HOLLYWOOD — No one can accuse the BET Awards of being out of touch.
Clearly reflecting the past 12 months of hip-hop and R&B culture, Usher, Outkast, Jay-Z and Beyoncé were the big winners Tuesday at the Kodak Theatre in a ceremony packed with one memorable performance after another, ranging from spiritual to comical.
Outkast capped off a season of awards (including the Grammy for Album of the Year) by taking Best Group and Video of the Year (for "Hey Ya!"), while albums-chart ruler Usher won Best Male R&B Artist and the Viewer's Choice Award for "Yeah!"
Jay-Z — who brought along Kid Rock, Dave Navarro, the Roots, Sheila E. and a fur-coat-wearing Rick Rubin (on the turntables) for his performance of "99 Problems" — won Best Male Hip-Hop Artist as well as Best Collaboration for "Crazy in Love" with Beyoncé, who also won Best Female R&B Artist.
Beyoncé dedicated the latter award to the show's host, comedian Mo'Nique, whose entrance included a performance of the booty-shaking choreography from the "Crazy in Love" video with a group of plus-sized dancers.
"I know all you skinny video girls are all nervous right now," Mo'Nique said. "Usher, that was for you, baby. I have some confessions."
Backstage, Mo'Nique's opening had all the stars talking. "When my girl came out and did the Beyoncé thing, I was like, 'Whoa!' " Master P said as he made the rounds with reporters. "It happened!"
The other hot topic was the show's opening, a powerful performance of "Jesus Walks" with Kanye West behind a pulpit accompanied by gospel star Yolanda Adams, a choir and a drumline. "Kanye did his thing," Farnsworth Bentley declared as he strolled backstage, showing off his "Mr. Bentley" socks.
"It's the least I can do to give praise," said West, who won Best New Artist. "God gave me the year of my life, so I appreciate everything."
On a less sacred note, after presenting an award, Rick James shouted to the crowd, "I'm Rick James, bitch!," referencing a now-classic "Chappelle's Show" skit.
In only its fourth year, the BET Awards show has become a massive three-hour-plus production packed with stars, including performances from Usher, Outkast, 50 Cent and G-Unit, Alicia Keys and Ludacris, among others.
"When you look at BET now, it's kinda making some moves," presenter Jamie Foxx said.
"They gonna be able to charge $300, $400 for tickets next year," added Bentley. "It's gettin' that serious. The old-school performance, it was priceless."
That "old-school performance" was a medley of early hits celebrating 25 years of hip-hop that featured the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight," Grandmaster Flash's "The Message" and Public Enemy's "Fight the Power," among others.
Click for photos from the red carpet
"I knew every word to every song," an animated Darryl "DMC" McDaniels said backstage. "Doug E. Fresh and Slick Rick! 'La-Di-Da-Di'! Everywhere I go, people think Run-DMC started hip-hop, but those guys started hip-hop."
Janet Jackson also made her first live TV performance since her controversial Super Bowl halftime show, lip-synching a medley of hits including the "All Nite (Don't Stop)" remix with Elephant Man.
In an entirely different tone, India.Arie paid tribute to the late Ray Charles with a chilling, stripped-down version of "Georgia on My Mind." Charles was also remembered by Ruben Studdard and basketball star Carmelo Anthony, who wore his image on their shirts.
Fashion at the ceremony ranged from hip-hop gentleman (Kanye in a pink sweater, Jay-Z in a white suit) to casual (Pharrell in a T-shirt and trucker cap, Chuck D in a denim jacket and Yankees cap) to bling. "You can't come to the BET Awards without bling-bling," presenter Vivica A. Fox said backstage as a cameraman zoomed in on her jewelry. ("Go to the necklace 'cause it's right in between some great cleavage," she directed.) "If I had another bracelet I could be a black Wonder Woman and save the universe."
Other winners included Missy Elliott for Best Female Hip-Hop Artist, Yolanda Adams for Best Gospel Artist, Denzel Washington for Best Actor, Halle Berry for Best Actress, LeBron James for Male Athlete of the Year and Serena Williams for Female Athlete of the Year.