How Black Music Saved The World: A Night of Excellence in Las Vegas
There are countless quotes about the nature of time when it relates to artists, writers, and creatives honing their craft.
For some of us, there isn’t enough of it. And for others, they’re able to make great use of it despite only having a small bit for themselves.
When it comes to music, culture, and this writer specifically, the 2022 Grammys was a first-time experience for me that deserved a moment to breathe. Black artists and industry executives have consistently challenged the status quo these past few years to open up more opportunities for the next generation, and no time has been utilized better than how the Black Music Collective has done it.
Founded in 2020 and developed by Riggs Morales and former co-founder Jeriel Johnson, along with Recording Academy executives like CEO Harvey Mason Jr., Co-President Valeisha Butterfield Jones, and Vice President of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Ryan Butler, the Black Music Collective held its first major event on the eve of the 64th Annual Grammy Awards. To be in the room was one thing, to be in the room as an actual Grammy member was another. To be frank, to witness this cultural progression run in parallel to the work being done by honorary chairs John Legend, Debra Lee, Quincy Jones, and more meant a lot to me to see how committed they all are to driving change within the industry.
“[The Black Music Collective event is] a true celebration of Black excellence,” said Anu Sun, godson of the late Lionel Hampton, ahead of accepting the Grammys’ Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the legendary jazz great. “[To see] Black masters of their craft, decked out in all black, honoring one another’s contributions to the Arts is a beautiful thing,” he added.
At Resorts World Las Vegas, the black-tie affair was a high mark in what would be a three-day excursion into sound. “It’s been a long time coming, and I don’t feel great saying that,” Grammys CEO Harvey Mason Jr. said at the event, referencing how long it took just for this moment to arrive. “But now we’re finally here, so let’s celebrate.”
And celebrate we must.
For a first-timer such as myself, it was refreshing to be around leaders who spoke openly about new and emerging opportunities for Black people in and outside of the music industry. Before the ceremony started, the who’s who behind- and on the Billboard charts were discussing how Afrobeats will sweep the nation, why Black music is a hub for all genres to unify under, and discuss shared agendas meant to build a more enriched community.
“BMC was one of the greatest events during Grammy Weekend,” said Adam Blackstone, who also served as the evening’s musical director. “In my opinion, [the BMC] showcased the top who’s who and upcoming acts in R&B and hip hop, which shows why Black music is at the forefront of what’s hot in the culture, and I am looking forward to being a part of its growing lineage.”
John Legend, MC Lyte, D-Nice, and LVRN were the night’s honorees, which also featured performances by Chlöe, Jimmie Allen, Cordae, Summer Walker, and Muni Long, who earned a two-minute standing ovation for her hilarious flip of Boyz II Men’s “End of the Road.” “[Personally] I love clever covers,” Anu Sun shared about her performance. “How she flipped the tune, it lowkey, could introduce the song to an entirely new audience.” Mr. Blackstone, a Philly native, also remarked on the moment when it felt like humor had finally returned to R&B and Black music. “When I first heard Muni Long’s remix, I thought at first that she couldn’t touch that record [laughs]. But man, did she put her spin on that thing! From a woman’s perspective, [Muni] gave probably one of the most accurate descriptions of how some women feel after an intimate moment. It helps that her voice is incredible and that she literally can sing anything.”
With everyone in good spirits celebrating the past, present, and future achievements within Black music and culture, the historic night crystalized the increased influence that Black music will continue to make in America and abroad.
“I think the Recording Academy is making awesome strides in the area of inclusion,” Anu Sun said, speaking to the BMC’s goals and initiatives. “It has to be inspiring for young artists to see people that look like us in positions of power within the Recording Academy, and to know that there’s a large percentage of women and minority voters deciding who gets the Grammy nominations. This is the type of initiative that sparks and encourages the growth of music moguls for the next generation.”
However, that was just the tip of the iceberg.
From Yung Bleu flexing his growing influence to talk about his giveback program during Silk Sonic’s pre-Grammy Award-winning afterparty to watching Cordae and Terrace Martin reconnect after the pandemic kept them apart, the BMC highlighted just how, as said by MC Lyte, “There’s no better time to be a Black creator than now.” “The BMC has the potential to push all artists forward,” shared Mr. Blackstone, himself an Emmy nominated artist. “This is an event I feel like people are going to target when it comes to performing and might outshine the main show depending on who the audience is. We have the power at the BMC to propel people’s careers, to encourage voters for that upcoming Grammy season, and people are going to be surprised by how big this event will become.”
