Da Art of Storytellin': On The Importance of BET Narrating Our Music History

A photo of Andre Harrell's Uptown Records, including Mary J. Blige, Heavy D, Christopher Williams, Jodeci, and Puff Daddy (aka Diddy).

A photo of Andre Harrell's Uptown Records, including Mary J. Blige, Heavy D, Christopher Williams, Jodeci, and Puff Daddy (aka Diddy).

I can't stress the importance of us telling our own creative stories, especially on platforms that cater to us.

BET improved its programming in a big way in 2016 by starting #HustleTuesdays, a block of programming on Tuesday nights all about music bosses. The block includes four shows: "The BET Life Of," "Inside The Label," "Chasing Destiny" (hosted by Kelly Rowland), and "Music Moguls." All of these shows share the stories of creative progressions of black people in the music industry.  

The first episode of "Inside The Label," which discussed Andre Harrell's Uptown Records, is what encouraged me to write this post. I saw the promo for it and immediately was so excited about it. Fortunately, tweets on my timeline the hour before the show started reminded me to tune in, so I was able to do some live-tweeting through its two hour premiere. Long story short, it was a really good introduction to the label's rise, successes, and its fall. However, as much as I like the concept and execution of the show (thus far), it's unfortunate that I'm so excited by this show. Why? Because it should be a normal thing, especially on BET. 

BET was once the first black-owned network known for being a safe haven and awesome place for content for Black people. It was our only television outlet for a long time that was important in telling our stories and controlling our narrative. We received a wide range of Black content from the network, which made BET one of the channels that my family watched often together as I grew up.  

With changes in ownership in 2001 and constant changes in popular culture, the programming changed. It wasn't terrible at first, but as the years went on, it became really hard to watch BET on a regular basis. The programming didn't (and sometimes it still doesn't) connect with me anymore because it lacked diversity (probably because their age demographics changed). So, the only time I really watch the network is for the BET award shows (because, as you all know, there aren't many mainstream award shows dedicated to Black culture or to the successes of Black people). It's important that BET gets back to telling more of our diverse stories in spaces where they aren't amplified.

In relations to this site and this post, it's even more important that we tell our creative stories. I know that storytelling is an important part of hip-hop, but storytelling shouldn't be limited to our music. This reason is exactly why BET's current Tuesday programming is important. I can't recall a BET show, other than shows like "106 & Park," "Rap City," and the like, that shared the stories of Black creatives, music or otherwise. This is why shows like "Unsung" on TVOne and "Being" on Centric are so important in Black creatives sharing their stories: they're not the norm, especially of artists and labels that are still existing and shaping the music industry. It was long overdue for BET to have programming that points out the contributions of creatives that are still here, creating, that connects to a broad crowd. I would love to see BET continue this narrative by telling the stories of more independent music creatives that do not get recognized on a major scale, here in the U.S. and abroad.

I know people will continuously criticize BET for its ownership and connection to Viacom, especially in connection to the network's declining and sometimes one sided conversations. But, I choose to look at the better programming, particularly on music creatives, as a glass half full, not half empty. Hopefully, Inside The Label and all of the other shows dedicated to sharing stories on Black music creatives can continue to be shared more often.