You can tell the hip-hop music community has thrown a successful awards show when they can crow that "no one was stabbed in the lung this year." That was the buzz coming out of the third annual Vibe Magazine Awards that aired on UPN stations on Nov. 15. (Last year, a fight at the awards show surrounding the rapper Dr. Dre ended up with the stabbing.)
This show promised to be so filthy that UPN's seven-second delay button pushers were probably doing finger calisthenics preparing for the rappers to come out. This apparently meant nothing to UPN (owned by the increasingly notorious Viacom company), which once again displayed its utter lack of class by starting this bleep-fest in the first hour of prime time, the "family hour." They not only had to catch the endless S-words and the F-bombs in the rap lyrics, but also hit the button for the N-word that only rappers can use.
It's important to state up front that the Vibe people were offering awards for the thump of the sound, not the beauty of the message. Note I don't call it music, because it isn't. They were celebrating "cutting-edge presentation and genre-expanding work in urban music." What did they mean by that?
The awards began with the rapper called "The Game" winning for "Hottest Hook" for a song called "Hate It Or Love It." The song has all the typical lyrics about glorious gang-banging for big money and how he used to threaten to kill people over Nike sneakers. When he won, he just had to declare from the stage that, "I want to thank God, from whom all blessings flow."
God must have been so pleased.
UPN viewers could then watch the R&B singer Chris Brown, who's just 16, with his song "Run It," boasting that he already has sexual skills: "Girl I can set you off ... I can definitely show you things/ that's gonna have you sayin' I can't be 16 / Once I get in, you won't wanna go." Before you dismiss him as a fringe element, consider that Brown's song hit No. 1 on the charts and is in heavy rotation on MTV and Black Entertainment Television. If that's not mainstream enough, the publicists say you can see him on Nickelodeon soon, and the Walt Disney World Christmas Day Parade.
The rapper T.I. won for Best Street Anthem for his song "U Don't Know Me." It's loaded up with the N-word and boasts about how nasty he is, and how he's going to shoot people in the side and cause a "slow leak."
It's only natural that in his victory speech, he, too, gave thanks to God.
Soon came the hurricane-remembrance segment of the program. After a few solemn words, UPN offered the stage to rappers from the South. But they weren't going to talk about bad weather or devastated homes. Louisiana's Li'l Wayne performed his song "The Fireman," with a reference to New Orleans (so hot you can "take a walk with Satan"), but mostly it was more of the musical same: "You catch my gal legs open, betta smash that / Don't be surprised if she asks where the cash at."
Then, rapper David Banner from Mississippi performed his hit "Play," while women clad in their underwear danced and rode exercise bikes sexily behind him. The lyrics were toned down dramatically from the CD, yet they were still explicit, with non-stop his and hers oral-sex metaphors ("licky, licky, like a peppermint swirl"). Banner's song asks his girlfriend to bring extra partners home so he can "knock 'em down 1, 2, 3." UPN let the millions of youngsters watching this show be entertained by this slug urging his girl to "masturbate for your boy."
Is this too wild for the mainstream? Think again. "Play" was a top 10 hit, now plays as a ringtone for cell phones, and a cleaned-up version has been purchased to promote the NBA.
And it was probably best that Banner didn't make hurricane pronouncements on national television. The Memphis Flyer reports he's written a new song called "Seein' Things," with this government-conspiracy lyric about Katrina: "I'm wondering if the feds broke the levee/Are they in with the devil to control the weather?"
If you're wondering why Viacom would be so shameless as to put on this display of sex and violence talk, it's this simple: UPN scored its best Tuesday rating in years (4.5 million viewers), including viewers 18 to 49. And UPN was the No. 1 network for teenagers that night, teens staring at the spectacle, having their "genre" expanded beyond recognition.