Diddy, Kanye and other surprises steer the BET Awards conversation from Lil Nas X

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A man wearing all black and standing with his arms outstretched on a stage
Sean "Diddy" Combs accepts the lifetime achievement award at the BET Awards on Sunday, June 26, 2022, at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. (Chris Pizzello / Invision / AP)

It was clear the night belonged to Diddy at the BET Awards on Sunday.

Up and down the red carpet, friends, collaborators and celebrities (some of whom weren't born when Diddy dropped his debut single in 1997) cited his tribute performance as what they were most excited to see, praising his indefatigable work ethic and his list of accomplishments.

But going into the show, Lil Nas X had drawn the attention. Two days before the BET Awards, the artist aimed at Black Entertainment Television with “Late to the Party,” his YoungBoy Never Broke Again-assisted diss track against the network.

And on Thursday afternoon, Nas X teased a mock cover art of someone urinating on the star-topped trophy given to BET Award winners (à la Kanye West peeing on a Grammy), but the official artwork was a tamer shot of a car’s vanity license plate emblazoned with the words “F— BET."

On the red carpet before the show, Jack Harlow made sure the presence of his "Industry Baby" collaborator was felt when he showed up wearing a Lil Nas X T-shirt, which drew a "wow I really love this man" from his friend once it hit Twitter. (Harlow had taken the shirt off by the time he performed at the awards show where he brought out Brandy to perform her educating verse on his song "First Class.")

Other artists voiced their support for Nas X too, saying his talent deserved to be recognized.

"I love BET, and I love Black people, but Lil Nas X is Lil Nas X," said "Mind Yo Business" artist Lakeyah said on the red carpet before the show. "He's a really great artist."

But it was Diddy who, in customary fashion, turned up the shine.

"Him being an entrepreneur, having a diversified portfolio that spans music, to fashion, to education with his academy in Harlem," Shyne, who took the stage with Diddy to perform "Bad Boys for Life," told The Times on the red carpet. "He's done it all."

Just after the collective Bad Boy musical tribute during the awards show, another hip-hop legend surprised the crowd and shared words of tribute to Diddy — Kanye West. Cloaked in a baggy hoodie with his face obscured by his hat, sunglasses and mask, Ye's appearance brought the crowd to its feet. He then recalled stories of how the trailblazing mogul impacted him.

"[I was sitting] at my mama's crib trying to add the Bad Boy shakers to my beats, thinkin’ I was one of the [producers] Hitmen," he said. "I was signed to Puff without him knowing."

"That statement is not legally binding," he added after a pause.

After all of the hype, Diddy strutted onto the stage, flashing his pearly white teeth and urging the crowd to match his energy. In an eight-minute speech, Diddy pledged $1 million each to his alma mater Howard University and to Jackson State University, the historically Black college making waves in football under NFL Hall of Famer and coach Deion Sanders.

"Today's not about me, it's about my mother," Diddy said, blowing kisses to her in the audience. "My mom was working three jobs, helping cerebral palsy patients at night, getting up to be a bus driver, then going to work at a clothing store. I don't even know where she slept."

Perhaps the second-biggest winner of the night was the Afrobeat genre. After a year when African artists continued their charge into mainstream American culture, the genre was well-represented, both in the performances and in the trophy department.

Nigerian singer Tems won two awards, taking home best international artist and best collaboration for "Essence" with WizKid and Justin Bieber. Nigerian singer Pheelz performed his hit single "Finesse" at the pre-show and Fireboy DML delivered a fiery performance of his song "Peru" on the main stage (a song that received a rare Ed Sheeran remix in December 2021).

"It's been a long time coming," DML told The Times on the red carpet about the growth of African music in the United States. "We've been working hard, to make sure we get the sound of the continent outside. And there's more coming. This is just us building off the momentum."

Stitched throughout the award show were speeches and actions against gun violence, along with calls to action in the wake of the Supreme Court's overturning Roe vs. Wade and ruling that states may choose to make abortion illegal. Host Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, Latto and many others ripped the Supreme Court for the decision while stressing that the consequential ruling was not the end of the fight.

"As a Black woman, we've always had to figure it out," "Sistas" actress Mignon said. "We've always had to make a way when there was no way, and we'll do it again."

Many of the surprise moments overshadowed the awards themselves, but if you were curious — Silk Sonic took home album of the year. Jazmine Sullivan won best R&B/pop artist. Kendrick Lamar received the male hip-hop artist award, while Megan Thee Stallion was honored as the female hip-hop artist.

View the full list.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.