Janelle Monae ended the three and a half hour-plus event with a top notch performance of "Q.U.E.E.N." alongside Erykah Badu, who brought a white poodle onstage. It was just one of the night's best performances, which also featured stolen moments from a seductive Ciara, a slick Miguel, a random - but welcomed - reggae set and a playful Justin Timberlake with an even more playful Charlie Wilson.
Timberlake took a backseat to the soul singer, joining Wilson onstage for a medley of his solo and Gap Band hits.
Stevie Wonder, Jamie Foxx, Pharrell, Snoop Dogg and India.Arie were also part of the tribute to 60-year-old Wilson, who earned the lifetime achievement award.
"Charlie Wilson is soul music. His impact colors the work of many artists, which is basically my nice way of saying I and a lot of other artists have stolen from him," Timberlake said when presenting Wilson the award.
Wilson's lively stage presence was arguably the night's top moment, though others were on fire.
Ciara echoed Janet Jackson when she danced and sang her R&B hit "Body Party," while Dawn Penn, Chaka Demus & Pliers, Beenie Man and Elephant Man electrified the audience when they gave a colorful performance of reggae classics.
Many artists played double or triple duty onstage at the Nokia Theater L.A. Live. Badu sang with Monae and Kendrick Lamar, who also performed with 2 Chainz. Miguel sang alone, and with Mariah Carey and J. Cole, while Minaj performed with Ciara and Chris Brown. Pharrell helped out Wilson and Robin Thicke, who excitedly performed his current No. 1 hit, "Blurred Lines."
Drake, who didn't attend the awards show, led with 12 nominations, including five for video of the year, winning the top honor with "Started from the Bottom." The rapper-singer also won viewer's choice and best collaboration for his appearance on A$AP Rocky's "(Expletive) Problems" with Lamar and 2 Chainz.
Lamar tied Drake with three wins, taking home best new artist, male hip-hop artist and collaboration.
"Most importantly to my little home boys and my home girls back in the city, you looking at me on TV right now, I came up in that same county building, food stamps, welfare section eight ... this is living proof that you can do anything you put your mind to," said 26-year-old Lamar, who is from Compton.
Minaj and Brown picked up their fourth consecutive wins for best female hip-hop artist and the fandemonium award.
"Don't read the bull in the news, I'm a real dude," Brown told the crowd.
Brown opened the show with a medley of new songs, including one that featured vocals from late R&B singer Aaliyah and another with Minaj, who joined him onstage. BET couldn't bleep some of the rapper's expletives - much like the awards show last year. Expletives from Badu, Wayne Brady and the singers who performed with R. Kelly slipped, too.
Carey was angelic as she belted - or lip synched - her latest hit, "#Beautiful," and an excited R. Kelly sang snippets of a dozen of his hits - including "Bump N Grind" and "Ignition" - as the crowd cheered on.
Host Chris Tucker sang and danced too - in tribute to Michael Jackson.
Miguel won the night's first award, best male R&B pop artist, beating out Brown, Timberlake, Usher and Bruno Mars.
"I got to really give it up to all the other guys in this category," Miguel said.
Don Cheadle presented Miguel with the award, and dedicated the night to the ailing Nelson Mandela.
"We want to take a moment and send our prayers and thoughts to a man who literally changed the world," he said. "This evening we would like to offer prayers and support and hope to the extraordinary Nelson Mandela and his family."
Jamie Foxx, wearing a shirt that featured a picture of Trayvon Martin, won best actor, and danced onstage with Kevin Hart when accepting the honor.
Hart, who hosted the BET Awards in the past, was overly excited onstage, even stealing the shine from Tucker, who was a mediocre host.
Rihanna won best female R&B pop artist and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won best group.
Olympic gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas won sportswoman of the year and the youngstars award. She thanked BET for "just for embracing me after Olympics."