"It's definitely an honor," Scarface said before the show. "I've learned from the best. I've had the best teachers in the game."
With Ludacris standing behind him on stage, Scarface kept his speech brief: "I'm not (expletive) without y'all," he said while raising the award in the air before walking off. He was given the award for his musical achievements.
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Scarface initially gained fame in the late 1980s with the group Geto Boys through the song "Mind Playing Tricks on Me." One of the few Houston acts to win acclaim outside Texas before 2000, he became a respected influencer in hip-hop with his gritty lyrics and street wisdom.
"He helped build a culture," Rick Ross said of Scarface. "I look up to him. I learned a lot from him."
With 12 solo albums released, Scarface is known for songs such as "Smile," ''My Block" and "I Seen a Man Die." He has collaborated with some of rap's greatest from 2Pac to Jay Z.
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"He's in my top five rappers of all time," veteran rapper E-40 said. "He was one of the best. We go way back since 1992. He deserves it. He along with the Geto Boys made a movement like no other."
Previous "I Am Hip Hop" award recipients have included Doug E. Fresh, MC Lyte, Rakim, LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, Ice Cube, Russell Simmons, KRS-One and Grandmaster Flash.
The show airs Oct. 13 at 8 p.m. ET.
Drake, who was the top nominee with 12, was not in attendance.
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Sean "Diddy" Combs took the stage with Lil Kim and Styles P. He followed his brief act with them and performed his new single "Workin," which brought many in the audience to their feet.
Snoop Dogg returned for the third straight year as host. The charismatic rapper once again performed several skits through his YouTube network called GGN (Double G News). He got the most laughs out of one skit about his addiction with riding a hover board.
There were several recorded freestyle sessions featuring Eminem and Redman. But the beatbox session with Doug E. Fresh, Nicole Paris and Rahzel earned the most applause.
The awards also included a taped pre-show performance by rapper Future. He recorded his act Wednesday night before a crowd at Atlanta's Centennial Olympic Park, performing several of his hits from "March Madness" and "Where Ya At."
Young Dro was joined by T.I. to perform hit street anthem "We In Da City." Other top performers included Travis Scott, Rich Homie Quan and Dej Loaf.