Give it to ‘em Queen: A Birthday Tribute to Queen Latifah
Here at g.o.a.t Hip-Hop we’ve been talking a lot about our favorite women in the genre lately and there’s one name in particular that keeps coming up: Queen Latifah. Coincidentally, her birthday happens to fall on March 18, right in the middle of women’s history month. Although there is no blog article long enough to give proper shine to all of her accolades and milestones, I thought it would only be right to make a dedication piece entirely in honor of the Queen and her contributions to hip-hop culture.
I first discovered Queen Latifah when I saw the "Latifah's Had it up 2 Here" video for the first time in 1991. The song was the first single from her sophomore album, Nature of a Sista.
I had never seen a video starring a female mc with a male’s voice only featured on the hook (“give it to ‘em Queen!”). Even as a child I recognized her potency and soon discovered her first album, 1989’s platinum-selling All Hail the Queen. From then on, I became a lifelong fan.
I’m not going to lie, as soon as I began to revisit some of her hits and read through her biography I felt overwhelmed. This woman has accomplished a lot in her 47 years! Perhaps she was foreshadowing when she added the “Queen” in front of her childhood nickname Latifah (arabic name for “gentle and kind”) upon signing with Tommy Boy Records at the young age of 19. She already knew what the rest of us would soon find out: she most definitely is royalty.
From the very beginning of her career, “La” had a presence. Her fashion was Afrocentric and she often wore a hat or headdress resembling a crown. She was positive, socially conscious and multi-talented. She could could sing (she has a two-octave vocal range and a background in Jazz), beatbox, produce and rap. She’s fiercely private about her personal life and has almost never been involved in a public scandal or controversy. I dare you to find anyone who doesn’t love her, she has a magnetism that just seems to win people over.
Her legacy as a hip hop trailblazer is more than most artists have accomplished in the history of the genre. Keep in mind that it’s all in addition to everything else she’s done. She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (2006), has received Emmys, Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, two NAACP Image Awards, and an Academy Award nomination. She is the only female rapper to ever be nominated for an Oscar for an acting role (The only other two are Mark Wahlberg and her close friend, Will Smith.)
She has been in some of the most iconic movies of our generation including hip-hop cinema classics like Juice, Set it Off and Brown Sugar (“When Did You First Fall In Love With Hip-Hop?”) She made a big screen debut in a film by none other than iconic director Spike Lee in 1991’s Jungle Fever (with Wesley Snipes, Halle Berry and Samuel L. Jackson.)
Here are just a few of my favorite Latifah movie moments and the superstars she has co-starred with.
1992: Juice (with Tupac!)
1996: Set It Off (She played Cleo, whom she has said is the most important role of her acting career! Plus, Jada Pinkett Smith and Vivica A. Fox!)
1999 The Bone Collector (with Denzel and Angelina, no last names necessary)
2002: Chicago (her role as Matron "Mama" Morton earned her an Oscar nomination!)
2007: Hairspray remake (with John Travolta and Michelle Pfeiffer!)
2015: The Wiz Live! (with Mary J. Blige, Common and Ne-Yo)
2015: Bessie (4 emmy wins for the iconic jazz singer biopic!)
And who can forget Living Single? At only 23 years old, she became the star of her own sitcom on FOX. The successful show about single women living in New York City ran from 1993-1998. I still think it’s the original model for Sex and the City. Fight me.
It’s hard to keep up with this renaissance woman. Perhaps her hairspray director Adam Shankman said it best:
“Queen Latifah is basically just a bottomless well of talent.”
What Queen Latifah has done for Hip-Hop:
Hip-Hop Mogul: Not only was she a top grade entertainer, she has always had a strong business acumen and has done a lot for hip-hop from behind the scenes. In 1991, she organized and became chief executive officer of the Flavor Unit Records and Management Company alongside partner Shakim Compere. The company has also produced dozens of movies and tv specials, including the very important VHI Hip Hop Honors: All Hail the Queens. As a management company, their clients have included superstars Monica, OutKast, Faith Evans, Total, SWV, LL Cool J, Zhané, and Naughty By Nature, among others.
Hip-Hop Mentor:She took a young Naughty by Nature under her wing in 1990 and is responsible for changing their name from The New Style to Naughty by Nature. The trio went on to sell over 3 million albums in the US and win multiple awards including a Grammy for best rap album (1996’s Poverty’s Paradise.)
Hop-Hop Citizen:She has a place in hip-hop history as a member of the Native Tongues collective, known for creating music with conscious, Afrocentric content. Sonically, the crew is known for pioneering the use of eclectic sampling and jazz-influenced soundscapes. The crew also included rap legends De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, and the Jungle Brothers.
Hip-Hop Artist: Tommy Boy Records struck Gold when they signed a young La. Her debut single, "Wrath of My Madness", and was certified gold in 1990.
Her follow up single was the feminist anthem "Ladies First" (with fellow Native Tongues member, Monie Love). The single has since been ranked #35 on VH1's 100 Greatest Songs Of Hip Hop and remains one of Latifah's signature songs.
Already an established artist, she broke new ground with her third album, Black Reign (1993.) For this album, Queen’s sound had evolved to include more jazz- and reggae-influenced sounds along with the social messages her audience had grown to love. The album included hits "Just Another Day," "Black Hand Side," and her monumental "U.N.I.T.Y." The Grammy Award-winning single (Best Rap Solo Performance, 1995) remains Latifah's biggest hit.
I could go on and on but I think I’ve made my point clear: Hip-Hop culture wouldn’t be what is is without Latifah’s nearly 30 year contribution to it. Do yourself a favor and throw one of the best guest bars of all time, her verse on Brandy’s “I Wanna be Down (remix)” and give a toast to the Queen!
Corina Corina is an Oakland bred, NY based writer, performer, and artist.
g.o.a.t Hip Hop