Sunday’s (June 27) telecast of the 21st Annual BET Awards gave black women their flowers and crowned black men (primarily Lil Nas X) as kings to celebrate their contributions to music.
The awards show’s theme of celebrating black women (and their limits) ran throughout the night’s performances, from Megan Thee Stallion on the bus to “Thot Shit” to ELLE descending on scene as an angel for “We Made It” to Jazmine Sullivan picking our feelings with her enchanting Tales of Heaux mixed.
Tone Stith and Mereba smoothed things over with short snippets of “FWM” and “Rider,” respectively, at the BET amplified stage, which we don’t include in our overall rankings.
Here’s how we rank the 16 performances of Culture’s Biggest Night, from worst to best.
16. Moneybagg Yo!, “The Weather Today”
Moneybagg Yo! certainly had time today to party with a live rendition of his first single from his Billboard 200 No. 1 album. The pain of a gangsta. But it was not as rich as the Benjamin Franklins who flashed on screen and on stage.
15. DaBaby, “Ball If I Want”
DaBaby was overwhelmed by his own performance with the giant baby figure. True to the “Ball If I Want To” music video, the self-proclaimed Billboard Baby took a break from topping the charts and decided to dominate a gym class rope-like braid, where elsewhere in PE, a group of ‘older men were shooting hoops.
14. Roddy Ricch, “Late Night”
As the evening skyline came to life in the Microsoft Theater, the dazzling backdrop and dancers dwarfed Ricch’s voice which was sometimes so self-tuned it was as crystal clear as the lights behind him.
13. Lil Baby & Kirk Franklin, “We Win”
Franklin reminded the BET Awards that it was Sunday by bringing the church to the stage with a beaming gospel choir wearing cobalt blue for him and Lil Baby’s Space Jam: A New Legacy anthem “We Win”. But the rapper’s particularly sweet demeanor contrasted sharply with the gospel legend’s bold presence and lackluster versus the choir’s energy. Considering the powerful performance Lil Baby brought to the 2021 Grammys with “The Bigger Picture,” he could have had the same impact on BET and ultimately failed.
12. Migos, “Straightenin” & “Type Shit” with Cardi B
One of rap’s biggest groups is officially back, but Migos’ explosive performance of “Straightenin” from their Billboard 200 album #2 Cultivation III disappointed and overshadowed their dancers who actually worked on stage (if you could spot them). Regardless of their sparkly matching outfits, Cardi B’s crystal-cut Baby Bump saved the day with one of the biggest surprises of the night — she’s expecting her second child with Offset!
11. DJ Khaled feat. Megan Thee Stallion, DaBaby, Lil Baby, Lil Durk, “Every Chance I Got” & “I Made It”
DJ Khaled, who Justin Timberlake billed as “the best A&R guy,” certainly did his job of bringing the stars together — even if they didn’t quite align. Lil Baby looked livelier in her performance of “Every Chance I Get,” thanks to Khaled’s vocal 5-hour energy endurance, while Megan pumped up her verse on “I Did It,” with a surprise appearance from HER on guitar, to lead the team to victory in Post Malone’s absence.
10. Andra Day, “Strange Fruit” & “Tigress & Tweed”
After her Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated, and now BET Award-winning performance as Billie Holiday in USA vs. Billie Holiday, Day resurrected her film role on the BET stage. His version of Holiday’s “Strange Fruit,” which for some fans served as a chilling reminder of Holiday’s dual fight against racism and for the right to perform this song, showed what Day brought to the table in his consistent portrayal of late jazz. singer before hanging out on “Tigress & Tweed”.
9. City Girls, “Twerkulator”
The City Girls counted down to Hot Girl Summer with their feisty “Twerkulator” performance, with Yung Miami and JT leading the pack with a Bring it on level of coordination and perseverance that would school the boys of DaBaby on the court any day.
8. Silk Sonic, “Leave the Door Open”
The one and only song we will ever hear from Silk Sonic received the experience of a fully vaccinated club full of swing with masked fans. Of all the swanky live renditions of “Leave the Door Open” that Bruno Mars and Anderson .Paak have offered at awards shows, from the Grammys to the iHeartRadio Music Awards, this one was the liveliest at a time when the world itself opens its doors back up.
7. Jazmine Sullivan, “Tragic” and “On It” feat. Ari Lennox
With the help of rep Maxine Walters and Ari Lennox, Sullivan reclaimed her stage time with an enchanting and titillating show from her. Tales of Heaux EP, which won Album of the Year at the 2021 BET Awards. Her brown velvet and mesh bodysuit, paired with the silky jackets and spandex bodysuits of the backup dancers, brought a different texture to her R&B vocals. Plus, his and Lennox’s chemistry took fans’ breath away as they sang our deepest desires.
6. Tyler, the Creator, “Lumberjack”
Tyler weathered the storm of his first BET Awards performance of “Lumberjack,” the lead single from his latest studio album Call me if you get lost. The Rolls-Royce pulled up, the black boy jumped up and he blew fans away with the same powerful burst included in his stellar on-stage setup.
5. Griselda, Busta Rhymes, Method Man, The LOX and Swizz Beatz, “Get at Me Dog”, “Hood Blues” “Where The Hood At?” “Slippin”, “What’s My Name”, “Ruff Ryder’s Anthem”, “Party Up (Up in Here)” and “The Prayer IV”
The ultimate East Coast rap pack came together to commemorate the legacy of DMX, who passed away in April, and collectively brought back the bark of the late rapper. From actor Michael K. Williams’ creepy attitude during “Slippin” and “What’s My Name” to the humbling band finale of “The Prayer IV,” emotions ran high and arms were raised in the form with an X during the tribute.
4. Stallion Megan Thee, “Thot Shit”
With a cut out black latex bodysuit and matching knee high boots, Megan was ready to play her own Black Widow movie with his edgy “Thot Shit” performance. But the Marvel Cinematic Universe isn’t ready to deal with its twerking superpowers – due to the enviable strength of Meg’s knees – and her brilliance that cuts like the giant diamond projected above her. As the rapper has long championed women, especially black women, throughout her music, she is always ready to take charge and lead the fleet to Hot Girl Summer.
3. Rapsody, Monie Love, Lil’ Kim & MC Lyte, “Ladies First” & “UNITY”
Rapsody and Monie Love gave the lifetime achievement award recipient first place in their jaw-dropping cover of Queen Latifah’s rap hit ‘Ladies First’. The sisterhood show exemplified what culture’s greatest night was – celebrating black women – while charting the trail the queen herself blazed for them. Lil’ Kim, alongside MC Lyte, brought “UNITY” to the tribute with his uber-cool, jazzy rendition of Latifah’s Grammy-winning song, before delivering a touching message to tear-eyed Latifah: “We are here today to offer you your flowers… Thank you for leading the way for us.”
2. HER, “We did it”
The Grammy and Oscar-winning artist, who also celebrated her 24th birthday on the day of the 2021 BET Awards, took to the stage like a rock angel — drums, fringed white pants and all. The 360-degree camera angle of her electric guitar solo with the reflection of the disco ball in the middle of the stage was the essence of what Jill Scott dubbed a “perfect” “sheroine” and how the world of the music really started revolving around HER
1. Lil Nas X, “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”
From lap dancing the devil in the official “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” music video to becoming an ancient god among men, the name of the game is Lil Nas X and he’s not coming to play. During the highlight of the night, which tackled the Phrygian mode of the song in an ancient Egyptian display, the golden rapper turned pharaoh lit up the BET stage in a way that would infuriate King Tut for stealing his thunder and throne.