Many artists tend to remember the first major award they've received in their career, and for that lucky select few, it's the trophy for Best New Artist. While this award may be considered a curse in some spaces, for those who have won the BET Award in this category, throughout the years, their careers have only continued to flourish.
Following the success of his 2000-released debut album, Country Grammar, Nelly took home the first Best New Artist award in 2001. Since then, he has released six more albums with the latest being released in 2013. He's gone on to star in 2005's The Longest Yard and 2014's Reach Me. He entered the reality TV circuit in 2012 and has been participating ever since, appearing in The Next: Fame Is at Your Doorstep, Real Husbands of Hollywood, Nellyville and The Platinum Life.
Alicia Keys was next in line for the coveted trophy, earning it after the release of her 2001-released debut album, Songs in A Minor. Since then, she has released five albums, with her latest, Here, dropping in 2016. She has embarked on seven tours and made stints on several television shows throughout the course of her career. Outside of creating original music, the acclaimed musician has starred in the celebrated 2008 film The Secret Life of Bees and has served as both a mentor and coach on The Voice. She married producer and rapper Swizz Beatz in 2010. They currently have two children together.
50 Cent won the award in 2003, the same year his debut album, Get Rich or Die Tryin', was released. He has dropped four full-length solo albums since then, with the latest, Animal Ambition, being released in 2014. While 50's music career solidified him as one of the most respected rappers in the game, he's exclusively secured a lane for himself in television in most recent years. He's appeared in a slew of films, including Southpaw and Den of Thieves, but it is his role as Kanan Stark in the hit Starz series Power, which he both stars in and executive produces, that many currently attribute to his brand.
Kanye West has built quite the prolific career since his Best New Artist win in 2004. Following the release of his debut album, The College Dropout, that same year, the rapper hit the ground running, releasing seven solo studio albums, two collaborative albums (Watch the Throne with Jay-Z and Kids See Ghosts with Kid Cudi), and one compilation album (Cruel Summer). He has headlined seven tours and has gone on to become one of the most decorated rappers in history, boasting 21 Grammy Awards. In 2007, the rapper suddenly lost his mother, Donda West, due to complications from cosmetic surgery. Seven years after that tragedy, he married beauty mogul Kim Kardashian. The two share four children together. Though the rapper has had some ups and downs with the social public — more downs than ups, as of late — he remains one of the best rappers today.
John Legend is another musician who has become quite the force since his win. After scoring the coveted award in 2005 following the release of his debut album, Get Lifted, the year prior, he has released five studio albums and has embarked on five tours. His music gradually saw him continue to receive recognition from several other prestigious groups, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 2015, as he won the Oscar for co-writing the song "Glory" from the film Selma. Two years later, he received a Tony Award for co-producing Jitney for the Broadway stage and received a Primetime Emmy Award, a year after that, for his portrayal as Jesus Christ in the NBA adaptation of Jesus Christ Superstar. In addition to winning 10 Grammys throughout the course of his career, he currently stands as the first Black man to reach EGOT status and the second youngest to achieve this feat. He married model Chrissy Teigen in 2013. They currently have two children together.
Chris Brown won the award for Best New Artist in 2006 following the release of his self-titled debut album. The singer quickly gained a reputation of being a one-of-a-kind entertainer for his energetic sets. To date, he has nine albums in his discography, with his 10th set to release on June 21 of this year. Brown has gone on to star in a few high-profile films and television projects including Takers, Stomp the Yard, This Christmas and The O.C.
Jennifer Hudson stands as a rare case as she won the BET Award for Best New Artist in 2007 without having had released an original music project of her own at the time. The singer and actress earned the award based on the merit of her rousing performance in the 2006-released blockbuster smash Dreamgirls, where she played Effie White and won an Oscar for her work in the film. A year after her BET Awards win, she released her debut self-titled album and has since released two LPs in 2011 and 2014. J. Hud has soared in Hollywood since her introduction to the scene, having starred in the likes of Sex and the City, The Secret Life of Bees, Winnie Mandela, Black Nativity, Chi-Raq, and Sing. She is currently a coach on The Voice UK, and served as a judge on The Voice U.S. for seasons 13 and 15. She shares one child with her ex-fiancée David Otunga.
Super-producer The-Dream earned the award following the release of his debut album, Love Hate, in 2007. He has gone on to release five studio albums since then, but has shined mostly over the years for his genius songwriting abilities. He has penned or co-penned some of the most iconic songs in the 2000s and 2010s, including Rihanna's "Umbrella," Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It) and "Partition," Ciara's "Ride," Justin Bieber's "Baby" and Britney Spears' "Me Against the Music."
