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Introducing the award was MC Lyte, who called Latifah “my sister in hip-hop but even more importantly, my sister in life.”
She added that Latifah is “a woman who has been creating magic for decades — an undeniable, unstoppable force of nature” and described her as a “Swiss Army knife,” thanks to her many “career-defining roles,” from rapping to acting to producing.
Following the introduction, Megan Thee Stallion, Jada Pinkett Smith, Mary J. Blige, Lil’ Kim and more paid tribute to the icon in a pretaped video segment.
Then MC Lyte and Kim took the stage alongside Monie Love and Rapsody to perform tribute to Latifah, including her own hit “U.N.I.T.Y,” as the rapper-actress danced in her seat and then got emotional while watching from the audience. She later called them “my sisters in the name of rap.”
To accompany her while giving her speech, Latifah brought her father onstage, along with a photo of her mother, who died in 2018. “I am so extremely moved, I don’t even know what to say,” she said, choking up, before thanking God and her parents, family, friends and fans for supporting “every crazy-ass thing I’ve done over the years.”
She also thanked BET for “creating an outlet for beautiful Blackness to thrive, to shine. When we couldn’t get played on the radio in other places, we couldn’t get our videos played in other places, there was BET that allowed us to be in our fullness and to shine to this night, right now, right here.”
The Equalizer star also gave thanks to Shakim Compere, her partner in the production company Flavor Unit Entertainment. “I would not be standing on this stage tonight without the dreams, aspiration, partnership of my partner, Shakim Compere. Shakim, I thank you right now for keeping your promise to my mother to always protect me,” she said.
Latifah, who has kept her personal life private, gave a shoutout to “Eboni, my love, Rebel, my love” — a reference to her rumored longtime partner, Eboni Nichols, and son — neither of whom she has publicly confirmed a relationship with or spoken about. “Peace, happy Pride,” she ended her speech.
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