BET Experience 2013: Snoop, Kendrick, Miguel, J. Cole at Staples

Saturday night Staples Center played host to a wild ride of a hip-hop show, one whose focus was on the sound of Los Angeles and then some, delivered by a roster featuring two headliners who bookend generations -- Kendrick Lamar and Snoop Dogg -- a soulful singer, Miguel, whose future feels limitless, ascendent Crenshaw rapper Schoolboy Q and a whole lot of cameos.

Part of a lineup celebrating the inaugural BET Experience, a three-day festival put on by the Viacom-owned network, the bill offered not only proof of a talented new generation rising in Los Angeles, but of its place as part of a continuum.

In fact, the evening became a virtual celebration of Southern California -- even if North Carolinian upstart J. Cole’s mid-roster set was an impressive interruption. 

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I’ll have a full review of the show later Sunday, but here are a few highlights of the five-artist -- and guest-heavy -- bill.

Schoolboy Q is best known for his 2012 anthem "Hands on the Wheel," which had the meager early crowd (the show started before sunset) chanting along. The Crenshaw High grad is part of the same Top Dawg Entertainment roster as Kendrick Lamar, who guested on Schoolboy’s new single “Collard Greens.” The song’s not about sauteed veggies, though; it’s about -- what else? -- smoking weed. His performance of it, sans Lamar unfortunately, was a portent. By the end of the night clouds of weed smoke and vapor were wafting up from the crowd -- and from the stage.

Miguel was the only non-rapper on the bill, but his blistering set felt like the main event while it was happening. The San Pedro crooner wore his hair coiffed high and held his heart in his hand. The ladies swooned as he grabbed his microphone stand like he was dipping a lover during a slow dance, a singer growing ever more secure on stage through dancing, seducing and letting loose with a pitch-perfect wail. He seems built to entertain on a mass scale, and made the giant Staples Center feel like a dinner club. 

Walking onto the stage with wide eyes and a little smile on his face, J. Cole seemed wonderfully overwhelmed in front of the his fans. After performing a few tracks to a crowd standing and rhyming along, he got real. Listening in awe at the roars inside the sold-out home of the Lakers, he wondered, “Is this how Kobe be feeling?” 

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The crowd’s response suggested the affirmative. Cole’s just released a new album, "Born Sinner," that nearly outsold Kanye West’s newest, but he’s not nearly as surprising or daring as the Chicagoan -- even if Cole's gig for BET helped explain why he’s got a devoted audience. He gives them what they want: well-enunciated, if lyrically insular, slices of life.

Kendrick Lamar explored the world with much more verbal curiousity, and his set was pure proof that the road can build a performer fast. He entered the stage seeming overjoyed and filled with artistic fury, words pent up in his head ready to spill. 

He set was an announcement that a new boss is in town. Whether his instant L.A. classic “The Recipe,” in which he celebrated his city by listing his favorite things about it: “women, weed and weather," or his singalong narrative, "Bitch Don't Kill My Vibe," Lamar owned the arena. He was joined by compadre Jay Rock, but missing alongside him at this homecoming were fellow Black Hippy members Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul, an absence probably due to scheduling.

How was Snoop? As funky and charismatic as ever, someone whose history is marked by so many impressive tracks that he could pull a Bruce Springsteen and go all night.

His guests were many, and included the man who helped put him on the map in the early 1990s, Dr. Dre. Also landing onstage at one point or another: members of his Dogg Pound posse; longtime compadre Warren G (and on the video screen above, the late Nate Dogg); and rappers Future, Trinidad James and Ace Hood.

Did he need the help? No. Snoop was transfixing on his own. 


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Follow Randall Roberts on Twitter: @liledit


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