BEST: Queen Latifah Calls for “U.N.I.T.Y.”
Why let someone else honor you when you can do it yourself? Latifah took command of her own tribute, and the result was one of the night’s most emphatic highlights. She started with a nod to her Oscar-nominated performance in Chicago before segueing into the smooth groove of “Come Into My House” and the skeletal thwack of “Latifah’s Had It Up 2 Here” and “Ladies First.” After a poignant tribute to black women by Common, Latifah returned at the end of the night and worked her way through “U.N.I.T.Y.” The song’s message, spelled out in its title, was especially resonant on a night full of references to police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement – including an introduction from the movement’s founders, Alicia Garza and Darnell Moore. Latifah also turned the tribute into a much larger celebration, bringing out a number of female rappers – including Da Brat, MC Lyte and Monie Love – that didn’t receive their due during the main event.
BEST: Fantasia, Monica and Tweet Salute Missy’s Behind-the-Scenes Genius
The best of the show’s two Missy Elliott tributes recognized her talents as a songwriter and producer for others. Fantasia delivered a roaring rendition of “Free Yourself” with ample help from the crowd, and Monica swaggered through the gorgeous “So Gone.” Tweet capped the segment by returning to the hit that launched her career as a solo artist, the slinky “Oops (Oh My).”
BEST: Diddy Gives Lil Kim Profanity-Laced Props
Diddy sauntered onstage to present an award to Lil Kim, and he brought casual magnetism to his presentation, which was sprawling and disjointed but compelling. “What took so goddamn long to honor our queen?” he wondered. He repeated himself several times, plugged the Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour, and doled out a few backhanded compliments: “She’s a diva at times, she’s high maintenance with me at times, but at the end of the day she demands the ultimate respect.” The whole thing ended with Diddy leading the crowd in a wonderfully out-of-tune rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
WORST: Lil Kim Flubs Her Own Lines
As Kim rapped several of her most famous songs, she appeared to forget – or ignore – the words. She brought a genial Rich Homie Quan onstage to help her during “Get Money,” but he didn’t seem to have learned his lines either, making for a tepid combination.
BEST: Naughty by Nature Revisit Their “Hip-Hop Hooray” Heyday
Detouring from the night’s female-centric theme, Naughty by Nature burst onstage and scored easy points by performing one of their best-known hits: “Hip-Hop Hooray,” which become a Top 10 crossover single in the early Nineties. The crowd was instantly wrapped up in the feel-good track, joining the rappers and waving their hands side to side.
BEST: Teyana Taylor and Lil Mama Go Off in Lil Kim’s Honor
Teyana Taylor and Lil Mama were two of the night’s most unhinged performers, bringing irrepressible energy to the Lil Kim tribute – the kind that Kim herself couldn’t muster. The volatility of their presence was thrown into sharp relief when the Lox took the stage for an inert rendition of “It’s All About the Benjamins.”
BEST: Eve, Ashanti, Dreezy and Keke Palmer Slay Salt-n-Pepa’s Hits
The Hip-Hop Honors paid tribute to Salt-n-Pepa in 2005 (the event also recognized Missy in ’07), but it’s a testament to the durability of the group’s hits that another tribute felt welcome. Eve rapped adroitly through “Shoop,” Ashanti displayed her plush vocals on the soul-sampling “Whatta Man,” and Dreezy and Keke Palmer teamed up for the still-undeniable “Push It.”
BEST: Busta Shouts Out Missy’s Rhymes
Busta made the most of his brief stage time when he presented an award to Missy Elliott with Angie Martinez and Timbaland. “Make some fucking noise for the Queens!” he declared. He also added a topical endorsement of Missy’s writing skills: “At a time when there’s a whole lot of ghostwriting in question, can we please give it up for Missy Elliott?”
WORST: Self-Proclaimed “Karaoke Queen” Amber Rose Makes It All About Her
“They don’t call me the karaoke queen for nothing!” Amber Rose quipped after singing a snippet of Salt-n-Pepa’s “Let’s Talk About Sex.” But her singing was lackluster, and her unwieldy stage banter was weighed down by an awkward promotion for her new TV show.
BEST: Remy Ma and Fat Joe Go “All the Way Up”
Remy Ma used her tribute to the Queens as a smooth segue into her new hit with Fat Joe. “Y’all opened doors for me to be ‘All the Way Up’!” she told Missy, Latifah and Co., before Fat Joe bounced onstage for a shouty rendition of the track. The house band reimagined the song as snappy live funk, with a heavy breakbeat and relentless horns.