Tuesday, September 2, 2014
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Born Dana Owens on March 18, 1970, she became a star as Queen Latifah. Growingup in East Orange, New Jersey, life was not easy and her femininity was alwaysbeing challenged. But she overcame those challenges and became an academy award-nominatedsuper-star and a world-class entertainer. She parlayed rap artistry all the wayto the top and now continues improve on the quality of her art. Her latest album, " theDana Owens Album: Queen Latifah" is a tribute to her versatility. In it,she steps outside of the rap genre--the place where she got her start--with twelvesongs spanning the decades between 1920 and 1970, and she shows off her singingskills.

It was her cousin, a Muslim, who reportedly gave her the name "Latifah" andthe attachment of "Queen" to Latifah apparently came afterwards asher personality developed and her stature ascended to "royalty." However,it fits appropriately and perfectly. She became one of the most prominent andversatile rap artists of the 90s with a mixture of soulful, exotic and upliftingrhymes. Before long she had a string of albums to her credit and began to spreadher talents in other direction, namely television, movie, business and management.

As her parents, Rita and Lance Owens, posed with her for a magazine photo,they wore broad smiles of elegance and pride that only parents can genuinelydisplay effortlessly; their faces beamed approval. But it didn't all just happen.Latifah has all the trademarks of one who has gained a measure of success 'throughthe fire;' she paid the cost to be the boss and has earned the honor to be'the Queen' Latifah which means "delicate" or "sensitive."

At an early age, Latifah starred in her high school's production of "theWiz" and began rapping with a group called "Ladies Fresh." Incollege, she hooked up with Afrika Bambaataa's Native Tongue collective tohelp bring a more positive, Afro-centric flavor to the hip-hop genre. Thenin 1988, she scored with her first single, "Wrath of My Madness" followedby "Dance for Me." A year later, she released a full-length album, "AllHail the Queen," to favorable reviews including the singles "LadiesFirst" and "Evil That Men Do." Apparently, she was determinedto make a good first impression which she did, and what distinguished her fromthe run-of-the-mill rapper was the injection of her socially-relevant consciousnessand her inclusion of diversity with cuts from Sly and the Family Stone andtelevision theme songs.

In 1991, Latifah released "Nature of a Sista;" and it paralleledher previous album with some difference. The theme, in both titles, seemedto elevate the Black woman with a cautionary note to be aware of men. Withthe release of her third album, "Black Reign" in 1993, she won aGrammy for one of its singles, U.N.I.T.Y. while simultaneously branching offinto television as the lead in a sitcom, "Living Single." Even thoughshe had played supporting roles in movies before--in "House Party 2," "Juice" and "JungleFever"--and had a minor television role in "the Fresh Prince of BelAir," this was her grand entrance into television as the lead player.

After Latifah did "Set It Off," a movie in 1996, she attracted muchattention, and subsequently more roles began coming her way. She was then doingmovies, television and recording hip-hop, and in 1998, she hosted her own talkshow. While her professional career ascended, her personal life was punctuatedwith setbacks. Her older brother, Lance, was killed in a biking accident, ironicallyinvolving the motor-bike, she had bought for him. (This was just before herthird album and she dedicated it him.) Then a friend of hers was shot duringa carjacking where she was also one of the victims. And she was arrested forpossession of marijuana and a loaded handgun. However, she received a fineand probation.

These unfortunate incidents did not deter her from career achievements; theyappear to strengthen her resolve. She penned her autobiography in 1999 titled, "LadiesFirst: Revelations of a Strong Woman," and in it she discussed how shehandled and managed some of her life's tragedies from her brother's death todepression and drug abuse from which she totally recovered later on. The titleof her book depicted her personality, mindset and physical characteristicshonestly and correctly. Latifah forcefully responded to rumors and innuendoesabout her sex life specifically, 'Are you gay?' by reportedly stating, "It'sinsulting! A woman cannot be strong, outspoken, competent at running her ownbusiness, handle herself physically, play a very convincing role in a movie,know what she wants without being gay?" Well she was all of that witha touch of human-ness added. She had to have surgery to relieve back pain,and now works out with a trainer and kickboxes.

By the turn of the 21st century, Latifah had refined, combined and collaboratedall of her talents, and extended them into commercial and business ventures;on and off the stage; on and off the cameras. She became a spokeswoman fora line of Cover Girl cosmetics and for Pizza Hut. On her talk show, the QueenLatifah Show, she interviewed presidential candidate Al Gore at length abouthis criticism of the entertainment industry and how he planned to protect childrenfrom what he saw as indecent entertainment. Through her skilful, yet relaxed,focus on his past, Latifah was able to peek at his "wild side" whenhe admitted his partying and drinking days in college.

She was there when hip-hop mogul, Russell Simmons, held his second hip-hopsummit and had the head of the NAACP present and Minister Louis Farrakhan asthe main speaker. Also at the summit were some of the biggest names in thehip-hop industry including LL Cool J, Puffy Combs, and Will Smith, the onlyother rapper nominated for an academy award ("Ali").

As the Queen advanced professionally, observers noted the progressivenessin the quality of her work. Whereas, she started as a teenage rapper then gettingsitcom lead, Latifah's body of work took on a more serious tone as her rolesgrew. From the lead in "Set It Off" to "Chicago"--for whichshe was nominated for an academy award--through "Bringing Down the House, "BeautyShop," "Hairspray," "Taxi" and "Life Support," Latifahhas been continuously improving on the quality of her performances. And shehas been paired with some of Hollywood leading men including Denzel Washington(in "Bone Collector") and Ice Cube (in "Barbershop 2: Back inBusiness"). Similarly, her release of "the Dana Owens Album" wasa giant step in the song stylist tradition where she displayed diversity andexcellence "in the vocal department." In that album, she did a "mistress-ful" jobwith "California Dreamin'" coupled with a ton of talent.

Her move to serious drama in "Life Support" where she played therole of a real individual, Ana Wallace, an HIV advocate battling the disease,is a testament of her arrival at the top of her craft. According to a newsreport, Latifah hopes the story will inspire folks to speak up about the effectHIV is having on "our community." She went on to say, "If "LifeSupport" gets a dialogue going, then we've all done a good job. This isa preventable disease. Our people do not have to be dying." And she isright; too many people shun from helping others who are literally dying fromthe disease.

In January 2006, the Queen received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Famebecoming the first hip-hop artist to be so honored. She runs her own managementcompany named 'Flavor Unit' along with her business partner, Shakim Compereand she has unabashedly proclaimed, "I'd like to have and adopt children.I think I'd be a great mom, honestly." And at 37, Queen Latifah displaysall the vestiges of upward mobility in all her work.

 

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