It started during the opening number by Kanye West's G.O.O.D. music group, which included Big Sean, Pusha T and 2 Chainz. There were extended moments of censored silence when the rappers performed "Mercy," though not all the offending words were bleeped out. Moments later, Jackson, the show's host, was joined by Lee as they did a comedic version of Jay-Z and West's hit song "... In Paris," to laughs.
"Two distinguished Morehouse men," Lee joked after the performance, referencing the alma mater of the two.
The censor police also worked overtime when Rick Ross performed with his Maybach Music Group and during Minaj's performance and acceptance speech for best female hip-hop artist. Minaj's win was her third consecutive time taking the prize.
"I really, really appreciate BET for keeping this category alive, and I appreciate all the female rappers doing their thing, past, present and future," she said, before uttering an obscenity.
Gospel star Yolanda Adams, who also performed, gently took some of her peers to task as she won best gospel artist, urging them to act mature and use their fame wisely.
"We need all of ya'll," she said. "I'm saying the world needs everyone in this room. Please make sure that you use your gift responsibly, 'cause we're watching. Our babies are watching, and they want to be like us."
West and Jay-Z won the ceremony's first award; at first, West arrived onstage alone, and alluded to his many awards-show mishaps.
"I wish Jay-Z was here to say something politically correct for me," he said, before his mentor came to the stage.
Other early winners included Chris Brown for best male R&B artist, his second consecutive win in the category.
Kevin Hart — who hosted the awards last year — also won for best actor, Big Sean was named best new artist and Wale and Miguel's smooth hit "Lotus Flower Bomb" won best collaboration.
West, who was up for seven awards, was the top nominee. Beyonce was the second most nominated act with six. She won best female R&B artist and thanked the genre and her female influences.
"I fell in love with music by listening to R&B. It's the core of who I am," she said, giving special thanks to Lauryn Hill, Mary J. Blige and "Whitney Houston, my angel."
Later, she lost the night's top award, video of the year, to Jay-Z and West's "Otis." When her husband won, she playfully hit him, as she laughed. The joking continued: Moments later, as West was giving his acceptance speech, Jay-Z interrupted him and said: "Excuse me Kanye, I'm gonna let you continue, but ...," and the audience erupted with laughter, recalling West's infamous interruption of Taylor Swift's MTV Video Music Awards speech a few years back.
The tone of night fluctuated frequently, as the show shifted from hotly anticipated performances to solemn moments to irreverence. Usher performed his groove "Climax," and Nicki Minaj sported a blonde wig with pink tips as she performed the songs "Champion" and "Beez In the Trap," which featured 2 Chainz.
The night also featured some tributes to deceased greats: Chante Moore performed a medley of Donna Summer's hits and Valerie Simpson sang a song in honor of her husband and writing partner Nick Ashford. Don Cornelius, Dick Clark and Hal Jackson were given shout-outs Even West offered tributes: after his performance, he name-dropped Rodney King and Whitney Houston in a verse that got cheers from the crowd, including his girlfriend, Kim Kardashian.
Presenters included Taraji P. Henson, Kerry Washington and Jamie Foxx, who wore a T-shirt that had a picture of Trayvon Martin, the Florida teen killed by neighborhood watchman George Zimmerman.
Frankie Beverly featuring Maze were honored with the lifetime achievement award, and they were serenaded with performances by Tyrese, Faith Evans and Joe.
D'Angelo also performed, his first televised performance in years as he attempts a comeback.
The most-buzzed about performance, though, may be a tribute planned for Houston that will include the late singer's mother, Cissy Houston, and other female singers, though BET didn't release those names.
Brown also performed in his first televised appearance since the New York City nightclub brawl between his entourage and Drake's. Brown, his girlfriend, his bodyguard and NBA star Tony Parker were among those injured in the June 14 encounter, where bottles were thrown.
Drake, however, wasn't expected be at the event. Both singer-rappers are nominated for awards.