Beyonce and Kendrick Lamar Surprise BET Awards with Fiery Rendition of "Freedom"

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BET Awards attendees were pleasantly shocked when Beyonce took the stage unannounced for the inaugural performance of the night, partnering with rapper Kendrick Lamar to deliver a lively rendition of the anthem “Freedom” from her latest album, Lemonade (which Paste just named the best album of 2016 so far).

The singer appeared sans-Lamar at first, flanked by two rows of dancers in “Formation”-esque position, barefoot in a shallow pool of water, backlit by an aura of red-orange fire. As soon as the monotonous rhythm of the drums began, a frenzy of action took place: the dancers sprang into action, wearing white harnesses, decorated in body paint and covered in symbols, flinging water, stomping in harmony to Beyonce’s powerful vocals as she belted out, “Freedom! Freedom! I can’t move / Freedom, cut me loose!”

Lamar appeared in the performance halfway through, rising up from the floor to perform his verse before joining Beyonce on the main stage, kicking water, punctuating each of Beyonce’s lines with a chanted response, the two performers easily piggy-backing off of each other’s energy and setting an overwhelming, irresistible tone of power, confidence and pride that would pervade the rest of the night’s ceremonies.

Freedom, indeed. The song choice couldn’t have been a better fit for the BET Awards, whose primary goal is to celebrate the achievements of black artists, athletes and musicians in the entertainment industry. It’s a fitting theme for the night’s celebrations, as people of color have been historically underrepresented at other major awards shows such as the Grammys, Golden Globes, Billboards, Tonys and more; the BET Awards seek to redress these injustices by dedicating a night of homage especially for these minorities.

The powerfully delivered anthem set the crowd buzzing for the rest of the night and reminded viewers why the celebration of black success, and breaking the chains of systemic oppression, is so critical in trying times: “Freedom! Freedom! Where are you? Cause I need freedom too!” Watch the performance here and let us know what you thought in the comments below.