Will Smith, who spends much of these days extolling the virtues of mindfulness and meditation, was probably not the rapper you’d have expected to throw hands, but in hip-hop nothing is ever suprising, and he certainly was not alone.
Okay, he’s no longer known to the world as just a rapper, but he is one of many of his peers who have had eventful nights at such ceremonies.
Before we speak on Kanye, let’s go back to a time before social media, the internet or camera phones. It was a relatively innocent time in some ways but in the early 90s hip-hop was all about keeping it real. Some rappers took the street behaviour seriously, and Onyx were one such group. At the time, the music was gritty and grimey, and a world away from the pop rap that Will Smith successfully developed with Jazzy Jeff. At the first ever Source awards in 1994, Onyx performed their song ‘Throw ya Gunz’ to the crowd accompanied by a live round of ammunition that they shot into the air. There were no injuries, but many audience members were unsurpisingly shaken, and ran for cover!
Earlier that evening, Tupac Shakur and his crew had pretty much stormed the stage during the moment A Tribe Called Quest were accepting an award, and tensions were heavy.
Famously, the following year’s awards played a huge part in the so-called East v West Coast beef situation, which ominously preceded the deaths of both Pac and Biggie in ’96 and ’97. The awards were by then being televised and hip-hop was reaching places it had never dreamed of before. First up Suge Knight took verbal shots at east coast rival Puff Daddy, while later Dre and Snoop took issue with the frosty reception they received while on stage. Puffy tried to cool things later but the damage was done and the situation escalated.
Lots of back and forths between east and west continued before Suge Knight signed Tupac to Death Row on his release from prison, and Pac began dissing Bad Boy records and the East Coast soon after. He was convinced Biggie and Puffy had set him up to get shot previously but, rightly or wrongly, their relationship went south. Pac was soon fatally shot and Biggie met the same fate six months on, before things finally simmered down a little.
There have been many other award ceremony feuds too.
Rick Ross, Young Jeezy and 50 Cent were some of those who got into it at the 2012 BET awards while G Units Young Buck allegedly stabbed a violent fan himself at the 2004 Vibe awards. T.I. and Shawty Lo also had an awards show brawl while both Minneasota and the DMV had big beefs and fights at their ceremonies.
The rapper most synonymous with award ceremony beefs is Kanye West, though his famous Taylor Swift outburst did rather vulgarly mask what was actually a good point regarding awards winners. His frustration that artists like Beyoncé were being largely relegated by awards ceremonies’ favouritism of white acts was very evident in 2009, though his outburst was disrespectful to Taylor Swift.
At subsequent award ceremonies, most notably in 2016, when Macklemore somehow beat the amazing Kendrick Lamar to a prize, you would be forgiven for siding with Kanye’s original point.
Hip-hop and r&b usually get relegated to specialist fields and even big pop titans such as Beyoncé win most of their awards in these categories rather than the mainstream ones. Sometimes the rap and r&b categories aren’t even broadcast and it suggests that the awards are merely token in some ways. Kanye and many other important figures have expressed frustration at this, though Kanye handled it badly by interrupting Taylor Swift. He also later interrupted Beck who won over Beyoncé in 2015, though he later apologised.
Kanye is not alone when it comes to the Grammys. Two of the best artists of the last 10 years, The Weekend and Frank Ocean, have been dismissive of the awards ceremony, and the fact that The Weekend didn’t get nominated for After Hours shows that the awards show is deeply flawed.
One thing is for sure, though, and that is that we will certainly have more award show drama in years to come.