“Thank God for hip hop,” Queen Latifah shouted during a video montage as she recalled her reaction to being nominated for an Oscar. It was a mutual feeling for both honorees and attendees who packed New York City’s David Geffen Hall at the Lincoln Center on Monday night for VH1 Hip Hop Honors, which made its comeback after six years with a two-hour salute called “All Hail The Queens,” dedicated to the genre’s leading ladies: Queen Latifah, Missy Elliott, Lil Kim and Salt-N-Pepa.
Following last week’s tragic events, the ceremony offered a moment of celebration and perhaps a dance party with each tribute. Misdemeanor’s classic collaborations came to life as host Eve, Nelly Furtado, Lil Mo and Trina brought back “Get Ur Freak On,” “Work It,” “Hot Boyz” and “One Minute Man” while a dance troupe rocked the stage to “Lose Control” and “WTF (Where They From).” Later in the show, Fantasia Barrino belted out 2005’s “Free Yourself,” Monica revived “So Gone” and Tweet shook it to “Oops (Oh My)” as the Missy medley wrapped with the ladies singing “Lady Marmalade,” which Missy produced for the 2001 film Moulin Rouge.
Queen Latifah at the 2016 VH1 Hip Hop Honors: ‘Racism Is Still Alive and Kicking’
Each tribute was tailor-made to the honoree. A surprise cameo from Bad Boy boss Puff Daddy had birthday girl Lil Kim flustered. “There’s only one Queen Bee,” he said. “As soon as I heard her rhyme, as soon as I heard her kick that Hard Core shit, it was something I never seen or heard before. I knew that she was gonna be a superstar.” For the Queen Bee’s musical homage, Lil’ Mama, Teyana Taylor and Dej Loaf — clad in stylish wigs, two-piece ensembles, heels and long coats a la Kim — teamed for “Crush On You” as French Montana showed up for “No Time” and the LOX rolled through for the remix to Puff’s “It’s All About The Benjamins.”
Salt-N-Pepa and Spinderella’s hits also received the special treatment from Keke Palmer, Ashanti, Eve and Dreezy, who paid homage with fiery performances of “Shoop,” “Whatta Man” and “Push It.” Celebrating their 30th anniversary in the business, the trio also offered a belated apology. “First of all, Salt-N-Pepa would like to apologize to all you ladies if you cut your hair or slashed your jeans and got in trouble with your momma for talking about sex or pushing it,” they joked during their speech.
Female empowerment was the theme of the night, especially when rap queens bonded together on-stage. Queen Latifah brought out fellow female MCs Rah Digga, The Lady of Rage, Da Brat and YoYo for a show-stopping medley of “When You’re Good To Mama,” “Come Into My House,” “Had It Up 2 Here,” “Monie In The Middle” and “Ladies’ First.” Even Michelle Obama made a cameo via Jumbotron to give credit to the night’s guests of honor. “You all are empowering young women to believe in themselves and fulfill their boundless promise,” the First Lady said.
Common Pays Tribute to Diamond Reynolds at the 2016 VH1 Hip Hop Honors
Beyond the music, the most resounding message was love. The night opened with an intro from activist Darnell Moore and Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza. Common also gave a rousing speech, honoring the black women who “have been on the front lines in our ongoing movement for justice” including Diamond Reynolds, who filmed the Minnesota police officers after they killed 32-year-old Philando Castile last week.
The finale was a special rendition of the 1993 classic “U.N.I.T.Y.” from Queen Latifah, who was joined by her fellow honorees and other female MCs from around the nation, including Da Brat, YoYo, Monie Love, Ms Jade, MC Lyte, Lady of Rage, Suga T, Rah Digga, Mia X and Eve against a backdrop spotlighting other ladies in hip-hop like Lady B, Dimples D., Charli Baltimore and others. “I ain’t perfect but I’ve only tried to share love and I realized that’s the only thing I could give,” Queen Latifah said at one point. “There’s so much out here in the world going on. I really just appreciate a night where we can just pause and celebrate something really great.”