Throughout the weekend, there were no “Club Quarantine” vibes when it came to staying inside, and Las Vegas was proudly Black, bodacious, and beautiful. Almost everywhere you looked you saw people who looked like you, dressed to the nines, and happily engaging with one another. The importance of building a community amongst one another was a key theme that proved Black people will power the next waves of creativity for years to come.
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The next morning found me on the Grammys red carpet, a moment where glitz and glamor met with the eager press and a host of music-related questions. As part of BET.com, to stand amongst peers and performers alike was a new slew of firsts to never forget. With a reputation for attracting risqué and eye-popping fashions than almost any other major award ceremony, Black excellence was definitely on one as stars from stage and the studio arrived on the red carpet.
The event’s 64th edition, which was postponed due to COVID-19, gave everyone extra time to get their outfits in order. But for me, talking about the future was as special as seeing the elaborate numbers and freshly dyed hairdos. While double-nominee Saweetie stunned in a Valentino two-piece and Megan Thee Stallion whisked past looking immaculate in an animal print dress, I was speaking to the night’s biggest names about an array of topics from the 50th anniversary of hip hop, the future of Black artistry in entertainment, and more.
The pandemic felt like a distant memory as maskless celebrities were hugging, hi-fiving, and happy to be around one another for what seemed like a lifetime apart. The MGM Grand Garden Arena was a flag-planting occasion for today’s rising stars such as Doja Cat and Jazmine Sullivan, who would both later go on to win big, as well as for veteran stars like Angélique Kidjo, who had some poignant words to encapsulate what the Grammys should mean to all artists present. “If people don’t know their story, then you can be made a fool of by somebody,” she said after admiring my Black History-inspired rings. “When you know what has been taken away from you that your people have created, then it is up to you to stand up and show out.”
Speaking to bridge reconnecting Black Americans with the African diaspora through music, the Beninese singer-songwriter said, “I have been waiting for this moment for so long, it makes me happy to see everything coming together in love. We are thinking differently now and moving in unison. You cannot deny us anymore!” And she’s not wrong, as right before the Grammys hype began, Billboard partnered with Afro Nation to chart Afrobeats’ impact on the U.S. charts. Jidenna, one of the architects behind introducing African riddims domestically, felt that the moment was a “dream come true,” adding, “It is the start of what’s to come from Africa. There are a lot of people and a lot of genres that come from the continent, from the Caribbean, and from the UK, and we’re now going to see the strength and power of our voices.
In 2023, all of that energy will be amplified when hip hop turns 50. BJ The Chicago Kid, who has been a part of some well-appreciated classics by the culture, said, “I can’t remember a time when I was not in love with hip hop. It’s always been in my life.” Such sentiments were mirrored by Grandmaster Flash, Fivio Foreign, and Philip Lawrence, 8-time Grammy Award singer-songwriter and host of Come Dance With Me for CBS, who said of the upcoming anniversary that “all of our heroes will be honored.”
And upon my exiting the red carpet for the press room, where later that night Jazmine Sullivan and SZA would take home big wins for Heaux Tales and “Kiss Me More,” respectively, the mood was exuberant and a mark of how much Black music saved the world through the pandemic with purpose and positivity. Dressed in a black and white printed suit and rectangular sunglasses, Sullivan, who almost didn’t believe she won, was overjoyed when she arrived downstairs to talk to the media. She elaborated on the impact of Heaux Tales and doubled down on how important her art is in becoming “a safe space for Black women,” while SZA, the TDE star who’d take home her first Grammy alongside Doja Cat, graced the step-and-repeat on crutches.
The untimely injury wasn’t enough to stop Sister Solana from carrying that winning experience into the room. “I fell out of bed right before it was time to leave and get ready for this,” she said. “But that’s the way it goes. Everything awesome in my life has always come with something very random, but it just adds to the energy.”
What a time to be alive, right?
Kevin L. Clark is a screenwriter and entertainment director for BET Digital, who covers the intersection of music, film, pop culture, and social justice. Follow him on @KevitoClark.