LAS VEGAS, NV - MAY 17:  Recording artist Kanye West performs onstage during the 2015 Billboard Music Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on May 17, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.  (Photo by Larry Busacca/BMA2015/Getty Images for dcp)

What did the Billboard Awards tell us about the current state of hip hop?

With Mitchell Turner

The Billboard awards; where Riff Raff and Katy Perry can channel their inner love of denim. The Billboard awards; where the tension between Harry Styles and Taylor Swift can be cut with a giant knife. The Billboard awards; where rap music gets no love.

Wait, you can scratch that last one. The 2015 Billboard Awards showed that hip-hop and the rap game itself is alive and well in the eyes of the mass audience. Sure, it might not always be hip hop of the calibre that we see in less-commercial arenas, but it’s nice to see that it’s still being represented quite heavily, even if half the rap awards weren’t even televised. So what exactly did we learn?

1. Kanye West is really, really good at being censored.

If you were like me, and tuned into the awards only for the slight hope that Kanye would perform a brand new song, you left feeling rather heartbroken. He performed two previously-heard singles – the new All Day, and Yeezus single Black Skinhead. Of course that’s not bad, a Kanye performance of any kind is hardly bad, but we were hoping for something new. His performance was also marred by over-excited smoke machines and fog that essentially stopped the audience from being able to see the performance – but considering his recent live shows have included performing an entire song lying on the floor, the hype around his big ‘fail’ is most likely missing the point entirely. To cap it off, the censor monkeys had a field day and muted/bleeped a solid minute of the performance – largely in huge chunks, you could be forgiven for thinking your TV had gone haywire. Although I would like to envision an intern falling asleep on top of a giant censor button, it is rather safe to assume that All Day and Black Skinhead are probably not the most appropriate songs for the young, mainstream audience.

Update: West responds to the heavy censorship

2. Even without a nomination, Kendrick is still a king

Although Kanye ended up giving us his best mime impression, Kendrick saved the day with a killer remix of Taylor Swift’s Bad Blood, performing front and centre for the starlets new video. And to be honest, it’s a pretty catchy song, and it’s nice to have a brief interlude from the Super Intense Kendrick we’ve been seeing so much of lately. The rap categories were mostly dominated by Iggy Azalea, Nicki Minaj, Kanye protege Big Sean and Drake, he stole the show as co-star in Taylor Swift’s video. As you’ll see by the above nominees (and the fact that Azalea was crowned Top Rap Artist and Top Rap Song for Fancy) the Billboard Music Awards are, well, a big load of horse shit, so I highly doubt K-dot is too bummed out about not scoring any of those sweet noms. Considering he’s won a Grammy and, most recently, a Generational Icon award from the California state senate, I don’t think he’ll be losing any sleep over this one.

3.There’s hope for hip hop: J. Cole received some love

Often forgotten amongst the Drakes and Kendricks of the world, J. Cole is the ever-present hard working MC that still provides some of the best lyrical work in the game (read our review of his brilliant album Forest Hills Drive.) Winning the award for best rap album gave the true hip-hop heads something to cheer about in between awkward celebrities presenting these awards, and served as the one and only beacon of light for strong, original, non-completely-commercial hip hop throughout the entire ceremony. A rapper who has quietly but surely cemented himself as an incredibly talented guy with widespread mass appeal – it’s not that easy to be popular both within the hip hop community and the mainstream – let’s all be happy that J Cole won. Even if it wasn’t televised.

4. Iggy Azalea is the best rapper for people who don’t really like rap.

We already mentioned it before, but it needed its own point. Iggy Azalea is a decent rapper and it’s great that she’s a female rapper who’s getting so much attention, but she’s nowhere near as good, or challenging as SO MANY other rappers out there. We’ve already discussed at length what the issue is with Azalea and cultural appropriation, but at the end of the day, it’s not even about that. Most rap fans simply aren’t going to dig her because her songs are good pop songs, but they’re not good rap songs. They’re hyper-sexual, they’re produced to the commercial high heavens, the subject matter and lyrics are either boring or stupid. Secondly, don’t be shocked or upset, it shouldn’t really come as a shock, considering that this is the BILLBOARD awards, IE charts and sales and tweens. Of course she was going to win. Big deal.

In any case, here’s the nominees she was up against for best rap track:

Iggy Azalea feat. Rita Ora, Black Widow
Big Sean feat. E-40, I Don’t F— With You
Nicki Minaj, Anaconda
Bobby Shmurda, Hot Boy

I mean…. Come on.These songs are insulting to hip hop. Fancy is easily the best song on that list.

5. Hip hop is more than just music: Empire

Probably the highlight of the night’s live performances was a medley from members of hit TV drama, ‘Empire.’ The highly acclaimed and incredibly popular show details the rise, fall, rise, fall, rise, fall etc of a hip hop mabel mogul and his hip hop family. The cast are a kind of hyper-dramatic blend of Jaden Smith, Frank Ocean, Jay-Z, Puff Daddy, Rihanna and Suge Knight among others, with guests ranging from Snoop, to Mary J Blige, to Estelle and more. Three cast members took to the stage to perform a medley of You’re So Beautiful and the soaring Conqueror. Easily one of the most talked-about shows of the past year, it’s taken the braggadocio and excess commonly described in R&B and rap, turned it into an insane TV show, ending up with one of the biggest crossover successes in memory. What’s more, the music of the show (largely written and produced by the great Timbaland) is infinitely better than almost ALL of the hip hop on display at the Billboard awards – certainly better than the five aforementioned nominees.