"In the immortal words of LL Cool J, 'I've been here for years,'" Carey said in asking the feat not be labeled a comeback, MTV.com reported.
The Vibe Awards ceremony in Culver City, Calif., Saturday night was taped for showing Tuesday night on the UPN TV network.
In addition to artist of the year, Carey won album of the year for "The Emancipation of Mimi," R&B voice of the year and best R&B song for "We Belong Together."
Mary J. Blige was honored with the V Legend Award during the gala, which showed no signs of last year's violence, MTV said.
A melee broke out during the 2004 Vibe Awards when Legend Award honoree Dr. Dre was slapped by a man who was then stabbed.