While the 2023 BET Awards were somewhat shrouded in mystery this year, there was nothing ambiguous about the celebration of music and television at the official American Express BET Awards Watch Party that kicked off culture’s biggest night on Sunday afternoon. Held at the House of BET at Goya Studios in Hollywood, the event featured custom activations, a live performance, music spun by DJ Earry Hall, food, drink, and more, with actress and former VJ La La Anthony serving as host.
A super-size boombox marked the entrance into the experience which kicked off at 3pm. To the right, sat an enclosed Rap City lounge reminiscent of the very one where, most memorably, host Big Tigger used to welcome guests for interviews and iconic freestyles during the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Behind it, there was a pop-up record shop featuring classic recordings from artists on every label from Motown to Uptown Records. Across the greenery, guests could step inside the #JohnnyNunezGotAllThePictures Gallery, featuring floor-to-ceiling portraits captured by the famed Afro-Latino photographer who’s been granted unprecedented access to capture some of hip-hop’s biggest names during the most private and pivotal moments of their careers.
There was no shortage of photo opps for Amex card members and attendees on site either, from a sea moss green Buick Riviera parked by the entrance that served as an ode to west coast rap, to a pop-up bodega paying homage to the lyricists of the east. An Average Joe set covered in blood-stained family photos and rolled up fake $100 bills gave a glimpse into the dark comedy-drama starring Deon Cole, which launched on BET+ on Sunday. And, of course, drinks freely flowed from a full open bar under the warmth of the sun as guests roamed about the premises.
Indoors, another bar lined the back end of the room where 6lack took the stage. We talked to the singer and rapper ahead of his performance which he called a “full circle” moment.
“The most BET thing that I’ve done so far is the hip-hop cypher, which was a while ago, so this will be my first official BET event,” he told ESSENCE. “It’s full circle. You know, you grow up and you watch it on TV and you have all these daydreams about what you want to do, what you want to be able to be a part of and then it actually ends up in front of your face and you just gotta take a second and thank God and just be like, ‘this is it.’”
When it came to deciding what to do for his set during the watch party, 6lack, who released his third album, Since I Have a Lover, on March 24, said he and his team were still experimenting. “We’re still learning as we’re getting familiar with these songs live, so we’re putting stuff in a set that people might not be all the way familiar with and seeing how we get different reactions in a room and then mixing it with things that people are familiar with and just having fun while we’re up there,” he explained. “It’s a good mix of the first album, second album, and the new album. It’s a moment for us to continue to warm up for tour.”
Notably, 6lack performed “Talkback,” the motivational anthem from his new album which represents a shift from the songs of heartbreak and past trauma that characterized his prior music. Seeing fans respond positively to his new chapter has been affirming, 6lack shared.
“We always try to act like it doesn’t matter what people say but I don’t do this just for myself,” he said. “So, to do something that isn’t really popular or the norm, which is centering your music around just well-being and mental health and physical health, emotional health, and good relationships and communication– these aren’t things that go crazy in a club, so to do it and get that good reaction back is just reassurance that we’re on the right path.”
6lack’s performance served as the perfect buildup to this year’s BET Awards which furthered the celebration of 50 years of hip-hop. Busta Rhymes received the Lifetime Achievement Award and Beyoncé was announced as the winner of the coveted Viewer’s Choice Award presented by American Express.