Minaj performed with Chris Brown, who opened the awards show with a medley of new songs. BET couldn't bleep some of the rapper's expletives much like the awards show last year. Expletives from Wayne Brady, Erykah Badu and the singers who performed with R. Kelly slipped, too.
Mariah Carey was angelic as she belted her latest hit, "(hash)Beautiful," with help from Miguel and Young Jeezy, and an excited R. Kelly sang snippets of a dozen of his hits. An energetic Robin Thicke was joined by Pharrell and T.I. when he sang his international No. 1 hit, "Blurred Lines."
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, Usher, Justin Timberlake and Bruno Mars.
"I got to really give it up to all the other guys in this category," the singer 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 Olympic gold medalist Gabrielle Douglas won sportswoman of the year and the youngstars award.
Kendrick Lamar, who performed with Badu, won best new artist and best male hip-hop artist.
"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 Lamar, who is from Compton.
He, along with 2 Chainz, are the second most nominated acts behind Drake, who is up for 12 honors, including five nominations for video of the year, which has 10 nominees.
His own hits "Started from the Bottom" and "HYFR" are up for the top prize, as well as his guest appearances on 2 Chainz's "No Lie," A$AP Rocky's "(Expletive) Problems" and Lamar's "Poetic Justice." Other video of the year nominees are Justin Timberlake's "Suit & Tie," Rihanna's "Diamonds," "Adorn" by Miguel, Kanye West's "Mercy" and "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
While 26-year-old Drake is mostly battling himself for the night's top award, some of his friends (and enemies) already blazed the stage, including Minaj and Brown.
Timberlake, who has four nominations including best male R&B artist and best collaboration for "Suit & Tie" with Jay-Z, will also perform. Other performers include Stevie Wonder, India.Arie and Ciara.
Timberlake, Drake, Lamar, Rocky, Miguel and Rihanna will compete for the fan-voted viewer's choice award. Charlie Wilson will earn the lifetime achievement award and Dwyane Wade, who recently won the NBA Finals with the Miami Heat, will receive the humanitarian award.