Since 2001, the BET Awards have been doling out Best Male and Female Hip Hop Artist Awards (except for 2007, more on that later) every year. If you are recognizing the best in entertainment from Black artists, it is impossible to not include the most popular musical genre in the world.
On June 28th at 8 PM EST, we will find out who will hold the crown at the 2020 BET Awards. In the meantime, take a trip down memory lane to see who the past winners were and who they beat out for the top spot. There’s tons of interesting trivia and nostalgia here for hip hop heads and casual listeners.
It’s no surprise that Nicki Minaj has the most nominations and wins for the Best Female Hip Hop Artist category, but guess who comes in second. For the fellas, there’s a tie for most wins and the person with the most nominations is not one of them.
The self-proclaimed “pitbull in a skirt” beat out Da Brat, Lil Kim, Missy Elliott, and Trina to take home the inaugural Best Female Hip Hop Award in 2001. Her platinum-selling album Scorpion was riding high on the charts that year, propelled by the success of “Who’s That Girl” and “Let Me Blow Ya Mind.”
Before Jay-Z was a billionaire businessman with a wife and three kids, he was a guy in a bucket hat and a big white t-shirt shouting out his friends as he won the Best Male Hip Hop Artist Award. He performed a medley of hits, including “I Just Wanna Love You” and later that fall, he dropped The Blueprint.
Missy Elliott lost in 2001, but she came out on top in 2002. Missy was all over the radio with major hits like “Get Ur Freak On” and “One Minute Man.”
Ja Rule got some help from the ladies for his 2002 win. He was riding high on the charts for his collaborative hits “I’m Real” (Murder Remix) featuring Jennifer Lopez and “Always on Time” featuring Ashanti. Jay-Z and Nas, who were also nominated that year, had to take a backseat.
Once again, Missy snagged the top spot for women in rap. Her double-platinum, Grammy-winning album Under Construction, featured infectious monster hits like “Work It.”
Meanwhile, 50 Cent’s massive Get Rich or Die Tryin' album spawned a slew of mega-hits like “What Up Gangsta” and “In Da Club.”
Missy again! Missy’s music and perhaps more importantly, her music videos were simply impossible to ignore. She accomplished all of this while still writing hits for other artists. Impressive! Jay-Z grabbed the top spot for his work on The Black Album. “99 Problems,” “Encore,” and “Dirt off Your Shoulders” were club staples. Hov announced that he was retiring after this album, but obviously that didn’t happen. A young man by the name of Kanye West won Best New Artist in 2004. Jay-Z has the most nominations in the Best Male Hip Hop Artist category at 10.
Remy Ma had a reason to be “Conceited” in 2005. She beat out Jacki-O, Miri Ben-Ari, and Shawnna to be crowned the Best Female Hip Hop Artist that year. Kanye West was still riding high from his 2004 album debut The College Dropout and there was a lot of buzz about his sophomore album Late Registration, which came out later in the summer. The icing on the cake? Ye bested his mentor/brother Jay-Z to win this 2005 award.
At this point, it’s more shocking if Missy Elliott doesn’t win. But heat like “Lose Control” tearing up the radio airwaves, it’s no wonder she took home the top prize for so many years. The Grammy-nominated single “What You Know” from T.I.’s album King was coming out of every car speaker that summer.
There was no Best Female Hip Hop Artist Award in 2007. Around this same time, many other major award shows had also ceased to make a separate category for women in hip hop. The reasoning offered was generally that there simply was not enough output from female rap artists to justify having a category. Ouch! On the men’s side, T.I. won yet again, beating out the likes of Lil Wayne, Jay-Z, Diddy, and Ludacris.
And we’re back! With the Best Female Hip Hop Artist Award back in play, Missy Elliott was the go-to person. As you might have guessed by now, Missy has the second-most wins in this category. Kanye West was the winner for the fellas. Ye’s Graduation album was full of hits, including “Stronger” and “Can’t Tell Me Nothing.”
M.I.A. (not to be confused with singer Mya), swept past just two other nominees (Trina and Lil Mama) to earn the top spot in 2009 for female rappers. “Paper Planes” was everywhere in the clubs at that time. Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter III album was critically acclaimed and he was putting out very well-received mixtapes at the time. 2009 was a special year for the BET Awards. Michael Jackson had passed away just three days before the ceremony and the show’s producers worked miracles to put together a fitting tribute. Even Janet Jackson said a few words at the end of the evening.
Here begins the Nicki Minaj era for this category. People took notice of her mixtapes and appearances with her Cash Money crew. They would pay even more attention later in 2010 when her debut album Pink Friday dropped. Nicki was often compared to Lil Kim, who she beat out in the Best Female Hip Hop Artist category in 2010.
Drake’s Thank Me Later album featuring hits like “Fancy” and “Miss Me,” made his win unsurprising.
With her Pink Friday album firmly in the world by then, Nicki Minaj took the crown in 2011, flying high off of hits such as “Super Bass” and “Moment 4 Life.” Kanye tried a different vibe for his My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy album and it was a gamble that worked. One of the singles from the album, “Monster,” even featured Nicki Minaj.
There’s no denying the impact of Nicki Minaj and Drake. It also helped that there was a chemistry between the two (not to mention lap dances) that kept fans wondering if they were actually dating in real life or not.
Surprise (to no one)! Nicki wins again. “Starships” from her Pink Friday: Roman Reloaded album skyrocketed straight to the top of the charts. Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City swept through the industry like wildfire. People were drawn to his flow and thought-provoking skits. “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe,” “Swimming Pools (Drank),” were big hits for the Compton rapper.
Nicki Minaj scored a big hit “Anaconda,” a song that payed homage to Sir-Mix-A-Lot’s 1992 hit “Baby Got Back.” To Pimp a Butterfly was Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy-winning album filled with a dizzying amount of hit tracks. “Alright” has been the anthem for many of the Black Lives Matter protests currently underway to combat police brutality.
2016 is the last year that Nicki Minaj and Drake scored the top prize in hip hop at the same time.
Remy Ma’s feature on “All the Way Up” was in every club known to man in 2017. So much so, that she managed to beat out Cardi B., Missy Elliott, Young M.A., and Nicki Minaj. The Damn album from Kendrick Lamar had hits like “Humble” and "Loyalty."
Cardi B's “Bodak Yellow” song took over the summer of 2017 and by 2018, when her debut album dropped, the Bronx rapper came prepared, she even earned a Best Rap Album Grammy. Kendrick Lamar was still riding off of the Damn album and his dynamic performances. Drake and Kendrick Lamar are tied for the most wins in the Best Male Hip Hop Artist category at four each.
By 2019, Cardi B had made a name for herself in music and has become something of a fashion darling. Her songs and videos for “Money” and “Please Me” made fans old and new take notice. Are we entering the Cardi B era? Nipsey Hussle was shot and killed just months before the BET Awards in 2019. His family accepted his award on his behalf and there was a musical tribute in his honor.
(Photo credit should read JEAN-BAPTISTE LACROIX/AFP via Getty Images)