In 1994, the Notorious B.I.G boasted about hip-hop’s longevity on his classic record “Juicy,” rapping, “You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far.” Now more than 20 years later, it’s safe to assume the Brooklyn poet may not have predicted how much ground hip-hop would cover. As the dominant musical genre and cultural force, hip-hop touches every corner of the globe and its influence spans generations, which is why paying respect to all it’s done and continues to do is paramount.
Following in the longstanding tradition of celebrating the culture, the 2021 BET Hip-Hop Awards will show its love and appreciation to the genre’s biggest names. The night’s festivities will include one-of-a-kind fashion on the red carpet, electrifying performances, and breathtaking displays of artistry by way of the BET Cypher. DJ Hed will set the tone, while Smino, Tierra Wack, D. Smoke, Rico Nasty, Simba and more go back-to-back in a series of not-to-be-missed lyrical marathons. Along with a host of exciting nominees, this year’s I Am Hip-Hop Award will be presented to Grammy Award-winning artist Nelly, who shattered record sales and broke barriers with his music and Midwestern swag.
On Tuesday, October 5 the BET Hip-Hop Awards will give the culture and all its contributors their time to shine beginning at 9PM EST. Inspired by the upcoming celebration, we tapped a few die-hard hip-hop heads at Complex to go in depth about their favorite artist or album, which BET Cypher still ranks as No. 1 in their book, and, most importantly, what hip-hop has taught them.
Senior Graphic Designer
“Hip-hop has evolved and it’s helped me be who I am and not be afraid of who I am in this world. I heard a number of hip-hop records growing up. Some were fun and radio friendly but hearing music from N.W.A and Ice-T had a different edge. Their songs were aggressive and raw and touched on things I saw outside growing up in California. There weren’t too many genres reflecting real-life and specific issues with such a bold and blunt delivery, yet I was bobbing my head and rapping along.
As hip-hop grew, I was able to participate in it on different levels. I have friends that have been able to professionally make a living because of their involvement in hip-hop music; including myself. So to see something that was considered a trend and not a ‘real’ genre or style of music that eventually became the biggest factor of culture is amazing. I always love to see artists that are ascending from local heroes to national acclaim. I also love to see those artists receive exposure on a platform like BET and take their next steps in their career.
My favorite BET Hip-Hop Awards Cypher will always be the ‘Respect the West’ cypher. Watching the homies Kendrick Lamar and YG get to share space with West Coast legends like Snoop, DJ Quik, Kurupt, E-40 and Xzibit was amazing! I grew up listening to those legends but I also remember telling my friends that YG and Kendrick would be the stars to come out of the city. Seeing that come together was indescribable.”
“I grew up in a predominantly white area and school district. Our school dances blasted Paramore, Britney Spears and watered down hip-hop with house electronica remixes that made me feel isolated. I didn’t quite get the fist-pumping and the ground punches made popular by MTV’s Jersey Shore. My hips couldn’t move without the bass and 808s.
But for some reason, when I heard ‘Hip-Hop Hooray’ from Naughty by Nature, I always felt different. I’ve been immersed in hip-hop since the womb. While other toddlers were belting songs from Barney and Sesame Street, ‘Hip-Hop Hooray’ was my favorite song to sing before I even learned to walk. Every few years my parents pull out the old VHS home movies and I’d be there with my wild hair, pacifier in my hand, holding on to the crib, saying: ‘Hey! Ho!’
Hip-hop is a culture within itself that has also helped me to not be afraid to be myself. It spills out from the lyrics and sounds to tangible art. Every year I look forward to the BET Cyphers because it underlines the importance of lyricism within hip-hop. I love the wordplay and to be able to see talent I might not have heard about on a more authentic stage. My favorite cyphers are a tie between 2020’s ‘Lady’s First’ cypher and the ‘Political Cypher’ from the same year.
I’ve always been fascinated with women in hip-hop because growing up there were few and far between. Lil Kim was and will always be the OG for me. She set the stage and was unapologetic in her bars. In the early 2000s, Nicki Minaj was the first artist that wasn’t afraid to try something completely new. Yes, sexuality was huge for her, but she was also not afraid to be weird! The costumes, the theatrics, the personality switches on ‘Monster…’ Whether you’re a fan or not, no one can deny that she hops on verses and unapologetically gets people talking. I love seeing artists not be afraid to try something new.
