Born Dana Owens on March 18, 1970, in Newark, NJ; daughterof Lance, a police officer, and Rita Owens, a teacher. Education: Attended Borough ofManhattan Community College. Addresses: Record company--Motown Records, Publicity & Media Relations,825 8th Ave. 28th floor, New York, NY 10019.
During the late 1980s, Queen Latifah emerged as one of the most significantartists to enter the scene of rap recording, and earned a reputation as oneof the most vital female artists of the following decade. In a recording mediacharacterized by the belligerence of the gangster culture, Queen Latifah establishedherself as a pillar of female strength and developed a reputation as a rolemodel for her generation.
Queen Latifah was born Dana Owens on March 18, 1970 in Newark, New Jersey.Her parents, Lance and Rita Owens, separated in 1978. After the breakup, Lataifahlived in High Court in East Newark with her mother, a schoolteacher. She alsomaintained ties with her father, a police officer. At age eight, she was dubbedLatifah--from the Arabic for delicate and sensitive--by one of hercousins of Muslim background. She embellished her nickname with the "Queen"appellation on her own.
The intellectually gifted Latifah first began singing in the choir atShiloh Baptist Church in Bloomfield, New Jersey. She added popular music,especially rap, to her repertoire around the time she entered Irvington HighSchool, where she also played power forward on her school's championship basketballteam.
Latifah's love of rap inspired her to form a group called Ladies Freshalong with two of her friends, Tangy B and Landy D. The trio sang in talentshows and made other appearances. They eventually changed their name to FlavorUnit. The three young rappers attracted the interest of a local disc jockeyand basement record producer named Mark James, which led to a contract forLatifah's with Tommy Boy Music in 1988. Tommy Boy released Latifah's firstsingle, "Wrath of My Madness," and the record proved highly successful. Bythe time Latifah graduated Irvington High School and entered Borough of ManhattanCommunity College, her first two single releases already had sold 40,000 copies.
In 1989, Latifah undertook a European tour and released her first album, All Hail the Queen,a diverse collection combininghip-hop, reggae, and jazz. The album espoused a number of socio-cultural themesincluding apartheid, women's rights, and poverty. All Hail the Queensold over one million copies. Duringthe early days of her career Latifah always sported her trademark queen'scrown, wearing it at all public appearances.
In 1993, she released her first album on Motown, Black Reign, dedicated to the memory of her late brother,Lance Latifah, Jr. A police officer like his father, he was killed tragicallyin a motorcycle accident in 1992. The incident, by Latifah's own admission,left her devastated and, in 1993, she was harshly criticized for producingApache's "Gangsta Bitch" release. She defended herself in classic rap rhetoricand argued that the music reflects reality and creates neither the situationsnor the problems. Yet by the mid-1990s Latifah developed an association withan informal consciousness raising rap network, the Native Tongues, involvingsuch groups as the Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, and Tribe Called Quest. TheNative Tongues maintained an outspoken stance against violence--especiallyin rap.
In 1997, Latifah released her second album with Motown, Order in the Court. The album included the hit single"Bananas," with Apache. "Bananas" was listed on Billboard's Best in August of 1998. Despite her youth, Latifahshowed prudence and invested her earnings from early record sales. Soon sheestablished herself as an entertainer, and as an entrepreneur as chief executiveofficer of Flavor Unit Management. Latifah owns the recording management firmin Jersey City, along with a partner, Shakim Compere. With Motown Recordsas a distribution channel, Flavor Unit Management has managed a number ofrap artists and groups.
After achieving major success as a rapper, Latifah gained similar notorietyas an actress, mainly through her own hit television show, Living Single. Living Single aired for five years on the Fox Network, beginning in 1993.Although she found it necessary to live much of the year in Los Angeles, duringthe taping of the show, Latifah maintained a home in Wayne, New Jersey, andnever ceased to consider New Jersey her home. Latifah also appeared on Fox's"Smart Kids" in December of 1994, a program to encourage and empower contemporaryyouth.
Among Latifah's early movies, House Party 2was released in 1991 and featured Martin Lawrence. While House Party 2was widely panned, she received wideacclaim for her role as Cleo Sims, a tough lesbian bank robber, in the film Set It Offwith Vivica A. Fox. Latifahalso recorded with Organized Noize for the title sound track of the picture.It was the controversial nature of the role of Cleo Sims, however, that leftthe public-at-large to speculate impertinently about Latifah's real-life sexuality.Latifah rebuked the invaders of her privacy with a sound determination tokeep such personal matters private, asserting that details of her sexualitywould never be of anyone's concern but her own.
Latifah's work as an actress runs the gamut of critical approval froman artistic standpoint. Her acting talents inevitably are praised, even whena movie or an album is panned. In September of 1994 she appeared on NBC's Met Life Presents the Apollo Theatre Hall of Fame,and as a presenter at the 1994 Essence Awards. In 1997, she had a small rolein the film "Hoodlum," the story of Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, a Harlem gangsterfrom the depression era. In February of 1998, she starred in Warner Brothers' Sphere with Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone.