Keri Hilson received the award for Best New Artist the year she released her debut album, In a Perfect World..., following years of working behind the scenes as an accomplished songwriter. She has since released just one more studio album in 2010 titled No Boys Allowed. Later that year she released a remix to her hit song "Turnin' Me On," with many accusing her of taking aim at Beyoncé in its lyrics. She has taken a hiatus from recording since then, appearing in four films between 2012 and 2017. However, in 2019 she teased that she is working on an album titled L.I.A.R. that will be released soon.
Since her 2010 Best New Artist win, Nicki Minaj has become a household name and one of the leading forces in hip-hop. After winning the award, following the release of her well-received debut effort, Pink Friday, the femcee released three more albums, with the latest, Queen, being released in 2018. The Trinidad-born rapper seamlessly built her brand as an entrepreneur, having released several fragrances and her own clothing collection at K-Mart. She has headlined four tours and has appeared in four feature films throughout her career, with the latest, The Angry Birds Movie 2, set to release later this year.
Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa won the award in 2011 following the release of his third studio album, Rolling Papers. The album saw him gain major critical acclaim as it spawned the song many may dub his breakout single, "Black and Yellow," which peaked at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. In total, Wiz Khalifa boasts seven albums in his discography, with four being released after Rolling Papers. In March 2015, he earned yet another No. 1 single with the release of "See You Again'' for the soundtrack for the film Furious 7. On the personal front, Wiz began dating model Amber Rose in 2011 and the two wed the following year. Rose filed for divorce in 2014. The two share an adorable son together named Sebastian.
Big Sean won the award for Best New Artist the year after the release of his debut album, Finally Famous. Since then, he has released four additional albums and has become one of the most sought-after and digitally streamed rap artists today. On the personal front, Big Sean dated three popular figures in entertainment, former Glee actress Naya Rivera, pop star Ariana Grande, and singer Jhené Aiko.
Kendrick Lamar has become one of the most revered figures in hip-hop since his 2013 Best New Artist win. The rapper snagged the award following the release of his sophomore effort Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City in 2012. Since then, his work has received major critical acclaim, especially his two most recent LPs, To Pimp a Butterfly and Damn. The Compton-raised rapper has won 13 Grammys to date and has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time in 2016. Even more impressively, his 2018 effort, Damn, became the first non-classical and non-jazz album to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Music.
R&B singer August Alsina was awarded the Best New Artist award in 2014 following the release of his debut album, Testimony. Since then, he has released one additional album in 2015 titled This Thing Called Life. Alsina took a break from music for a few years to take care of his health after revealing his battle with genetic liver disease in 2017.
English singer-songwriter Sam Smith was awarded the trophy for Best New Artist following the release of his debut album, In the Lonely Hour. The album, which spawned hits including "Stay With Me" and "I'm Not the Only One," was classified as a bridge between R&B and pop for some, seeing lovers of the former genre gravitate towards his sound. Since then, he has released one additional album in 2018 titled The Thrill of It All. Most recently, he released the song "Dancing With a Stranger," with former Fifth Harmony member Normani, which is set to be the lead single for his forthcoming third studio album. Outside of music, Smith came out as genderqueer in 2017, saying he has never classified himself as being a "typical man" or cisgender.
Bryson Tiller first burst onto the scene in 2015 coining his own genre with the title of his debut album, Trapsoul. The album birthed his breakout single, "Don't," which became a massive radio hit for months following its initial release. Since then, Tiller has released two more albums and has collaborated with the likes of Rihanna and DJ Khaled on their 2017 single, "Wild Thoughts."
Chance the Rapper has been releasing his music independently since his first release in 2012 titled 10 Day. Three mixtapes later, with the release of 2016's Coloring Book, which spawned the crossover hit "No Problem," he received critical acclaim. He earned three Grammy awards for the project and the mixtape became the first streaming-only project to win a golden gramophone. In addition to his music career, Chance the Rapper is also a social activist in the city of Chicago where he lives.
SZA was largely popular in the underground music scene for some time, following the release of her debut EP, See.SZA.Run, in 2012. After releasing her second EP, she was signed to the hip-hop record label Top Dawg Entertainment in 2013, where she released her third EP, Z. After four years of perfecting her full-length debut LP, she released Ctrl in 2017 to universal critical acclaim from both critics and consumers alike. Led by single "Love Galore" featuring Travis Scott, the album saw SZA enter the mainstream music market as a force and saw her earn her first award at a major awards show: the 2018 BET Award in the category for Best New Artist.
The 2019 BET Awards airs on Sunday, June 23, at 8:00 p.m. on BET.
(Header photos from left: M. Caulfield/WireImage, M. Caulfield/WireImage, Photo by Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for BET)