With the BET Awards airing this Sunday, we explore 2001’s inaugural ceremony which marked OutKasts first win as a group – which proved to be a precursor for even largest success and acceptance by those tasked with evaluating the hip-hop genre.
At the time of the first BET Awards – which came over 20 years after the network was launched by Robert Johnson – OutKast had yet to receive any recognition for their work despite having already released classic albums like Southernplayalisticadillacmuzik, ATLiens and Aquemini in only a four-year period. However, 2001 proved to be a time when the duo were buoyed by their most recent album, Stankonia, which was universally celebrated and sold over 500,000 copies when it was released in October – and would generate 3 million units in sales by summer.
On June 19, hip-hop’s elite, actors, gospel singers and more gathered at the Paris Hotel in Las Vegas to toast the achievements of the year. Destiny’s Child, Musiq Soulchild, Jay Z , Nelly, Mary J. Blige, Eve, and Donnie McClurkin were all nominated and went on to win in categories spanning achievements as groups, to wins for Best New Artist. Additionally, Denzel Washington racked up a win for Remember the Titans, Allen Iverson raised a statuette for Male Athlete of the Year, and Whitney Houston was bestowed with a lifetime achievement award.
In a pre-YouTube era, the music video was still a big budget affair and “going viral” wasn’t on any marketing department’s radar. For the Video of the Year category, OutKast’s “Ms. Jackson” was joined by other competitors like Destiny’s Child’s “Independent Woman Part 1,” Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode,” Eminem’s “Stan” and Janet Jackson’s “All For You” which today have racked up more than 200 million views on the digital platform.
The video for “Ms. Jackson” was the vision of F. Gary Gray who is currently putting the finishing touches on the N.W.A biopic, Straight Outta Compton, and who became music video royalty when he won Best Video of the Year at the 1995 MTV Music Video Awards for directing TLC’s “Waterfalls.” In a 2010 interview with GQ, Gray said, “”Outkast wanted me to film ‘Bombs Over Baghdad,’ but ‘Ms. Jackson’ really stood out to me. I said, ‘If you’re going to do a video for “Ms. Jackson,” let me do it.’ You never know if it’s going to work—animals bobbing their heads to the music and the guys fixing an old, broken-down house? But people really got it.”
The origins of the actual song stem from André 3000’s relationship with the mother of Erykah Badu – with whom he fathered a child with in 1997. According to a 2002 interview with Atlanta Journal-Constitution journalist Craig Seymour, Benjamin explained that his music was a way to tell Ms. Wright (Badu’s mother) – who he famously co-starred with in the video for Badu’s 1997 single “Next Lifetime” – that he was, in fact, sorry for what happened between him and her daughter. “I probably would never come out and tell Erykah’s mom, ‘I’m sorry for what went down.'” André 3000 said. “But music gives you the chance to say what you want to say. And her mom loved it. She’s like, ‘Where’s my publishing check?'”
Following OutKast’s win at the inaugural BET Awards, they would also with for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group at the 44th Grammy Awards – beating out notable challengers like the Gorillaz’s “Clint Eastwood” and Jay Z’s “Change the Game” – as well as the award for Best Rap Album for Stankonia.