The BET Awards didn't begin with a bang but an extended bleep, as the censor police worked overtime during a performance by Kanye West's G.O.O.D Music group and Samuel L. Jackson and Spike Lee's parody of Jay-Z and West's hit song "... In Paris."
There were extended moments of muted silence as West, Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz performed "Mercy" (though not all the offending words were bleeped out. Moments later, Jackson, the show's host, was joined by Lee as they did their rendition of the West-Jay-Z hit, to laughs.
"Two distinguished Morehouse men," Lee joked after the performance, referencing the alma mater of the two.
West and Jay-Z won the ceremony's first award; At first, West arrived on stage
"I wish Jay-Z was here to say something politically correct for me," he said, before his mentor came to the stage.
Other early winners included Kevin Hart for best actor and Big Sean for best new artist.
West, who was up for seven awards, was the top nominee. Beyonce had six and her husband five. Beyonce was nominated twice for show's top award, video of the year, with "Love On Top" and "Countdown." Two collaborative songs by West and Jay-Z, "Otis" and "... in Paris," were also up for the prize. The fifth nominee is Usher's "Climax."
Nicki Minaj, Usher, Rick Ross and Chris Brown were set to perform.
The awards were to be Brown's first televised appearance since the New York City nightclub brawl between his entourage and Drake's. Brown, his girlfriend, his bodyguard and NBA star Tony Parker were among those injured in the June 14 encounter, where bottles were thrown.
Drake, however, isn't expected be at the event. Both singer-rappers are nominated for awards.
Common won the first honor of the night, picking up the Centric award, beating out Robin Thicke, Estelle and others. The award is given to a
The rapper accepted his trophy during the award's pre-show ceremony on the network; it also included Rick Ross, Kevin Hart, Trey Songz and Will Smith's daughter Willow, who premiered her new video.
The most-buzzed about performance, though, may be a tribute planned for Whitney Houston. It will include the late singer's mother, Cissy Houston, and other female singers, though BET didn't release those names.
The show scored its best ratings in 2009 when it paid tribute to Michael Jackson, who had died three days earlier. The event had 10.2 million viewers.
The 2012 BET Awards will air live from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles.
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Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.