Hip-Hop's First Lady
"Staying grounded, being who I am and not trying to be somebody else. I've seen a lot of people come and go in this business who believed in what they read about themselves, who believed the hype. I don't go with that." Queen Latifah
Rap artist and actress Queen Latifah, sometimes nicknamed Hip-Hop's First Lady, was launched to fame with her album All Hail the Queen (1989, spawned hit singles "Wrath of My Madness" and "Ladies First," with Monie Love and Black Reign, 1993, with the Grammy-winning single "U.N.I.T.Y."). She later switched to acting and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress for portraying Matron “Mama” Morton in the movie Chicago (2002). The rapper-actress who also played Khadijah James on Fox’s sitcom “Living Single” (1993-1998) and hosted her own show “The Queen Latifah Show” (1999-2001), has also acted in such films as Set It Off (1996), Hoodlum (1997), The Bone Collector (1999), Bringing Down the House (2003), Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2004), Taxi (2004) and Beauty Shop (2005). She will star in the upcoming films Last Holiday, Stranger Than Fiction and Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (voice).
In the mid-1990s, Latifah gained public attention when she was car-jacked (a friend of hers was shot) and later arrested for carrying a loaded pistol, driving without a license and possession of marijuana (she later received a fine and two years probation). On a more positive note, the acclaimed rapper-actress was listed on VH1's “100 Greatest Women of Rock N Roll.”
Delicate and Sensitive
Childhood and Family:
The daughter of former policeman Lance Owens (separated from Rita Owens when Latifah was nine; trained Latifah and Lance in karate and use of guns) and high school art teacher Rita Owens (also an executive; born in 1949), Dana Elaine Owens was born on March 18, 1970, in Newark, New Jersey. At age eight, a Muslim cousin gave her the nickname “Latifah,” which means "delicate" and "sensitive" in Arabic. Latifah also has one older brother, Lance Owens Jr. (born in 1969), a policeman who was killed in an off-duty accident in 1992 on the motorcycle Latifah bought him as a present. Latifah later dedicated the song "Winky's Theme" from the album Black Reign to him and she still wears the motorcycle key around her neck.
Latifah attended Frank H Morrell High School in Irvington, New Jersey, where she was the power forward on the girl’s basketball team and led them to two New Jersey state championships. After her graduation in 1987, Latifah went to Manhattan Community College, in New York, New York.
"I'm not always funny. There are people who are funnier than me, way funnier. I think I'm right. I think I have a great sense of humor, so I can be silly and I'm not afraid to make fun of myself or be ugly in a movie. I'm willing to put myself out there where some people aren't." Queen Latifah
Young Queen Latifah began singing in the choir of Shiloh Baptist Church in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and then sang a version of "Home" as one of the two Dorothys in a production of “The Wizard of Oz” at St. Anne's parochial school. During her high school years, Latifah began rapping and formed a rap group called Ladies Fresh, with her friends Tangy B and Landy D. They once won a high school talent contest. During this time, Latifah found jobs at a Burger King fast-food restaurant and as a cashier at the Wiz in Newark, New Jersey.
Along with local disc jockey Mark James (a.k.a. D.J. Mark the 45 King), Latifah recorded a demo and delivered it to Yo! MTV Raps host Fred Braithwaite (professionally known as Fab 5 Freddy). The record caught the eye of Dante Ross, a Tommy Boy Music employee, who immediately signed Latifah to a recording deal. In 1998, under Tommy Boy Music, Latifah released her first single "Wrath of My Madness" and followed it up with "Dance for Me." The following year, Latifah’s full-length debut album, All Hail to the Queen, was released. It was unusually successful for a hip-hop record at the time, soared by the single "Wrath of My Madness" and the feminist anthem "Ladies First" (with Monie Love). All Hail the Queen topped at #6 and #124 on Billboard's (North America) Top Hip Hop/R&B Albums and the Billboard 200 charts, respectively.
Latifah appeared as the musical guest on the TV series "In Living Color" in September of 1990 and then on ABC’s "Time Warner Presents the Earth Day Special." The next year, she guest starred on Will Smith’s "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air." Latifah soon arrived on the big screen by playing bit parts in actor-writer-director Spike Lee's romantic drama Jungle Fever, George Jackson and Doug McHenry's comedy House Party 2, and Ernest R. Dickerson's gritty, hard-boiled street drama Juice (1992, with Omar Epps and Tupac Shakur). In the music scene, Latifah launched her sophomore album, the lighter Nature of a Sista (1991).
Under the new recording company Motown, Latifah released her third album, a jazz and reggae influenced album title Black Reign, in 1993. It featured her biggest hit single, "U.N.I.T.Y.," which hit the R&B Top Ten and won a Grammy for Best Solo Rap Performance. The album also proved to be Latifah’s commercial breakthrough album and was the first album by a female rapper ever to go gold. She also nabbed the lead regular role of Khadijah James (1993-1998) on Fox’s popular sitcom "Living Single," which she also wrote and performed the theme song. Latifah made first significant feature dramatic appearance opposite Michael Keaton and Nicole Kidman in writer-director Bruce Joel Rubin's drama My Life, and co-founded her own record label, Flavor Unit Records, a part of her media company Flavor Unit Entertainment.
