The 2019 BET Awards, held Sunday at Los Angeles’s Microsoft Theater, featured many lighthearted moments, including a sexy opening number by Cardi B and Offset, a twerktastic ‘90s dance-off between Taraji P. Henson and host Regina Hall, and a history-making duet by Lil Nas X and Billy Ray Cyrus. But the night’s most meaningful highlight was a tribute to the late Nipsey Hussle, who at age 33 was gunned down outside his Marathon Clothing store in L.A.’s Crenshaw District on March 31.
During his lifetime, Hussle worked to improve his beloved Crenshaw neighborhood, creating local businesses (like Marathon) and employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for members of the community. Those endeavors earned him a posthumous Humanitarian Award at this year’s BETs, with the honor presented by rapper T.I. and accepted by his family and girlfriend Lauren London. The BETs also rolled out a blue carpet this year, in honor of Hussle’s signature color.
“There will never be another Nipsey Hussle. Ermias ‘Nipsey Hussle’ Asghedom was more than a rapper, activist. His emphasis on the power of equity and ownership of our art led the charge of independence and created a blueprint for up-and-coming artists today to follow,” proclaimed T.I. “He was our blessing, and he inspired people across the world while never abandoning the community and culture that raised him. It's been nearly three months since we lost Nip and many are still discovering how legendary he was. … He was real, a true king, simply concerned with promoting human welfare and up lifting those around him. As a prolific artist, his lyrics and interviewing are immensely powerful, but his actions spoke even louder. To anyone following a dream, you may feel alone, but people are watching, drawing in inspiration from how you chase your passion and how you handle adversities. Nip proved that your life is your canvas and your body of work is your legacy. As an artist, he was Nip the great. As a humanitarian, he was a leader well beyond his years. His life may have been cut short, but his canvas bore a legacy that will permeate neighborhoods around the world forever.”
In a taped memorial segment, another one of Hussle’s hip-hop peers, Snoop Dogg, said, “[Nipsey] was doing the work of a peace activist. He was reuniting neighborhoods and people that would not normally talk to each other. … I feel that he taught a generation of people how to hustle within your community.”
London, onstage with her and Hussle’s children, kept her acceptance speech short and sweet, saying, “I just wanted to thank you guys for all the love and support. And the marathon continues again.” Hustle’s grandmother, 88-year-old Margaret Boutte, told fans, “I was so amazed at how much love was out in the world for him that you up lifted me. I accepted his life as God said, ‘Nipsey, you've done your you've left your mark. I'm welcoming you into Heaven so you can rest.’ I loved him with all my heart and soul. Thank you so much for loving him too.” And Hussle’s father, Dawit Asghedom, recalled how excited his son had been to appear on last year’s BET Awards: “He made it to perform here. We were so happy for him, and for [BET] recognizing him. And we appreciate that. Let his vision continue.”
Hussle’s “queen mother,” Angelique Boutte Smith, spoke the longest, recalling feeling a strange sense of peace and calm at the Marathon Clothing crime scene and telling one of Hussle’s traumatized friends, “You know we are spiritual beings having a physical experience, right? You understand that, right? So, even though our bodies sigh as they call it on this side of eternity, our spirits live. We look out of this vessel and we continue on.” She also recalled her son’s “nesting” activity as he organized his home in the days before his death: “Ermias was nesting, because his baby spirit was about to be born.”
The Nipsey tribute concluded with a passionate medley performance of Marsha Ambrosius singing "Real Big” and YG doing "Last Time I Checc'd" (both from Hussle’s Grammy-nominated Victory Lap album), as well as John Legend and DJ Khaled performing "Higher" with a choir.
BET’s executive Connie Orlando also released the following statement about Hussle’s lasting legacy: "As a prolific artist and leader, Nipsey Hussle was zealous about driving change for the betterment of his community, empowering and employing those in need and being an influential and highly respected leader. His passing was a tremendous loss to the entertainment industry and to the culture. We will continue to remember his advocacy and be inspired by the groundwork he set forth and his dire commitment to social change. We are forever grateful, humbled, and honored to have experienced his presence and we are invested in doing our part to ensure that the marathon will indeed continue. It is an immense honor for us to recognize him with this year's Humanitarian Award.”
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