Kanye West has a reputation for extravagant performances at the MTV Video Music Awards and even though he took it down a notch last night, he still made a statement. What appeared to be West's silhouette rapping in front of a random tree, was really him rapping in front of an image of an actual relic from a dark era in American history.
At the last minute during his performance, the G.O.O.D. Music rapper swapped out "Black Skinhead" for "Blood on the Leaves," which samples Nina Simone's cover of Billie Holiday's "Strange Fruit," and added the photo of a "lynching tree" as a visual interpretation of Holiday's 1939 recording, lyrics of which are inspired by the post-slavery treatment of African Americans in the South.
British photographer Steve McQueen snapped the tree which is rooted somewhere in New Orleans, but now hangs inside the Schaulager museum in Basel, Switzerland. West placed the photo on his site's homepage with this message: "those who were murdered are buried in the ground around the tree."
West's choice of imagery wasn't the only popular show moment, Justin Timberlake briefly reuniting with *NSYNC got a good amount of chatter. But the night's most-talked about set easily went to Robin Thicke's "Blurred Lines" performance, which featured a live twerk session from Miley Cyrus.
Click here for more show-stopping highlights from the 2013 VMA's.
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(Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage for MTV)