1996 saw Latifah with her first leading role alongside Jada Pinkett-Smith, Vivica A. Fox and Kimberly Elise in F. Gary Gray's Set It Off, which won Latifah an Acapulco Black Film Festival Award for Best Actress. She subsequently won roles in films like Bill Duke's crime drama Hoodlum (1997, starring Laurence Fishburne and Tim Roth), Barry Levinson's adaptation of Michael Crichton's novel, the sci-fi thriller Sphere (1998, with Dustin Hoffman, Sharon Stone and Samuel L. Jackson) and writer-director Richard LaGravenese's romantic drama comedy Living Out Loud (1998, alongside Holly Hunter and Danny DeVito). On the small screen, Latifah costarred with Cicely Tyson, Erika Alexander and Blair Underwood in director Peter Werner's take on Alex Haley's book, Mama Flora's Family (1998). Latifah also continued rapping and released the album Order in the Court (1998), in which she also sang a duet with Faith Evans and the Fugees' Pras. Order in the Court sold respectably well on the power of the songs "Bananas (Who You Gonna Call?)" and "Paper."
From 1999 to 2001, Latifah hosted her own show "Queen Latifah Show," a daytime talk show, which also ran in syndication. Latifah spent the rest of the 1990s joining Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie in Phillip Noyce's mystery movie based on Jeffery Deaver's book, The Bone Collector, and appearing in Martin Scorsese's film version of Joe Connelly's novel, Bringing Out the Dead (starring Nicolas Cage). TV viewers watched Latifah played a recurring role, as psychic Robin Jones, on the ABC sitcom "Spin City" in 2001, and appear on CBS’ miniseries adaptation of James Van Praagh's book, "Living with the Dead," in 2002. She then provided her voice to Peter Hastings' family comedy film The Country Bears and was cast by Rick Famuyiwa to costar with Taye Diggs and Sanaa Lathan in his romantic comedy Brown Sugar (both in 2002).
Latifah’s acting performance received rave reviews when she portrayed prison Matron Mama Morton in Rob Marshall's adaptation of Maurine Dallas Watkins' play and Bob Fosse's book, the blockbuster musical crime comedy Chicago (2002, with Renee Zellweger, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Richard Gere). The role eventually earned Latifah Golden Globe and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actress. Although she did not win the coveted awards, Latifah took home Screen Actors Guild, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Black Reel awards.
Latifah hosted the "Saturday Night Live" show in March of 2003 and hosted the sixth annual Divas benefit concert for VH1’s "Save the Music." That same year, she received a Grammy nomination for Best Female Rap Solo Performance for the song "Go Head" and started a partnership with lingerie line Curvations. In front of the camera, she costarred as escaped con Charlene Morton, who wants Steve Martin's character to help her clear her name, in Adam Shankman's comedy Bringing Down the House (2003), which won her NAACP's Image Award for Best Actress. She also appeared as Aunt Shaneequa in David Zucker's third installment of the Scary Movie franchise, Scary Movie 3 (2003).
As for her music career, Latifah released the album Dana Owens Album (2004), under the Interscope recording company. The album, a collection that highlighted her singing skills rather than her rapping skills, earned a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album. Meanwhile, she continued acting and was seen in Kevin Rodney Sullivan's comedy Barbershop 2: Back in Business (with Ice Cube and Cedric The Entertainer, Latifah played a Beauty salon owner) and in Lance Rivera's comedy The Cookout (starring Quran Pender, Latifah also co-wrote the story and produced).
Filmmaker Tim Story handed her the starring role as mouthy and feisty taxicab driver Belle, opposite Jimmy Fallon, in his action comedy Taxi (2004), the English-language adaptation of Luc Besson's French action comedy, and director Bille Woodruff later gave her the lead role of Gina Norris, a hairstylist who opens up a beauty shop, in his spin-off of the successful "Barber Shop" films, Beauty Shop (2005, also featuring Alicia Silverstone, Andie MacDowell, Alfre Woodard and Mena Suvari). Latifah then lent her voice for character Auntie Em in The Muppets' Wizard of Oz (2005, starring Ashanti).
Latifah will soon be seen starring as Georgia Byrd, a shy sales clerk, in Wayne Wang's drama comedy Last Holiday (with Alicia Witt, LL Cool J , Giancarlo Esposito and Gerard Depardieu) and will costar opposite Will Ferrell, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman in Marc Forster's romantic comedy Stranger Than Fiction. She will also be heard in Carlos Saldanha's Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (2006), alongside Ray Romano, John Leguizamo and Denis Leary.
“I'm pretty much the same but trying to be better every day. I don't think the success has gone to my head. I don't think I'm alienating friends or losing friends.” Queen Latifah