NEW YORK — Performing as a police officer pressed his knee on his neck, replicating the last moments of George Floyd's life, multi-platinum rapper DaBaby rapped a verse from the Black Lives Matter remix of his hit song "Rockstar" at the BET Awards.
Sunday's show, a virtual event because of the coronavirus pandemic, featured a number of highly-produced, well-crafted and pre-taped performances. DaBaby's clip, featuring Roddy Ricch, also featured images from protests, a reflection of the current world in the wake of Floyd's death and the death of others, including Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.
The BET Awards, celebrating its 20th anniversary, kicked off Sunday with a performance featuring Black artists rapping and singing anthems about the Black experience and fighting for equal rights.
The 12-year-old sensation Keedron Bryant, who turned heads on social media with his passionate performance about being a young Black man in today's world, started the show with an a cappella performance of his poignant song "I Just Wanna Live," which earned him a record deal. That was followed by an all-star performance of Public Enemy's 1989 anthem "Fight the Power," featuring Nas, Black Thought, Rapsody and YG adding new lyrics to the song, even namedropping Breonna Taylor and others.
Chuck D kicked off the performance, replacing the year 1989 with 2020. "Fight the Power" topped the Billboard rap charts more three decades ago and was featured in Spike Lee's epic "Do the Right Thing." Flavor Flav, Questlove and Black Thought and Chuck D's artist Jahi were also part of the performance.
Sunday's show also celebrates BET's 40th year as a network. The three-hour show, hosted by comedian, actress and TV personality Amanda Seales, is airing on CBS for the first time, as well as BET and BET HER.
Beyoncé will earn the humanitarian award at the event, which will have several tributes. Lil Wayne will honor NBA icon Kobe Bryant with a performance, while Wayne Brady will pay tribute to Little Richard.
The show is jam-packed with heavy hitters currently dominating the pop charts and streaming services, including Megan Thee Stallion, Summer Walker, Kane Brown and Chloe x Halle. All-stars like John Legend and Jennifer Hudson also performed.
The show is an annual celebration of Black entertainment and culture, and this year's ceremony is the first major awards show since the May 25 death of Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, which sparked global protests aimed at reforming police actions and removing statues and symbols considered racist from public places.
Drake is the leading nominee: He's up for six honors, including video of the year and best male hip-hop artist. For both best collaboration and the viewer's choice award, Drake is nominated twice thanks to the hits "No Guidance" with Chris Brown and "Life Is Good" with Future.
Ricch and Megan Thee Stallion follow Drake with five nominations each. Megan Thee Stallion, who recently topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart with her Beyoncé-assisted "Savage" remix, is nominated for video of the year, best female hip-hop artist, best collaboration, the viewer's choice award and album of the year for "Fever."
The show will feature appearances from famous faces including Quincy Jones, Samuel L. Jackson, Michael B. Jordan, Viola Davis, Billy Porter, Debbie Allen, Naomi Campbell, Sterling K. Brown, Whoopi Goldberg, Misty Copeland, Lena Waithe and Lizzo, who is also nominated for four awards.
Others set to perform include Jay Rock, SiR, D Smoke, Kierra Sheard and Karen Clark Sheard, who is nominated for the Dr. Bobby Jones best gospel/inspirational award as a member of the Clark Sisters. Her competition includes Kirk Franklin, Fred Hammond, John P. Kee, PJ Morton and Kanye West, who released a gospel album last year.