Trending Topics

BET Awards’ Obsession With Mainstream Culture Misses a Chance to Broaden the Definition of ‘Black’ Music

showbiz-nicki-minaj-bet-awardsAnd this years BET Award nominations are… relatively the same as last year. And the year before that. And the year before that.

For those who are truly plugged into the world of hip hop, love digging up new rap stars and can’t get enough of a quirky new pop songstress, the BET Awards nominations have been disappointing over the last few years.

But the aforementioned demographic of people is exactly why nobody should be surprised that this year’s nominee list left off perhaps the most critically acclaimed trumpeter of 2014 and the incredibly talented new stars that have been praised for stellar songwriting and incredible production.

These types of artists have been discovered by the self-proclaimed music heads. The few who dedicate a day to scouring the web for new music at least once a week. The ones who dissect lyrics in order to truly appreciate talented songwriting or play through an album multiple times before they even declare a verdict on whether or not they like the work.

Needless to say, the population of music listeners who fall into such categories is significantly smaller than the group of people who rely on the radio’s Top 40 hits or haven’t heard of a single musician that hasn’t had one of TMZ’s comical headlines dedicated to their personal woes.

This is the crowd that the BET Awards are catering to—the mainstream listeners. And even some artists have grown weary of this.

To no surprise, hip hop star Azealia Banks was quick to take aim at the award show even after her own name was included on the nominee list for Best Female Hip Hop Artist. Her name was joined by the likes of Nicki Minaj, Trina, Tink (an extremely pleasant surprise), Dej Loaf and Iggy Azalea. Yes… Iggy Azalea.

In addition to slamming the network for spelling her name wrong in the past, Banks also fired some serious jabs on Twitter concerning the network’s clear preference of mainstream, crossover artists.

“I really hate getting nominated for @bet awards,” the rapper said in series of tweets. “They’re so bogus. The female rap award at the bet awards goes to nicki every year, it’s not even a real award anymore lol it’s a bit of a running joke.”

She then suggested that BET should nominate Nicki five times with “five different wigs” and pick whichever one they like the best.

Then her tweets went to a darker place as she took her followers through a hypothetical hit and run that would ultimately take out Nicki Minaj’s army of self-proclaimed Barbies, also commonly referred to as Barbs.

The eerie digital murder plot aside, Banks has a valid point.

For the past five years Nicki has been crowned the queen of the hip hop category, even during a year when her musical body of work was widely considered to be pop. But it’s Nicki that is the household name, not the Tinks of the world, although they are certainly just as talented.

For that reason, the pop songstress/hip hop star has always been considered a network favorite for her appeal to the mainstream world.

“Why isn’t BET awards just called the ‘Mainstream Rap/RnB/Pop with black people’ awards,” Dev Hynes, known best as Blood Orange, charged on Twitter. “Lol my point is we are more than just ‘rappers’ and RnB’ singers. Where’s Ambrose Akinmusire’s award?”

It’s an exceptional question.

Ambrose Akinmusire

Ambrose Akinmusire

The 32-year-old jazz trumpeter’s The Imagined Savior Is Far Easier to Paint won the praise of a wide variety of music critics and was hailed as an exceptional work—one of the best of 2014.

His name is notably absent from the BET Awards nomination list.

But then again, where would his name belong? The BET Awards doesn’t even honor any musical category outside of hip hop, “R&B/pop” and gospel—all categories that tout a relatively unchanging list of names year after year.

These are the categories dedicated to stars like Beyoncé, Jay Z, Kanye West, Rihanna, and Chris Brown. Other frequenters include Trey Songz and K. Michelle, while pulling in trendy artists of the moment like August Alsina.

It’s by no means a suggestion that aforementioned artists like Chris Brown and Beyoncé aren’t talented but anyone who has paid attention to the music industry’s landscape would be left scratching their head at Brown being the most awarded artist by the BET Awards and the lack of new, exceptional talent being highlighted on a platform that once touted a mission of giving a national stage to the voices that have been pushed into the shadows of the media.

But this is simply the way of the industry, not just BET. The same issues plague most major award shows.

“Airing on a still-popular cable channel, the BET award cater to the broadest audience possible and therefore choose the most mainstream artists year after year,” The Guardian’s Britt Julious explains. “The awards are less recognition for talent over the past year and more of a method of ensuring as many eyes as possible are watching the screen to create higher ratings and more buzz. The bottom line wins again.”

Back to top