Fellow female rappers Rapsody, Monie Love, Lil Kim and MC Lyte took the stage to honor Latifah with a medley of "Ladies First" and "U-N-I-T-Y"

By Vanessa Etienne and Sarah Michaud
June 28, 2021 12:10 AM
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Queen Latifah's decades-long work is getting the recognition it deserves.

On Sunday, the rapper and actress was honored with the lifetime achievement award at the 2021 BET Awards, an embodiment of the show's theme, "Year of the Black Woman." Latifah, born Dana Owens, is known for her multi-hyphenate career, showcasing talents from her music and acting to her philanthropy.

Prior to accepting the award, Latifah was honored in a video package by friends including Jada Pinkett Smith and Mary J. Blige before fellow female rappers Rapsody, Monie Love, Lil Kim and MC Lyte paid tribute to Latifah with a medley of "Ladies First" and "U-N-I-T-Y."

"Thank you so much, everyone. Thank you, my sisters - y'all my sisters in the name of rap. You always have been. I'm so extremely moved that I don't even know what to say. Let me just say that I want to thank God because God designed this whole thing to be this way," an emotional Latifah, 51, began her acceptance speech."

"There is no way that I could have had the parents that I was born to - my father, my mother [who died in 2018], who is still so much in me - my family, I love you - my siblings. My best friends who ride or die with me whether my face is on the dirt or I'm flying in the skies - they know me. And they're there for me."

Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah and her father, Lancelot Owens, Sr.
| Credit: Paras Griffin/Getty

She continued, "I want to thank BET for creating an outlet for beautiful blackness to thrive, to shine. When we couldn't get played on the radio and other places; we couldn't get our videos played. There was BET, that allowed us to be in our fullness and to shine. To this night, right now, right here - bless everybody and everyone in the audience for all your support. Black is beautiful. I was raised by strong Black women. We can't live without each other. Celebrate. Celebrate us so together we stand stronger."

Latifah went on to praise Shakim Compere, her business partner in Flavor Unit Entertainment.

"Shakim, I thank you right now for keeping your promise to my mother to always protect me. Thank you for always protecting me and loving me. I love you for that."

Queen Latifah
Queen Latifah
| Credit: Bennett Raglin/Getty

She wrapped up by telling fans how much she appreciates their support of all aspects of her career, before sending a sweet message to her family.

"I'm gonna get off this stage, but I thank you so much for all of you, the fans for supporting every crazy-ass thing I've done through the years. And thank you for making Equalizer No. 1. Eboni, my love. Rebel, my love. Peace - Happy Pride!"

RELATED VIDEO: Queen Latifah on Finding Strength and Breaking Barriers: I Couldn't Have Imagined My Life Would've Gone This Way

Latifah began her career in music as a rapper, becoming the first hip-hop artist to be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006 thanks to iconic songs like her 1993 hit, "U.N.I.T.Y." Over the years she's been featured in musicals like Chicago, The Wiz Live!, and Hairspray, and graced the big screen in hit comedies like Bringing Down the House, Beauty Shop and Girls Trip. She's currently starring in the CBS series reboot of The Equalizer, which quickly became TV's No. 1 scripted series this year.

Ahead of the show, BET Awards host Taraji P. Henson raved to PEOPLE about Latifah's ability to do so much in her career, from her talk show and acting to working in several genres of music. 

"I'm grateful that we're giving Queen Latifah her flowers while she's still alive. This is an award that is long overdue for her. She taught me that it's more to acting than just being in front of the camera," she said. 

Listen below to our daily podcast PEOPLE Every Day for more on 2021 BET Awards.

Earlier this year, the Equalizer star opened up on the PEOPLE Every Day podcast to discuss the ways her parents - beloved school teacher Rita Owens, and police tactical officer Lancelot Owens, Sr. - raised her to be as strong as she is today, preparing her to become a trailblazer for Black culture.

"I'm not dependent on the world telling me who I am," said the actress. "I have people who really will go through the fire with me and I'll go through the fire with them and we have."

The 2021 BET Awards are airing live at 8 p.m. ET on BET. Viewers without a cable subscription can tune in to watch BET on certain packages with several streaming services, including YouTube TVHulu with Live TVSling TVFubo TV and Philo.