The BET Awards have come a long way since its debut in 2001, when hosts Cedric the Entertainer and Steve Harvey both rocked suits that were obviously oversized, yet, somehow still perfectly tailored. Since then, the annual event to celebrate the achievements of Black people in music, film, sports, and philanthropy has given us some of the most memorable moments in entertainment history.
For more than two decades, “Culture’s biggest night” has been a platform for the stars to make bold statements. In 2017, Eminem spoke for many in a freestyle cypher aimed at then-President Donald Trump. “We love our military, and we love our country. But we f–king hate Trump!” he rapped from his hometown of Detroit.
Fashionistas like Erykah Badu, Rihanna, and Zendaya always express their personal style on the BET Awards red carpet. Vivica A. Fox’s simple lilac-colored mini dress with coral embroidery earned her a shout-out from 50 Cent during his acceptance speech for Best New Artist in 2003. And who can forget when Ciara showed off her “Goodies” in a Saint Laurent leather bralette and matching leather pencil skirt by Dominic Louis in 2013?
From Patti LaBelle to Megan Thee Stallion, Black Hollywood’s finest always deliver must-see live performances. BET’s big-budget productions brought us 2005’s surprise Fugees reunion. In 2023, Migos rappers Offset and Quavo squashed their year’s long beef in a moving tribute to Takeoff, their real-life family.
Some of the best memories from the BET Awards happen off-script. It’s when the culture’s most-beloved celebrities show us another side that the real Black magic happens. Here are 11 of the most unforgettable moments from the long-running show. Let us know some of your favorite fashion moments and live performances from the BET Awards.
Whitney Houston Accepts Lifetime Achievement (2001)
Houston strutted across the stage like George Jefferson to accept the first-ever Lifetime Achievement Award in 2001. She thanked a long list of people in a heartfelt rap. But when she clapped back at someone in the audience rapping Snoop Dogg’s, “You betta lay low” Nippy was never more relatable and charming.
Michael Jackson Surprises James Brown With Impromptu Performance (2003)
Even 20 years later, it’s hard not to get chills watching these two legends perform together. A choked-up Jackson presented The Godfather of Soul with the much-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award. “From the bottom of my heart, since I was a child at six years old, he was the one that I looked up to more than any other entertainer, and I still do today!” gushed the King of Pop.
Mo’Nique Opens Show With A Bang (2004)
The comedian returned as host for the second year in a row kicking off the night with an energetic performance of Beyoncé’s hit, “Crazy In Love.” With everyone on their feet, including Queen Bey herself, Mo’Nique joked, “Listen, I know the little skinny video girls, y’all real nervous right now baby!”
Rick James Reintroduces Himself (2004)
Rick James reunited with Teena Marie for an electrifying performance of their power ballad “Fire and Desire.” This was his last public appearance before suddenly passing away a little over a month later. The King of Punk-Funk forever seared himself in our memories with his now-famous quote, “Never mind who you thought I was, I’m Rick James, b–ch!”
Destiny’s Child Hosts Company (2005)
The dynamic trio invited Magic Johnson, Nelly, and Terrence Howard to join them on stage for a sultry rendition of their song “Cater to You.” But it was Howard’s priceless reaction to Mrs. Carter’s up-and-close performance that stole the show.
Alicia Keys Performs With SWV, TLC, And En Vogue (2008)
Keys recreated the throwback theme of “Teenage Love Affair” when she performed with iconic ’90s girl groups SWV, TLC, and En Vogue for a moment in Black girl power.
Chris Brown Pays Tribute To Michael Jackson (2010)
A year after MJ’s untimely death Brown paid homage to his idol by performing some of Jackson’s biggest dance hits including “Remember The Time” and an emotional rendition of “Man In The Mirror.”
Jesse Williams Drops The Mic (2016)
The activist gave a moving speech when he accepted the Humanitarian Award for his work toward social change. The ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ actor spoke of community mobilization, historical education, and police brutality. And, he specifically shouted out Black women. “We can and will be better for you,” said Williams.
Doves Cry For Prince (2016)
BET’s program-long tribute to honor the life and music of The Purple One was worthy of royalty. Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Hudson, Tori Kelly, Erykah Badu, Maxwell, Janelle Monáe, and Sheila E. performed some of Prince’s greatest hits including “Purple Rain,” “Kiss,” and “Nothing Compares 2 U.”
Mary J. Blige Receives Lifetime Achievement Award (2019)
After Rihanna presented The Queen of Hip-Hop Soul with the honor, Blige performed an iconic 20-minute medley of some of her greatest hits including “Real Love” and “My Life.” Diddy, Lil Kim, and Method Man also made surprise appearances.
The Remaining Members Of Migos Make Amends (2023)
After years of public feuding between Quavo and Offset, the two took the stage to honor their fallen family member in a rocketing performance of “Bad & Boujee.” The rapper, 28, was fatally shot at a bowling alley in November 2022.
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