Honors and Awards
In 1990, Latifah won an award as Best New Artist from the New MusicSeminar of Manhattan. In April of 1994, she was nominated as solo artist ofthe year in the First Annual SourceHip-Hop Awards. Although she lost the award to Snoop Doggy Dogg, she cameback in March of 1995 to win a Grammy award for Best Rap Solo Performance.Also in 1995, at the Soul Train Music Awardsshe won the Sammy Davis, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year. Latifah performedat the American Music Awards in January of 1995, and in January of 1997 shewas nominated for two Image Awards, including Best Actress in a Motion Picturefor her role in Set It Off.
Although she is a hero of feminists in particular, she prefers to notbe labeled. She believes in making some compromises, but not in the sacrificeof self worth for money. Latifah cultivates varied interests. Her associatesinclude many prominent personalities. In 1997, she undertook to write a bookabout self-esteem, for publication by William Morrow and Company.
Queen Latifah's film career really took off in 2002 when she starred as "Mama" Morton in the film version of Chicago. Latifah went through three auditions to beat out such stars as Rosie O'Donnell, Kathy Bates, and Bette Midler for the role, but she was determined to get the part. And she was widely considered to be perfect in the role. Latifah's hard work paid off. She was nominated for an Oscar, an Golden Globe, and a Screen Actor's Guild Award the following year. The role in Chicago went a long way to establishing Latifah's reputation as a mainstream actress, and from that point on she was seen in a whole slew of very different movies, all of which Latifah added a special air to.
In 2003 Latifah was named one of People magazine's 50 most beautiful people. Then in March of 2004 Latifah won an Image Award from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for outstanding actress for Bringing Down the House. The movie, in which Latifah stared alongside Steve Martin, was very popular, and Latifah was again highly praised for her role. It was about a woman who escapes from prison and goes to attorney Peter Sanderson's house to get him to help her prove her innocence. Jet wrote about her performance, "And Latifah indeed brings down the house in the outrageous comedy in which she stars as Charlene, a prison escapee who turns attorney Peter Sanderson's (Steve Martin) life upside down." It was also the first film produced by Flavor Unit Entertainment, Latifah's production company.
In 2004, Queen Latifah continued on her successful movie path. Over the course of the year, Latifah prepared to star in and produce several high-profile pictures, including Miramax's My Wife is a Gangster, MGM's Beauty Shop, and Paramount's Bad Girls. Variety said of the film Beauty Shop, "Queen Latifah struts her stuff with ingratiating verve in "Beauty Shop," a sunny and sassy comedy that somehow manages to breathe fresh life into familiar stereotypes and stock situations." Latifah also starred in the movie Taxi in 2004, which was released by 20th Century Fox. The comedic movie was a remake of the 1998 French film of the same name. Towards the end of 2004, Queen Latifah released the album, The Dana Owens Album. After her success in the movie Chicago, where Latifah proved she could really belt out a song, she seemed to cleave to a different sort of sound. This album was a change for Latifah, as it was less rapping and more jazzy blues and singing. She performed one of her songs off the album at the 2005 Grammys, where she was nominated for Best Jazz Vocal Album. She also presided at the ceremony.
The rap star, turned movie star has a number of movies that she was working on at the end of 2005. These movies include Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, Stranger Than Fiction, and Last Holiday.
by Gloria Cooksey
Queen Latifah's Career
Released first rap single, "Wrath of My Madness"/"Princessof the Posse," 1988, Tommy Boy Music; European tour and appearance at theApollo Theater, 1989; released first album, All Hail the Queen, 1989; other releases include, Nature of a Sista, Tommy Boy Music, 1991; Black Reign, Motown,1993; Order in the Court (includes "Bananas), Motown,1998; CEO of Flavor Unit Entertainment Company (recording management).
- Selected discography
- "Wrath of My Madness," Tommy Boy Music, 1988.
- "Dance for Me,"/"Inside Out," Tommy Boy Music.
- All Hail the Queen ,TommyBoy Music, 1989.
- Nature of a Sista ,Tommy Boy Music, 1991.
- Black Reign , Motown,1993.
- Order in the Court (includes"Bananas), Motown, 1998.
- The Dana Owens Album 2004.
- Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_3/index.jsp, September 15, 2004.
- Ebony, January 2005, p. 130.
- Entertainment,September 4 1992.
- Essence, May 1,1995; April 2005, p. 61.
- Jet, February 3, 2003, p. 34; April 7, 2003, p. 58; October 11, 2004, p. 60; January 31, 2005, p. 53.
- New York Beacon,March 26 1997.
- New York Times, movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=28999, October 8, 2004.
- New York Times, http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=302684, April 1, 2005.
- People, May 12, 2003, p. 110; October 18, 2004, p. 30, & p. 44.
- Reuters.com, www.reuters.com, January 16, 2005.
- Source, August1998.
- USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/people/2004-03-08-naacp-awards_x.htm, March 8, 2004.
- Variety, April 4, 2005, p. 61.