best up and coming talent in the game right now. Angel Haze went in on a flawless verse that concluded with a shot at Iggy Azalea. If the Grand Hustle diva is considering retaliation, I would highly recommend she save herself the embarrassment. Brooklyn wunderkind Joey Bada$$ spit a verse that wasn't new to his internet fan base, but impressed nonetheless with an effortless flow beyond his years. Driicky Graham got a resounding "Okay, playboy!" out of any of us who may have underestimated North Carolina's "Snapbacks and Tattoos" rapper. Childish Gambino definitely exceeded my expectations, holding his own with the room full of promising young talent. But A$AP Rocky was who the crowd really went wild for, spitting, "Ever since I was a baby/Ask my old lady/First four words was 'Fuck you, pay me.'" Grade: A
The West Coast: Xzibit, YG, Kurupt, E40, DJ Quik, Kendrick Lamar, Snoop Lion (aka Snoop Dogg) Easily one of the best cyphers in the history of the BET Hip-Hop Awards. In a round ripe with symbolism, the OGs sat around a game of dominoes while new Gs Kendrick and YG stood in the background, respectfully waiting for their place at the grown-ups table. Xzibit gave a strong verse, YG flexed some serious lyrical skill, Kurupt killed it as always, and E40 showed us he's still got it. DJ Quik beat on the table with a pen and his fist throughout the whole round, middle school style. Though he admitted his verse was pre-written, I was glad he was there. Kendrick absolutely destroyed, showing up even last year's appearance, when he spit the best punchline of 2011: "What are your plans/To win a Grammy?/Sweet taste of success/Like Oprah's punany." Finally, Snoop Lion sounded exactly like Snoop Dogg. Grade: A+
Ruff Ryders: Mook, Cassidy, Eve, and DMX The last round promised us '90s nostalgia and came up short. Honestly, where was the rest of the lineup? No Jadakiss? No Styles P? No Sheek Louch? How is that Ruff Ryders? Murda Mook spit a pretty decent and topical verse, but to me he'll always be a battle rapper. Cassidy gave us anti-climactic bars that fell flat on delivery. Eve punked them both out, going way harder with possibly the best female verse of all night: "R-r-revvin' up my engines/Always known to go the distance/In my lane there ain't no others that can match with my persistence." And of course, DMX never disappoints. But overall, even the King and Queen of the double R couldn't carry this whole round on their backs. Grade: C+