Queen Latifah Says Racism Is "Still Alive and Kicking" at VH1 Hip Hop Honors

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Queen Latifah

Black Lives Matter founders Alicia Garza and Darnell Moore opened Monday's show, which was a tribute to the women of hip hop.

Female empowerment wasn't the only thing on display during the VH1 Hip Hop Honors: All Hail the Queens Monday night.

During the televised event, icons Lil' Kim, Missy Elliott, Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa received tributes — which included surprises from Diddy and Michelle Obama (see below) — for their successes in a male-dominated hip hop industry. 

When it came time for Queen Latifah to take the stage, the Oscar-nominated singer-actress took a moment to address the current racial climate. 

"We all know that the world and our world is really tense right now," she began, referencing the past week's events in Louisiana, Minnesota and Dallas. "It's a lot of tension. It's a lot of angst. It's a lot of hurt. A lot of pain. I'm hoping that we can somehow manage to channel all of these emotions that we have in a positive way and really do something to change our world."

She continued, "I don't care how much money or things I have, or Puff has, or Missy [Elliot] has, the ladies have, if I go outside and try to hail a cab and he passes me for the white woman standing right there — that racism is still alive and kicking. And we have to change that. And I'm not blaming the white lady, she needed a cab too. I'm just saying we gotta change this attitude."

Black Lives Matter founders Alicia Garza and Darnell Moore opened the show, with Garza saying: "This movement is grounded in black peoples' dignity, justice and freedom. It's about love, not violence."

She added, "Joy is also an important part of our movement."

The star-studded night also included tribute performances of Salt-N-Pepa's "Shoop" by host Eve, a Nelly Furtado-led Missy Elliot medley and a video intro from First Lady Michelle Obama, who gave a "huge shout-out" to honorees Missy Elliot and Queen Latifah.

Elliot's classic collaborations came to life as Eve, 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.

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 onstage. 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 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, 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."

The 2016 VH1 Hip Hop Honors made its return after a six-year hiatus, airing live from New York's David Geffen Hall at the Lincoln Center.

A version of this story appeared on billboard.com