It would appear that I missed a very important piece of information in one of the patch notes.
October 14, 2020https://tinyurl.com/y4s9nbaj
Items and Rewards
* Black Empire head, shoulder, and chest tokens will no longer create Azerite-empowered armor for characters that have not obtained the Heart of Azeroth.
The only thing worse than the bullshit borrowed power Azerite system is getting Azerite gear with no traits. When you ding 50, DO NOT USE THE BLACK EMPIRE TOKENS!!!!!! Benthic gear is fine. Go get your Heart of Azeroth and get your first essence. Then and only then should you consider using your Black Empire gear tokens. Fortunately, we’re so close to SL launch that I’m not going to bother farming for more tokens. Reward to Effort is too off balanced. Too much meh-ffort for 2 weeks of usability.