Rihanna took the stage to present her with the Lifetime Achievement Award, where she said the singer "changed the game with her unique sound and that Mary J. Blige style."
"Mary J. Blige, you have set the bar for relatable, timeless, classic music," she continued. "You opened multiple doors for female artists in this industry. And on behalf of all the women that came after you, like myself, thank you for being you so we can feel comfortable being ourselves. Thank you for pouring yourself into every track and giving us a song for every feeling. Thank you for showing us that love is all that we need. But we didn't know how much we needed you."
When Blige, 48, took the stage, she told those in attendance, "Wow, thank you so much," telling Rihanna, "You inspire me right back. ...I want to thank my BET family for all the love along the way."
She later told her fans, "Words cannot express what your support means to me." Blige also briefly touched upon her spirituality, saying, "Although I'm a leader, a queen, a living legend... Although I'm all these things, I'm a servant as well and I'm here to serve. Being a servant is not always glamorous or popular, but it's the job and the assignment that I was given. Because in order to become an authority, I had to come under authority. It's because, when the glory is placed on me, I give it back to God."
Afterward, she performed a medley of her hits including "My Life," "Share My World," "No Drama" and "I'm Going Down." Lil' Kim also came out to help her perform a snippet of "I Can Love You." And she performed "You're All I Need" with Method Man, who also joined her on stage.
Speaking with ET backstage afterward, she proclaimed, "Oh my god, it was like a concert. BET, we are home."
She followed up by stating that the performance was filled with "nostalgia." However, she added, "And we still fresh and new too!"
While on the red carpet prior to the show, she spoke with ET's Kevin Frazier about the honor and the road that brought her to this moment.
"It means so much to me, I mean...to be alive, to have lived through so much," she said while talking about the award. "A lot of times didn't think we were gonna make it but I'm here, you know, I worked hard… I had some triumphs. I had some trials. But my fans have been there the whole time, so I'm here to celebrate all of us."
She also briefly touched upon learning to let go along the way, stating: "I just learned that you have to release people from their mistakes. You have to have the courage to do that and the strength to do that, so that you can be free and not have poison in you... I didn't look back. I just said, 'Hey, all right, it's over.' Everyone's not going on the journey. Everyone's not taking the ride."
Blige's many accomplishments include eight multi-platinum albums, nine GRAMMY Awards, four American Music Awards and 12 Billboard Music Awards. Often called the "Queen of Hip-Hop Soul," she's also starred in a number of films, including 2012's Rock of Ages and 2017's Mudbound.
She received both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role as a family matriarch in Mudbound, a critically acclaimed period drama. Last March, Beyonce and JAY-Z hosted an Oscars after-party at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood to honor Blige, and the star-studded guest list included Leonardo DiCaprio, Drake, Tracee Ellis Ross and Tiffany Haddish.
Last January, Blige received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and acknowledged that it wasn't always a smooth road to get to where she is today.
"There have been times in my career when I didn't even want to step out of my house because I was hurt so bad," she said during her acceptance speech. "But God gave me the strength."
ET spoke with Blige at the ceremony, where she shared her advice for her younger self.
"You're beautiful, love yourself," she said. "People love you."