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BET Hip Hop Awards Paid Homage to XXXTentacion

In light of his passing, XXXTentacion's mother accepted his BET Best New Hip-Hop Artist Award on his behalf.
In light of his passing, XXXTentacion's mother accepted his BET Best New Hip-Hop Artist Award on his behalf. Photo by Jack McKain
Last night saw the airing of a controversial BET Hip Hop Awards. Lil Wayne, Cardi B, DJ Khaled, and A$AP Rocky were among the influential artists at the 13th-annual show, prerecorded October 7 at the Fillmore Miami Beach. Remarkable moments included Cardi's and YG's extravagant performances and Lil Wayne's moving acceptance speech for the I Am Hip Hop Award, in which he spoke of a near-death experience.

But one rapper couldn’t be there to join his peers onstage: XXXTentacion. The contentious 20-year-old artist — who had been arrested on a litany of charges including assault on a pregnant girlfriendwas fatally shot in a robbery this past June. A fleeting tribute to him came in the form of a lasting honor: the title of BET’s Best New Hip-Hop Artist.

Juice Wrld, Lil Baby, Rich the Kid, and BlocBoy JB also received nods in the category, but the applause following the announcement of XXXTentacion as a nominee was markedly louder than for the others. And when his win was declared, the crowd erupted. His mother, Cleopatra Bernard, accepting on his behalf, kept her speech brief. “I want to thank his fans for undying love and support,” she professed with emotion and then held up the silver award. “Jah, this one’s for you, baby.”

If the audience had mixed reactions about X's win, they were drowned out by the swell of applause and carefully curated shots of attendees clapping vigorously. As XXXTentacion’s family made its way to the stage, split-second frames focused on audience members standing in solidarity.
click to enlarge XXXTentacion's mother, Cleo, on the red carpet. - COURTESY OF BET
XXXTentacion's mother, Cleo, on the red carpet.
Courtesy of BET
But the brevity of the homage didn't sit well with XXXTentacion's fans. Several were quick to take to social media to critique how the mention of X was mere seconds in comparison to the tribute paid to Mac Miller later in the show. The latter included a lengthy speech by Miller's longtime friend and fellow rapper, Anderson .Paak. “Legends never die,” .Paak said, praising his friend's legacy and referencing how Miller did “more in 26 years than some of y’all could do in three lifetimes.”
Though the crowd appeared to back BET's choice of winner, viewers watching at home expressed conflicting opinions:
That wasn't all. Savvy social media users got fired up by another XXXTentacion-linked dispute: a verse Vic Mensa dropped into his cypher freestyle during the show:


Your favorite rapper is a domestic abuser.
Name a single Vic Mensa song,
XXX, we all know you won’t live that long.
I don’t respect n****s posthumously, homicide ain’t new to me,
Catch up with Akademiks at your eulogy.


Mensa's rhymes relayed his unflinching feelings about the sexual and domestic abuse charges against X, and the uncut video was played in front of his mother during the October 7 taping of the show. An XXXTentacion affiliate published a tweet scrutinizing Mensa for his rhetoric at the ceremony, prompting a tidal wave of fan indignation:
A week and a half later, the Hip Hop Awards broadcast sparked a fresh round of Mensa condemnation. BET added fuel to the fire by editing out the direct mention of XXXTentacion in Mensa's free verse. Barely minutes after the event aired, a renewed media outcry exploded:
Since enduring the initial backlash less than two weeks ago, Mensa has continued to catch flak from unforgiving social media users. He defended himself in a video posted to Instagram October 8. In it, he tells viewers that the cypher freestyle video was "recorded weeks ago" and that he had "no idea that a grieving mother would be in the audience to honor her lost son." Disrespecting her was never his intention, he says in the post, but the rapper stands by his choice to foster awareness and accountability through his art. “I vehemently reject the trend in hip-hop of championing abusers, and I will not hold my tongue about it."

Mensa and BET's publicists did not immediately respond to New Times' requests for comment.
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Ayurella Horn-Muller is a South Florida native, Florida State University alumna, and freelance journalist. She covers arts, culture and music for Miami New Times, and news for New Times Broward-Palm Beach. You can also catch her work in Forbes, Elite Daily, Film Threat, Elephant Journal, and Face the Current.