Judge Victor Valdivia is too old to drop mad science on the kids like he used to. He's also too old to realize that no one uses phrases like "drop mad science" anymore.
Style. Substance. Swagger.
BET Hip-Hop Awards 2007 marks the DVD release of one of Black Entertainment Television's biggest galas. But the paucity of memorable performances and meager extras make this a pointless release.
Recorded in Atlanta on October 13, 2007, it's a showcase for some of the biggest names in hip-hop. Stars like Kanye West, Common, Lil' Wayne, Nelly, and Souljah Boy all performed some of their biggest hits. In addition, there are also appearances by Wyclef Jean, LL Cool J, MC Lyte, KRS-One, and Ciara. Awards were given out in various categories, including Best Video, Best Live Performance, Lyricist of the Year, and Producer of the Year.
The BET Hip-Hop Awards 2007 kicks off with Kanye West performing a medley of "Can't Tell Me Nothin'" and "Good Life" while dancers in chiffon weave about, and an orchestra plays in the background. Say what you will about Kanye, that he's an unrepentant attention hog (and he is), that he doesn't know the meaning of the word "self-restraint" (and he doesn't), and that his ambitions sometimes outreach his talent (and they do), the fact is, he isn't boring. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for most of the rest of this show. From Lil' Wayne's stupefying, charisma-free performance to the cheap-looking stage design, this is one of the dullest awards shows in recent memory.
The BET Hip-Hop Awards is patterned, somewhat, after the MTV Video Music Awards, and while that show is only a shadow of what it was in years past, it was never as tedious and amateurish as this one. Comic Katt Williams, as host, is competent enough, but he doesn't give much of a monologue, and he doesn't get off a single memorable joke or quip. It doesn't help that the show is padded with a series of pointless bits where different celebrity hip-hop fans, from artists like MC Lyte to academics like Dr. Michael Eric Dyson and Dr. Cornel West (The Matrix Reloaded, and no relation to Kanye) discuss why they love hip-hop. None of them really gives any especially trenchant or original insights. The nadir is reached by rapper David Banner, who spends most of his speech on a diatribe defending disgraced Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick. Vick isn't a rapper and neither he nor his crimes has anything to do with hip-hop. Throw in some forgettable banter between presenters (some of whom, like video vixen Melyssa Ford, barely count as celebrities), some questionable awards (Jay-Z as Hip-Hop Hustler of the Year? What does that even mean?), and no explanation of who votes for the winners or how the nominees were chosen, and you have an awards show that could have been electrifying but is mostly mediocre. Fittingly, the show ends with a ridiculously over-the-top performance by YouTube one-hit wonder Souljah Boy, complete with pyrotechnics, background dancers, and elaborate backgrounds, all to highlight a track that probably won't have quite as much influence and longevity as "The Thong Song."
It's a bad sign when the filmed promo bits are more compelling than the actual show. Included after some commercial breaks (about five in all) are film clips called "The Cipher." In hip-hop lingo, a cipher involves several MCs standing in a circle, each improvising rhymes to top one another. Mixing more famous rappers like Wyclef Jean and Dizzee Rascal with underground artists like Kardinal Offishall and Ras Kass, these bits are enjoyable to watch and are a great piece of hip-hop culture. Filmed in black and white on a rooftop, and accompanied only by Gang Starr's DJ Premier spinning Billy Squier's classic "Big Beat," they capture the renegade spirit of hip-hop in all its raw immediacy. In fact, though each is only a minute or two long, they are far more thrilling than the bloated, overblown live performances by the likes of Nelly and Playaz Circle.
BET also botched the DVD's packaging. First of all, this is the edited-for-TV broadcast, meaning that any questionable language has been blanked out. That is immensely irritating. Fans who are paying good money for this disc have a right to demand that the show be presented in its entirety, not edited and chopped up. Second, the show makes several references to interviews, performances, and film clips that are available at BET.com, but none of these has actually been included on the DVD, which would have been logical. The whole show lasts less than 90 minutes, so it's not like there wasn't enough room on the disc. To add insult to injury, the skimpy menu screens do not allow fans to go straight to the musical performances, which are really the only reason why anyone would want to own this disc. There isn't even a Dolby 5.1 surround mix, just a passable stereo mix. The full-screen transfer is acceptable.
In addition to Kanye West's performance and the "Cipher" scenes, there are some good bits and pieces here. Common delivers an excellent version of "Drivin' Me Wild," and it is great to see him win two awards, as he has been making thoughtful and innovative music since the early '90s but hadn't really earned big mainstream success until recently. Though KRS-One, one of the most legendary and influential rappers of the '80s, doesn't actually perform, the tribute dedicated to his career is commendable, if too short. And one of the "Why I Love Hip-Hop" segments is, in one way or another, entertaining. Ex-Fugee Wyclef Jean emerges onstage with a rhinestone-studded Fender Stratocaster and plays a version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" (much like the version played by Jimi Hendrix) while reciting some pro-hip-hop lyrics. Wyclef, of course, is always either two steps ahead or 50 steps behind most mainstream hip-hop fans, and even though the audience doesn't exactly greet him with applause (most of them, in fact, look as if Michael Richards had decided to show up and launch into a seminar on race relations in America), it's still one of the show's few noteworthy moments.
It's also fair to point out that your affection for this show may depend on your taste for Southern hip-hop, of which there is an overwhelming amount (unsurprising, since it was taped in Atlanta). Some hip-hop fans, especially those weaned on the intricate samples and cool attitude of New York hip-hop can sometimes find Southern rap, with its spare music, exaggerated accents, and flashy image, tacky and embarrassing. Despite its increasing sales popularity, the style has never gotten much respect and is something of an acquired taste. Southern rap fans may find a lot more to enjoy about this show than others, although its prevalence here does underscore that the show should have had a little more variety.
The DVD's sole extra is also worth mentioning. Most fans know that superstar rapper T.I. was scheduled to perform at the event, and he showed up earlier in the day for rehearsals of his song "Hurt." Unfortunately, literally hours before he was scheduled to appear, he was arrested on federal gun charges and sent away just before the show started. Though rappers Busta Rhymes, Alfa Mega, and David Banner performed the song in his place (and did a serviceable job), the disc includes T.I.'s original rehearsals, where he runs through the song twice. It's not quite as rousing as a real live performance; like many artists, T.I. holds back during rehearsals in order to save his voice and energy for the main show. Still, this little taste of what could have been is at least worth a look, especially for his fans.
With the possible exception of the performances, this is not the type of disc you're likely to watch over and over again. But if BET had taken real care with the packaging by adding all the Web extras, providing a better menu interface, and presenting the unexpurgated show in its entirety, it would have at least made this DVD more enticing. Instead, there's little here to recommend. Fans who have already recorded and kept the original broadcast should save their money, as the sole new extra is not worth the $19.99 list price.
BET has repackaged the exact same edited (and second-rate) awards show you saw on TV with minimal extras and is charging you nearly $20 for it. Guilty of being the real hip-hop hustlers of the year.
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Scales of Justice
• T.I.'s Rehearsal Performances
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