DANNY MOLOSHOK / AP Enlarge
LOS ANGELES T-Pain transformed the BET Awards into a circus last night with a multiartist medley that showed the rapper and singer s wide-ranging influence on urban music.
Wearing a spangled top hat, T-Pain nominated for a leading five BET Awards shared the stage with fellow nominees Flo Rida, Rick Ross, Ludacris, and Big Boi, along with a bevy of big-top performers, including fire eaters and acrobats.
This industry is my circus, said T-Pain. Ride with the ringleader.
Then T-Pain whose nominations came not for his own hits but for his collaborations with others, and whose vocoder-assisted voice is among the most ubiquitous in urban music gave a sample of his musical assists over the past year.
Double nominee Flo Rida performed his hit with T-Pain, Low ; a bare-chested Ross flaunted his gut while singing his song with T-Pain, Boss ; and all joined in on the collaborative I m So Hood.
Not to be outdone, the ladies offered a showstopping performance of their own, led by double nominee Alicia Keys. Rocking a sleek bob and skintight jeans, Keys invited vintage girl groups SWV, En Vogue, and TLC to join her onstage for a medley of their biggest hits. By the time they closed with TLC s Waterfalls, the crowd at the Shrine Auditorium was on its feet. Even Kanye West was singing along.
West won two awards: best male hip-hop artist and best collaboration for Good Life, his song with T-Pain. And unlike past award shows, he didn t use his appearance to boost himself at least that much. Instead, he praised T-Pain, calling him a genius.
The rapper also paid homage to fellow nominee Lil Wayne when he won best male hip-hop artist: West called him my fiercest competition. The New Orleans-based rapper last week sold 1 million copies of Tha Carter III for the year s best sales debut.
A somber moment came when UGK was named best group. Bun B honored his fallen bandmate, Pimp C, who died in December at age 33 from complications of sleep apnea.
Usher opened the show with a bang literally.
Pyrotechnics filled the auditorium as the singer performed Love in this Club from his latest album, Here I Stand. The highly choreographed set, which featured Usher pop-locking, gyrating and grooving his way across the stage with a bevy of voluptuous dancers, gave the show a high-energy start.
Host D.L. Hughley s opening monologue was a little less explosive his jokes about Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama, the recently acquitted R. Kelly, and President Bush fell flat but he didn t slow the pace of the performance-heavy show.
Key collaborations kept the show buzzing along.
Singer and BET reality star Keyshia Cole gave a glamorous performance of her ballad Heaven Sent, descending from the ceiling while wearing a long flowing gown, before a dancer ripped it off, revealing a white top and shorts as she sang her hit Let It Go with Lil Kim.
West rapped alongside Young Jeezy in performance that was marked by its omissions censors muted much of their performance.34.05349 -118.2453