Depending on what you wanted to spend, the three-day BET Experience at L.A. Live meant live music from urban chart-toppers, copious celebrity shoulder rubbing or entry into a highly rated awards show.
Expectations for this year’s festival were high after more than 100,000 flocked to the BET Experience in 2013. Organizers didn’t have preliminary attendance figures Sunday, but one thing was clear: Whereas last year the big draw was music, including Beyonce’s launch of the U.S. leg of her world tour, this year a fair portion of the crowd seemed to turn out simply for celebrity spotting, of which there was a seemingly endless supply.
The network brought an overly generous heaping of star power to its two-day Fan Expo, which ended Sunday. Anchored at the Los Angeles Convention Center — a far more comfortable locale than the pounding heat of last year’s expo outdoors — the network curated dozens of free performances, a sneaker convention, a dance competition, fitness classes, a beauty lounge, celebrity panels and meet-and-greets.
Fans at the celebrity basketball game queued in a massive line slicing across the concourse at the L.A. Convention Center when the festival opened at noon Saturday.
Snoop Dogg, the Game, Tyga, Omarion and Soulja Boy, Chris Brown and Justin Bieber (a surprise addition) all flexed their muscle on the court, and fans roared as Brown’s first three-pointer fell in from beyond the arc.
“It’s fun to be playing with your peers — athletes, entertainers,” Snoop Dogg said. “We all dreamed of playing basketball, so when we have a celebrity game like this we get to show off our skills. Some of us don’t have skills.”
Jennifer Hudson, Eric Benet and Mindless Behavior were among the performers who hung out with fans during meet-and-greet sessions as did cast members from BET shows “The Game,” “Being Mary Jane,” “Real Husbands of Hollywood” and “106 & Park.”
Another big draw: SneakerCon, a popular traveling shoe convention, which attracted a swath of attendees before doors even opened.
The free offerings at the expo also cut deeper than entertainment. In-depth discussions included Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel in space, interviewed by actress Regina King. A conversation about dissolving the prison pipeline for young black men was another standout.
Live music is the foundation of the BET Experience, and there was plenty.
Free showcases ranged from rising acts such as Sevyn Streeter, Tinashe, DJ Mustard and Mack Wilds as well as revered veterans Faith Evans, Tank and Warren G.
Day 2 headliners at Staples Center formed a hip-hop-focused roster that featured radio rainmakers Rick Ross and ASAP Rocky and the reunion of OutKast.
Ross and openers Ty Dolla Sign and August Alsina moved the crowd, but the energy in the venue seemed to be reserved for OutKast, causing ASAP Rocky to chide the audience during his coolly received showing.
“I came to turn up … ya’ll too stiff for me,” he huffed during his set, which suffered technical glitches and stalls. (He unleashed an expletive-filled rant toward the production crew at one point.)
OutKast, the night’s closer, quickly made the chatter of its Coachella showing a few months ago a nonfactor with its exuberant, retrospective set that kept the crowd on its toes.
The Roots, like OutKast, chose to look to the past with a late-night jam at Club Nokia. The often-subversive hip-hop and soul band focused its set on time traveling through the glory ages with Warren G, Doug E. Fresh and Method Man & Redman helping Black Thought, Questlove and Co. navigate.
When Method Man and Redman arrived to breeze through a few seminal ‘90s hits, the audience swayed as smoothly as the plums of marijuana smoke that wafted high above the stage.
And when the energy at Club Nokia felt impossible to top, Talib Kweli popped up for his kick-in-the-pants stomper “Get By” before the band tore through blazing covers of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” and “Bad to the Bone.”
Times staff writer Jim Easterhouse contributed to this report.