The organizers of the 20th annual BET Awards know all too well that 2020 is both different from past years and, sadly, not different enough — and the show kicked off on Sunday night in fiery fashion with a song that sums up both 31 years ago and now: an incendiary new version of Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” that featured new verses from Nas, YG, the Roots’ Black Thought, Rapsody joining Chuck D and Flava Flav’s classic original lines, accompanied by guest DJ Questlove. The video featured both the performers, footage from the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial in Washington DC, references to Spike Lee’s “Do the Right Thing” (which the original version of “Fight the Power” soundtracked), and vivid footage from recent protest marches all across the country.
It was a powerful start to a powerful show: Nas’ lyric addressed both the current political and paid tribute to Public Enemy:
“Yo Chuck, I’m fighting the power right now/
Thanks to you, Flav and PE putting it down/
Putting your life on the line so I can rap now.”
“It’s the perfect storm,” Connie Orlando, executive vice president at the network, told Variety earlier this week. “The BET Awards has always been a platform for creativity, culture, and excellence. It has always spoken to what is going on in the world and our communities… That’s what makes this award show so special.”
Drake leads the nominees with six, while Megan Thee Stallion and Roddy Ricch are second with five each. Beyonce will receive the Humanitarian Award on the show, and also appearing are Congresswoman Maxine Waters, along with leading entertainers Billy Porter, Courtney B. Vance, Debbie Allen, Deon Cole, LaTanya Richardson Jackson, La La Anthony, Lena Waithe, Lizzo, Michael B. Jordan, Misty Copeland, Naomi Campbell, Omari Hardwick, Quavo, Quincy Jones, Rapsody, Regina Hall, Samuel L. Jackson, Saweetie, Sterling K. Brown, Viola Davis, and Whoopi Goldberg will reflect on the current state of the community with a spotlight on Social Justice as well as the Network’s 40th anniversary with a special appearance by BET founder Robert L. Johnson.