Kanye West was the big hip-hop winner at the 54th annual Grammy Awards, although he wasn’t even in attendance at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday night (Feb. 12).

Kanye won three early Grammys and picked up a fourth within the first hour of the live show on a night in which Whitney Houston’s death the previous day cast a huge shadow over the prestigious Awards show. Houston was announced dead at the age of 48 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, CA. on Saturday afternoon (Feb. 11). An autopsy of Houston’s body had been completed by Sunday afternoon, according to the Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office.

Although Kanye lost to Adele for the vaunted Song Of The Year award and wasn’t even nominated in the Record and Album Of The Year categories, ’Ye took home four Grammy Awards by thoroughly dominating hip-hop. His three early Grammy wins for the Best Rap Album (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy), Best Rap Song (“All Of The Lights”) and Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (“All Of The Lights”) were all announced before the actual telecast started on Sunday night at 8p.m. EST. Then, Kanye and Jay-Z picked up a Grammy win for Best Rap Performance for “Otis,” one of their hit singles off Watch the Throne, just past the 30-minute mark of the show. Presenters Fergie and Marc Anthony accepted the Grammy on their behalf, as neither Kanye or Jay-Z were in attendance.

The former two categories had Kanye outdoing himself, as Watch the Throne and “Otis," were both nominated for Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song as well, respectively. For Best Rap Album, he also beat out the likes of Lil Wayne (Tha Carter IV), Lupe Fiasco (Lasers) and Nicki Minaj (Pink Friday). He edged Wiz Khalifa (“Black And Yellow”), Dr. Dre (“I Need a Doctor”), Chris Brown (“Look at Me Now”) and Lupe Fiasco (“The Show Goes On”) in The Best Rap Song category.

Hosted by two-time Grammy winner LL Cool J, the bow-tied, Kangol-wearing rap legend kicked off the 54th annual installment of the show by addressing Houston’s passing.

“There’s no way around this: We’ve had a death in our family,” LL told the crowd. “For me, the only thing that seems right is to begin the night with a prayer for our sister Whitney Houston.”

Following the prayer, LL presented a tender clip of Houston singing “I Will Always Love You” on the Staples Center’s big screen. Others, including a touching tribute by Jennifer Hudson, acknowledged Houston throughout the night.

Other highlights from the show, included Nicki Minaj performing her new record “Roman Holiday.” The Young Money princess began the over-the-top performance by rapping to a priest through a makeshift confessional. It ended with the same priest performing an exorcism on her alter-ego Roman with a ministry of singing monks in the background. The performance was memorably zany. This was much after Nicki arrived to the show, wearing a Vatican-inspired Versace dress.

Although folk band Bon Iver beat out Minaj and J. Cole for the Best New Artist award earlier.

Before that, in a separate performance, her Young Money boss Lil Wayne joined Chris Brown and David Guetta during Guetta’s colorful performance of “I Can Only Imagine.” A few quick bars later and an exclamation of “Young Moola, baby” and Weezy had made a quick exit off the stage.

Chris Brown, Alicia Keys and Bonnie Raitt, Rihanna and Coldplay, and Bruno Mars also lit up the Grammy stage with performances.

Common and Drake had no time to resume their beef, as both were busy as Grammy presenters. Common, with the help of actor Taraji P. Henson, presented the award for Best R&B Album, while Drake introduced the performance of his Young Money cohort Nicki Minaj.

British soul singer Adele was the night’s big winner, taking home six Grammy’s, including Record Of The Year, Album Of The Year and Song Of The Year. —Mark Lelinwalla