The BET Awards didn't begin with a bang but an extended bleep, as the censor police worked overtime during a performance by Kanye West's G.O.O.D Music group, Nicki Minaj and Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee's parody of Jay-Z and West's hit song "... In Paris."
There were extended moments of muted silence as West, Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz kicked off the show with a performance of "Mercy" (though not all the offending words were bleeped out). Moments later, Jackson, the show's host, was joined by Lee as they did their rendition of the West-Jay-Z hit, to laughs.
"Two distinguished Morehouse men," Lee joked after the performance, referencing the alma mater of the two.
West and Jay-Z won the ceremony's first award; at first, West arrived onstage alone, and alluded to his many awards-show mishaps.
"I wish Jay-Z was here to say something politically correct for me," he said, before his mentor came to the stage.
Other early winners included Chris Brown for best male R&B artist, his second consecutive win in the category. Kevin Hart — who hosted the awards last year — also won for best actor, Big Sean was named best new artist and Wale and Miguel's smooth hit "Lotus Flower Bomb" won best collaboration.
West, who was up for seven awards, was the top nominee. Beyonce had six and her husband five. Beyonce was nominated twice for show's top award, video of the year, with "Love On Top" and "Countdown." Two collaborative songs by West and Jay-Z, "Otis" and "... in Paris," were also up for the prize. The fifth nominee is Usher's "Climax."
Usher performed his groove "Climax," and Nicki Minaj sported a blonde wig with pink tips as she performed the songs "Champion" and "Beez In the Trap," which featured 2 Chainz. That performance too, was notable for the numerous censors applied to it.
Yolanda Adams, who also performed, won best gospel artist. As she accepted her award, she urged her peers to act mature and use their fame wisely.
"We need all of ya'll," she said. "I'm saying the world needs everyone in this room. Please make sure that you use your gift responsibly, 'cause we're watching. Our babies are watching, and they want to be like us."
The night also featured some tributes to deceased greats: Chante Moore performed a medley of Donna Summer's hits and Valerie Simpson sang a song in honor of her husband and writing partner Nick Ashford. Don Cornelius, Dick Clark and Hal Jackson were given shout-outs.
Even West offered tributes: after his performance, he name-dropped Rodney King and Whitney Houston in a verse that got cheers from the crowd, including his girlfriend, Kim Kardashian.
The most-buzzed about performance, though, may be a tribute planned for Houston that will include the late singer's mother, Cissy Houston, and other female singers, though BET didn't release those names.
D'Angelo also performed, his first televised performance in years as he attempts a comeback.
The awards were Brown's first televised appearance since the New York City nightclub brawl between his entourage and Drake's. Brown, his girlfriend, his bodyguard and NBA star Tony Parker were among those injured in the June 14 encounter, where bottles were thrown.
Drake, however, wasn't expected be at the event. Both singer-rappers are nominated for awards.
Common won the first honor of the night, picking up the Centric award, beating out Robin Thicke, Estelle and others. The award is given to a soulful act on behalf of BET's sister channel, Centric.
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