ATLANTA — Hip-hop has grown up for sure. At the BET Hip-Hop Awards, any artist with issues on the streets was able to leave those issues on the asphalt without soiling the red carpet.
"This is a great moment. Everybody is peaceful, I'm peaceful," Maino said on Saturday afternoon in front of the Boisfeuillet Jones Atlanta Civic Center. He was standing almost directly next to some of his foes in hip-hop, Lil' Cease and Gravy. Even though Maino has had words for both MCs on mixtapes and even had a physical altercation with Lil' Cease a couple of years back, everything remained peaceful. Saturday was a time for the culture and its artists to shine. No time for black eyes on the game.
"At the end of the day, you gotta have some common sense. Don't mess up some of the only good things we got," Juelz Santana said about an hour later as he walked the carpet.
"We're here to celebrate," Talib Kweli added. "Celebration is king. No room for all that nonsense."
A few minutes earlier, Kweli was saluting Ice Cube, whom he credits with being one of his huge inspirations as an MC. "If it wasn't for Ice Cube and Lynch Mob records, I wouldn't know how to do this," said the Brooklyn wordsmith as he stood with the West Coast icon. "I got my own label now. Raw Footage is an incredible album. From AmeriKKKa's Most Wanted to Raw Footage, I want to have that kind of longevity in the game, whether I'm doing other things or not."
The former N.W.A. member also gave his friend props. "Lyrics always win; that's why we still here," Cube said. "[Talib] stays true to his heart, not always chasing that dollar. Some of us get in the game and be like, 'If I make this pop song, I can make a lot of money.' Some MCs stay true. That's the difference between a rapper and an MC. You got a true MC right here that I always pay respect to."
Elsewhere on the carpet, Musiq Soulchild stood with Salt, Pepa and Spinderella. The soul man said he was very much looking forward to sharing the stage with Cube, who was a last-minute replacement for the Game.
"Today I'm here to perform with Ice Cube the second single off his album, 'Why Me,' " Musiq said. "I feel honored I can contribute to Ice Cube's legacy. He contributed so much to hip-hop music. Coming from a wild gangsta past, now he's informing people on the ramifications of being gangsta and living that whole life. He's doing his part of giving back to the community. I'm honored to be a part of that."
"Sexiness, sassiness," Mega said of Yo-Yo. "She still brings it. [She doesn't look] a day over 26."
"I just turned 27," said the rap queen, who in turn paid compliments to Pain.
"I used to do radio in Los Angeles," Yo-Yo remembered of the singer. "He came to radio when he was first pushing his project. I knew then he was a star. I knew he had a lot of talent. Early one morning during the morning show with me, I made him sing. I'm so proud to see young men pushing the limit in hip-hop, not being afraid to take hip-hop to another level. When we started out, that's something we were afraid to do. We always wanted to take hip-hop to another level but it always had its stigmas, some kind of dress code. But now you're bringing it up."
Pain was all smiles when talking about his 11th-hour call to replace Katt Williams as the show's host. He said he didn't have a bunch of things drawn out, and the show would be more free-wheeling.
"We're running it man," he said. "I know they got one thing planned for me. It's gonna be crazy. But you know me; I'm going in."
"I want in," he said with a wide grin. "I want in on that Outkast album. Tell Andre. I want in, a feature or something."
It was definitely awkward seeing 50 Cent, who showed up just minutes prior to Khaled and company, in such close proximity to the Terror Squad DJ/ crowd-motivator — especially since Fif has well-documented issues with Terror Squad don Fat Joe. But no one was tripping: Everyone was there to show love to their art form. 50 later took a picture with Atlanta's Shawty Lo.
Monica has been happy to see the event take place in her city. "I think it says a lot for us, because in 1995, we had to go somewhere else to do what we had to do," she said. "Now we can just get up out of bed and get on the freeway. It's an enormous blessing and it shows everybody how all of us in Atlanta — hip-hop and R&B — how we really come to together on a regular basis."