CULVER CITY, California — Seriously, don't call it a comeback.
"In the immortal words of LL Cool J, 'I've been here for years,' " Mariah Carey said backstage at the Vibe Awards on Saturday, where the singer won four trophies, including Album of the Year for The Emancipation of Mimi, her smash rebound after the relatively disappointing Glitter (2001) and Charmbracelet (2002). "If they want to say 'comeback,' that's cool, [but] I've been making music my whole life. I started singing when I was four years old. I will make music forever; that's what I do."
Carey was the night's only multiple winner, also taking home awards for Artist of the Year, R&B Voice of the Year and Best R&B Song for "We Belong Together." And while she described the sweep as rewarding, she was just as excited to see another R&B singer honored with the V Legend Award.
"I was supposed to be in my trailer getting a touch-up, which I desperately needed, but I had to come out and see Mary," Carey said of Miss Blige. "I was so proud and happy for her that she was receiving the legend award because she's a true person and real artist."
Mary J., whose touching acceptance speech was the night's emotional climax, described receiving the lifetime achievement award as historical.
"I started so young doing this and I'm still young," she said backstage, where celebrities were lined up to sing her praises. "I'm just so happy I can be in a state of mind where I can receive it."
The third annual Vibe Awards marked a stark contrast from 2004's event, which was marred by a melee that broke out after Dr. Dre was slapped by a man who was then stabbed (see "Dr. Dre Attacked, Man Stabbed During Melee At Vibe Awards"). Only the Game's haircut — which featured "G-Unot" shaved into the side of his head — even hinted at any beef during Saturday night's celebration. The rapper won the first award of the night, Hottest Hook for "Hate It or Love It" — which features now-rival 50 Cent. The Game avoided what could have been an ugly acceptance speech and kept the trash talking backstage.
"We know what happened last time, so I just hope everyone gets out safe," he said, adding, "I wish all them [G-Unit] guys the best of luck 'cause they got problems when my new album comes out."
Co-hosts Tracee Ellis Ross ("Girlfriends") and Anthony Anderson ("Hustle & Flow") cracked a few jokes about last year's violence, but otherwise it was a distant memory as the ceremony celebrated the many breakout performers of 2005 and some veteran favorites.
No-shows Kanye West and R. Kelly won Best Rapper and Reelest Video (for the "Trapped in the Closet" series), respectively, while T.I. won Street Anthem for the second year in a row (for "U Don't Know Me") and Ludacris and Ciara won Coolest Collabo (for "Oh").
Keyshia Cole and Young Jeezy tied for the Next Award, while fellow newcomer Amerie won Club Banger (for "1 Thing"), Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley won the Boomshot Award (for "Welcome to Jamrock") and the Diplomats won Best Group.
The 2005 Vibe Awards Red Carpet
"I appreciate it," Cole said backstage, where she was shocked to learn that she's considered Blige's strongest successor by the singer herself. "It's still a hustle though. The hustle ain't over, it's just a 'Congratulations, you've hustled this far.' "
Ciara was just excited to add another trophy to her growing showcase. "I just got my two Moonmen sent to my house," she said of her MTV Video Music Awards (see "Green Day Clean Up, Kelly Clarkson Gets Wet, 50 Rips Into Fat Joe At VMAs"). "It makes you feel good as an artist, 'cause I put so much work into it."
Along with snagging an award, Ciara also had the honor of opening the show, which her co-winner Ludacris closed out. In between, Pharrell got everyone dancing with "Can I Have It Like That" (sans Gwen Stefani), while Chris Brown showcased his own moves with a sizzling rendition of "Run It."
"He definitely got some fire underneath his belt," Juelz Santana, who joined Brown on the song, said backstage. "He's not just a one-song wonder either. I heard some of the next couple records and it's real hard."
The show also featured a tribute to the regions hit by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, with Paul Wall and Mike Jones representing for Texas, Lil' Wayne for Louisiana and David Banner for Mississippi.
"It was a blessing because, to see all of us three years ago, we could barely get in the building," Banner, who changed into four different suits from his own line throughout the night, said backstage. "So for us to have a medley and represent a place that has been hit so hard ... "
"America used Katrina as a fad," he added. "And my people are going to go through this for the next 10 years."
On the red carpet before the show, artists used the celebrity traffic jam as an opportunity to both network and pay their respects.
As Blige proved her admiration for Mike Jones by serenading him with "Still Tippin'," "Hustle & Flow" star Terrence Howard told George Clinton, "I'm the biggest fan of your music."
Cleavage was the hot fashion accessory, with Mariah, Keyshia and Remy Ma among those showing some serious skin. As for the gentlemen, some wore T-shirts and others suits, but mostly all sported gear promoting a clothing line, an album or, in Juelz Santana's case, a signature catchphrase: "A!"
The Vibe Awards air Tuesday on UPN.