Plus, Jussie Smollett's return, Brandy's surprise appearance with Jack Harlow, and Mariah Carey joins Latto's "Big Energy."
As expected, the presenters and winners and even the night's host did not shy away from addressing the landmark Supreme Court decision that rocked America over the weekend at Sunday night's BET Awards.
On Friday, the nation's highest court overturned Roe v Wade after nearly 50 years. The decision removed the right to an abortion at the national level, effectively stripping it from women in many states; with several other states lining up to join those numbers.
Host Taraji P. Henson wasted no time slamming SCOTUS, getting into it during her monologue. She was followed quickly by the night's first presenter and winner.
Throughout the night, other women would join the clarion call for action, with Jazmine Sullivan calling on men to speak up, speak out and join the fight. For the most part, the men that night did not take her up on that plea.
The night also featured a couple of huge surprise appearances, with Jack Harlow joined onstage by Brandy following their brief online feud, such as it was, as well as Lil Wayne. Jussie Smollett spoke out from the red carpet about "expanding [his] Empire."
Later, Mariah Carey dropped in for a surprise appearance during Latto's performance, while Kanye West actually showed an ability to joke about Kim Kardashian during his surprise appearance to honor Diddy with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Taking the stage as host for this year's festivities, Taraji P. Henson quickly became the first of several on the night to speak out against the Supreme Court's Friday decision to overturn Roe v Wade, reverting abortion rights to the state level. Several have already enacted laws outlawing the procedure.
Following Lizzo's show-stopping, show-opening performance of "About Damn Time," Taraji said it was about damned time Lizzo got all the applause and praise she deserved for her artistry and her activism.
"That's how you start a show!" Taraji said after Lizzo's performance. "All this body positivity up in here."
She then added, "And also thank you, Lizzo, for pledging $1 million to Planned Parenthood. That's right and you're damn right, it's about damn time!"
Just hours after the ruling became official, Lizzo pledged to donate $500,000 from her upcoming tour to Planned Parenthood and Abortion Rights, with Live Nation agreeing to match her donation, reaching that $1 million mark.
Taraji then went on to say that it's also "about damned time we step into our power," referring to the landmark SCOTUS ruling. "It's about damned time that we talk about [how] guns have more power than women in America."
"It's a sad day in America. A weapon that can take lives has more power than a woman who can give life -- if she chooses to," Taraji said. "It's about damned time I got that off my chest."
Janelle Monae Leads More Protests with Hearty 'F--- You!'
The shout-outs against the landmark ruling continued after Taraji's opening, with Janelle Monae sending a dual message during Pride. She was the first presenter to hit the stage after Taraji's monologue.
"I’d like to give a special, special shoutout to Black women, to Black queer artists, to Black nonbinary artists," she said. "These artists making art on our own terms, owning our truths and expressing ourselves freely and unapologetically in a world that tries to control and police our bodies, my body; and our decisions, my decision."
She emphatically added, "F--- you Supreme Court," offering the high court her middle finger (and giving the live broadcast's censors something to do). Her message was quickly followed by the winner of her category, Best R&B Pop Artist, Jazmine Sullivan.
After saying she does this for the women, Jazmine's message was actually for men. "It’s a hard time right now for us, and I want to speak directly to the men: We need y’all," she told them. "We need y’all to stand up. Stand up for us, stand up with us."
"If you have ever benefited from a woman making one of the toughest decisions of her life, which is to terminate a pregnancy, you need to be standing with us," she insisted. "This is not just a woman’s issue. This is everybody’s issue, and we need your support more than ever."
It was a theme that continued through virtually every woman that took the stage. After winning Best New Artist, Latto said, "It's about giving pro-choice. It's about never giving in to a man policing my body."
"Sistas" star Novi Brown later added, "In light of the recent reversal of Roe v. Wade and political events affecting our nation, it’s time for 'sistas' across the world to join hands and lift our voices."
Kanye West Jokes About Kim Kardashian, Honors Diddy
Kanye West was a huge surprise for BET Awards fans, with the iconic rapper showing up toward the end of the show to honor his "favorite artist" Diddy with a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Appearing almost fully covered in a face mask and dark sunglasses, Kanye spoke about how influential and inspirational Diddy was as an artist when he was coming up in the industry.
"I go to him for advice to this day. He inspires so many of my choices," Diddy said. He then cracked a joke at the expense of ex-wife Kim Kardashian, adding, "So many of my life choices, my wife choices, and here we are."
Most of Kanye's speech was genuinely praising the rapper and music mogul. "This man has survived a lot of stuff and broke down a lot of doors so we could be here today," he said. "He broke down so many doors about classism, taste, culture, swag. Puff, if I never told you, I love you."
Jack Harlow Joined by Brandy, Lil Wayne
Put some respect on the vocal bible’s name! 🔥 Brandy reminded Jack Harlow exactly who she was, joining him on stage with her remix of “First Class.” #BETAwardspic.twitter.com/KijnntilsO
Relatively new to the scene himself, Jack Harlow surrounded himself with hip-hop and R&B legends for his first-ever performance at the BET Awards. Performing a medley of his songs "Poison" and "First Class," Lil Wayne dropped in to perform his verse from the first track.
It was more of a surprise during the second song when Brandy joined Jack onstage, and even joined him with some of her dance moves as he performed the track's famous two-step.
It was a sweet way to put to rest their mini-feud after Jack admitted via social media that he was unfamiliar with her body of work. During the red carpet, Jack showed support for Lil Nas X by sporting a t-shirt with his friend on it after Nas X's snub this year.
"wow I really love this man," tweeted Lil Nas X in response to a shot of Jack wearing the shirt, per ET.
Jussie Smollett Returns, Excited to Expand His Empire
Don't call it a comeback, even though that's basically exactly what it is. Disgraced "Empire" star Jussie Smollett was at the BET Awards in anticipation of his upcoming directorial effort for BET+, "B-Boy Blues."
It was Jussie's first major appearance after he served a brief prison sentence for filing a false police report in 2019. Jussie had claimed he was the victim of a recent attack, but those claims were quickly questioned, doubted and ultimately rejected.
"You know, I've never thought of myself as working my way back," Jussie told ET on the red carpet. "It's always been the plan to expand my empire, so to speak, to expand the level of what I do."
The director told the outlet he was excited "to be able to usher in a new generation of artists and actors and these amazing talents; that's what is feeding me." He also teased upcoming music.
He then shared some words of appreciation for family, fans and friends who stood by him through his legal ordeal. "I tell them just, with all my heart, just thank you," he said. "They never wavered. They never straddled the fence and for that I'm forever grateful. I don't take that lightly."
"My family, my friends, the true ones, supporters, it's just, you know-- If I never get to hug you in person, just know there's a hug in my heart that I genuinely, genuinely mean," he added.
Latto offered up a live remix, so to speak, of her hit "Big Energy," which already samples Mariah Carey's "Fantasy." Only this time, the song featured not only Mariah's iconic music, but her iconic pipes, as well.
First, Young Dirty Bastard came out with a nod to his father Old Dirty Bastard's verse from Mariah's original track before Latto set the stage for her surprise appearance with a new verse.
"Imma be your fantasy / You ain't gonna believe this / Hold up, got Mimi on the remix!" And with that, the stage lit up and stunned the crown with the appearance of Mimi herself, who quickly proved she could still hit all those crazy high notes.
She even got a hug and flowers from the Best New Artist winner, who is clearly a huge fan, after they shared the special moment together. "I love you!" a clearly excited Latto told her.