At the BET Hip Hop Awards show broadcast on Oct. 15, the Compton kid Kendrick Lamar won five trophies, Canada’s Drake picked up four, and Corey Charron was conspicuous by his absence.
Earlier this year, Ottawa rapper Charron battled uphill to defeat a series of American rappers in the head-to-head rap competition Freestyle Friday, televised by the Black Entertainment Network (BET) this spring. He faced nationalistic vitriol from his rhyme-spitting opponents, but gave it back defiantly. “I came from Canada to raise my voice,” he declared in the contest’s final round. He raised his voice indeed, formidably enough to win $5,000 and the prized opportunity to appear in the “cypher” segment of the BET Hip Hop Awards broadcast, with its career-launching possibilities.
And then the terms of the award were changed. Charron was informed earlier this month by BET that he would not be appearing on the award show, which in fact had already been taped in Atlanta in September. The disappointment was crushing, Charron says. The 21-year-old released the mixed tape Bath Salts & Vinegar Chips two months ago, and is currently working on his full-length debut album. An appearance on the annual freestyle cypher, which in the past has included underground battle-rap champions appearing alongside established hip-hop superstars such as Eminem and Lamar, would have resulted in major exposure.
The exposure was why he spent some $3,000 and 200 hours travelling back and forth from Ottawa to New York for Freestyle Friday auditions and competitions. “The chance at the cypher was the whole reason I was doing this,” says Charron, who received a short burst of publicity this spring with the release of his fictional rap video Smoking Crack with Rob Ford. “I’m upset that they didn’t honour their word and award me the prize I had worked so hard for.”
He says he was told by a BET producer over the phone that a change in format was the reason why he wasn’t invited to appear on the telecast. But Charron says he believes the American cable channel was being “politically correct” with its explanation. “I’m not what their target audience is looking for,” he says. “I’m a somewhat nerdy-looking white Canadian with a high-pitched voice.”
A video recently posted by Charron on YouTube includes a clip of him winning the freestyle competition, complete with the host’s acknowledgment that the pasty, gangly rapper had earned the right to appear on the BET Hip Hop Awards. Interspersed with that are rhymes directed at BET. “Image of a nerd, sense a little hatred / won fair and square, no invitation and no indication / this is with a station originally created to fight discrimination / don’t have the look that the company wants …”
Asked for an explanation as to why Charron was not invited to participate in the telecast, a BET spokesperson responded: “We do not have a comment at the moment.”
During the road to his championship, Charron’s Canadianness was a point of contention with his opponents. He says he’s okay with that, though: “People have a lot of respect for their own country. They have pride. There’s no problem there.”
His issue is with what as he sees a lack of integrity on the part of BET. “I won the competition fair and square,” he says. “An appearance on the show would have helped not only me but the Canadian hip-hop scene in general.”