RZA, the leader of the motley rap crew, said he was thinking of the group's most colorful member, the late ODB, as the band was honored Saturday night along with MC Lyte, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Afrika Bambaataa, Russell Simmons, Rakim and the Beastie Boys.
"ODB not being here was real sad. I'm glad his mother was here," RZA told The Associated Press after the show. "I wish he would have seen this ... I know he'd be nothing but proud."
ODB died in 2004 of a drug overdose.
Posthumous honors were also given to Eazy-E, the founding member of N.W.A. and one of the most important figures in early gangsta rap. He died of AIDS in 1995. His son, who goes by the name of Lil' Eazy-E, performed in a tribute to his father, along with Young Jeezy and Eazy-E's protegees, the group Bone Thugs and Harmony.
But the show was far from somber. Lil' Kim, performing for the first time since being released from jail earlier this year, donned sweats as she, Remy Ma and Da Brat took the stage to honor MC Lyte. Diddy, Fabolous and Q-Tip channeled early Beastie Boys circa the late '80s.
Forest Whitaker, who is generating Oscar talk for his role in "The Last King of Scotland," may have been the night's most unusual face — he paid tribute to the Wu-Tang Clan. Whitaker, who is friends with RZA, said he became a fan of the group because of its mystical nature, martial arts philosophy and dynamic lineup.
"At the time (Wu-Tang came out), artists were really separate from each other — you didn't see a whole band of people," Whitaker told The Associated Press.
Ice-T, who was an honoree last year, returned to host this time around. When asked who he'd like to see get props next year, he was quick to cite one of his fellow California rappers.
"Too Short broke the Bay (area)," he said. "You gotta go there before you go down south. Then after that, you've gotta got to Master P. I'm just taking you on the history of the route the way it blew up."
VH1's third annual Hip Hop Honors airs Oct. 17.