For the ‘Political Cypher,’ I loved that BET demonstrated how hip-hop acts as a poetic voice of the unheard. Hip-hop sets the trends and the innovations, so when you see any ‘new thing’ in American culture; hip-hop did it first.”
“Hip-hop has helped me realize that two people with polar opposite views can find the same shared bond to connect. I never wanted to code switch my interests when I entered the workplace. Whether that was displaying my Blackness, queerness or anything else—and I haven’t had to because hip-hop culture has been at the forefront throughout.
I look at hip-hop as the unifier to end homophobia within the Black community. There’s a long way to go, but there’s so much potential over a shared bond. The impact of a ‘great’ hip-hop song changes people’s moods, makes them happy, gets them to dance and causes them to celebrate together. Great hip-hop helps you forget about the hate in the world because you’re too busy having fun together.
Now you may not immediately see the connection between hip-hop and Mariah Carey, but hear me out. I truly believe she’s the reason we have rap on mainstream radio. It all began with the ‘Fantasy’ remix featuring ODB. That song put rap on the map beyond urban radio. She wrote and produced her songs with rap bars in mind and wouldn’t take no for an answer when her label wanted her to focus on contemporary pop.
Mariah also worked with another industry veteran, Missy Elliott. You can’t deny Missy’s genius. She is the definition of hip-hop excellence in every possible way. She’s a rapper, writer, producer, singer, dancer and one of the most groundbreaking creative directors in the world. Missy Elliott started out in a girl group with sultry vocals and ended up becoming one of the baddest rappers and visuals artists in the game. She did it without a fear in the world of keeping up with someone else because she was and is always lightyears ahead.”
“Growing up in the early 2000s, Eminem and Lil Wayne had the greatest impact in the hip-hop industry because they came out of their traditional rap genre shells. They had the grit and respect of rap and were able to successfully transition into the hip-hop spotlight with songs such as Eminem’s ‘Love the Way You Lie’ featuring Rihanna and ‘How to Love’ by Lil Wayne. Their diversity in being able to change genres and still have the same successes showed me the path to hip-hop and allowed me to love the genre as a whole.
Hip-hop has taught me that I can create my own art and an artist who exemplifies that is Kanye West. Love him or hate him; College Dropout is highly regarded as a groundbreaking album of the early 2000s. Since his debut, Kanye has shown his ability to move crowds with his artistic influence to tell a story that he cares so passionately about is second to none. He truly paved the way for music today with his early 2000s success.
What I love most about the BET Hip-Hop Award Cyphers are the way different artists can bounce their art off of one another. My favorite was the 2013 cypher with Kendrick Lamar, ScHoolboy Q, Jay Rock, and others.
Hip-hop is an avenue for artists to express the way they feel in a manner that is appealing to the everyday listener. Not only are most songs catchy as they’re cleanly constructed with choruses and three minutes lengths, but they tell stories that people can listen to when they dive deeper into the lyrics.”
Partner Solutions Manager
“Whatever my mood is, there’s a hip-hop song that matches it or guides me through it. Music honestly grounds me. Hip-hop is whatever I need it to be. It’s my biggest fan, motivator, therapist, sometimes even a physical trainer. Hip-hop inspires me to keep moving, do better, be better, and enjoy life. Over the years, we’ve become close friends.
The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was the first album I was ever given and owned. To this day neo-soul and hip-hop are my favorite genres and it’s because of Ms. Hill. When I first listened to the album, I didn’t understand what she was talking about because I was too young, but I loved her voice, the beats, and the melodies. As I got older, I started to relate to the lyrics and that helped me understand why hip-hop was—and still is—different. It felt like it was made just for me. Hip-hop had the same questions I did and the same emotions. I felt seen.
There are so many motivating artists in hip-hop, but Kanye inspired me the most. Seeing him bring a new and fresh perspective to hip-hop was big. For a long time he couldn’t do any wrong in my book. I remember being inspired to be great at what I enjoyed and not follow the status quo and that was big at the time for me because hip-hop most importantly has taught me to embrace myself.
Today, hip-hop is in every facet of our society. It’s making money. It’s global. It’s addressing the ugly in our world. It’s encouraging people to vote in elections, breaking barriers and creating trends. Biggie’s line ‘You never thought that hip-hop would take it this far’ comes to mind because we didn’t. That fact that it makes me proud and in awe at the same time.”
Tune in to the BET Hip-Hop Awards Tuesday, October 5 at 9PM EST.