Dana Elaine Owens (born March 18, 1970), known professionally as Queen Latifah, is an American rapper, singer, songwriter, actress, and producer. Born in Newark, New Jersey, she signed with Tommy Boy Records in 1989 and released her debut album All Hail the Queen the same year, featuring the hit single “Ladies First”. Nature of a Sista (1991) was her second and final album with Tommy Boy Records.
Latifah starred as Khadijah James on the FOX sitcom Living Single, from 1993 to 1998. Her third album Black Reign(1993), spawned the single “U.N.I.T.Y.“, which won a Grammy Award and was successful on the Billboard Hot 100. She then starred in the lead role of Set It Off (1996) and released her fourth album, Order in the Court, in 1998, with Motown Records. Latifah gained mainstream success and acclaim with her performance in the film Chicago (2002), receiving an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
Latifah released her fifth album The Dana Owens Album in 2004. In 2007 and 2009, she released two more studio albums – Trav’lin’ Light and Persona. She created the daytime talk show The Queen Latifah Show, which ran from late 2013 to early 2015 on CBS. She has appeared in a number of films, such as Bringing Down the House (2003), Taxi (2004), Barbershop 2: Back in Business (2005), Beauty Shop (2005), Last Holiday (2006), Hairspray (2007), Joyful Noise (2012), 22 Jump Street (2014) and Girls Trip (2017). Latifah received critical acclaim for her portrayal of blues singer Bessie Smith in the HBO film Bessie (2015), which she co-produced, winning the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Television Movie. Since 2016, she has starred as Carlotta Brown in the musical drama series Star.
She has long been considered one of hip-hop’s pioneer feminists. Queen Latifah received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006. Latifah’s work in music, film and television has earned her a Grammy Award, an Emmy Award, a Golden Globe Award, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, two NAACP Image Awards, an Academy Award nomination and sales of over two million records.
Early life and education
Dana Elaine Owens was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 18, 1970, and lived primarily in East Orange, New Jersey. She is the daughter of Rita Lamae (née Bray), a teacher at Irvington High School (Latifah’s alma mater), and Lancelot Amos Owens, a police officer. Owens attended Essex Catholic Girls’ High School in Irvington, but graduated from Irvington High School. Her parents divorced when Latifah was ten. Latifah was raised in the Baptist faith and attended Catholic school in Newark, New Jersey. She found her stage name, Latifah meaning “delicate” and “very kind” in Arabic, in a book of Arabic names when she was eight. Always tall, the 5-foot-10-inch (1.78 m) Latifah was a power forward on her high school basketball team. She performed the number “Home” from the musical The Wiz in a grammar school play. After high school, Queen Latifah attended classes at Borough of Manhattan Community College.
1988–1989: Career beginnings
She started beat boxing for the hip-hop group Ladies Fresh and was an original member of the Flavor Unit, which, at that time, was a crew of MCs grouped around producer DJ King Gemini, who made a demo recording of Queen Latifah’s rap Princess of the Posse. He gave the recording to Fab 5 Freddy, the host of Yo! MTV Raps. The song got the attention of Tommy Boy Music employee Dante Ross, who signed Latifah and in 1988 issued her first single, “Wrath of My Madness”.
1989–2002: Rap & hip-hop
Latifah made her mark in hip-hop by rapping about issues of black women. Her songs covered topics including domestic violence, harassment on the streets, and relationship problems. Freddy helped Latifah sign with Tommy Boy Records, which released Latifah’s first album All Hail the Queen in 1989, when she was nineteen. That year, she appeared as Referee on the UK label Music of Life album 1989—The Hustlers Convention (live). She received a Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1992. In 1998, co-produced by Ro Smith, now CEO of Def Ro Inc., she released her fourth hip-hop album Order in the Court, which was released by Motown Records. Latifah was also a member of the hip-hop collective Native Tongues.
2003–2009: Change to traditional singing
In 2009, Latifah, along with the NJPAC Jubilation Choir, recorded the title track on the album Oh, Happy Day: An All-Star Music Celebration, covering the song that the Edwin Hawkins Singers made popular in 1969.
2008–present: Return to hip-hop
In 2008, Latifah was asked if she would make another hip-hop album. She was quoted saying the album was done already and it would be called “All Hail the Queen II”. The following year, in 2009, she released her album Persona. The song “Cue the Rain” was released as the album’s lead single. She also has a song with Missy Elliott. 2011 saw Queen Latifah sing “Who Can I Turn To” in a duet with Tony Bennett for his album “Duets II”. In January 2012, while appearing on 106 & Park with Dolly Parton, to promote Joyful Noise, Latifah stated that she had been working on a new album.
Film and television
1991–2001: Early career
From 1993 to 1998, Latifah had a starring role on Living Single, the FOX sitcom, which gained high ratings among black audiences; she also wrote and performed its theme music. Her mother Rita played her mother on-screen. She began her film career in supporting roles in the 1991 and 1992 films House Party 2, Juice and Jungle Fever. She had her own talk show, The Queen Latifah Show, from 1999 to 2001 and revamped in 2013. On January 6, 2014, The Queen Latifah Show was renewed for a second season. However, on November 21, 2014, Sony Pictures Television canceled Latifah’s show due to declining ratings. Production of the series closed down, taking effect on December 18, 2014, leaving new episodes that were broadcast until March 6, 2015. She also guest starred in 2 episodes during the second season (1991–1992) of the NBC hit The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She made a guest role as herself on Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper in 1993. Latifah appeared in the 1996 box-office hit, Set It Off, and had a supporting role in the Holly Hunter film Living Out Loud (1998). She played the role of Thelma in the 1999 movie The Bone Collector, alongside Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.
2002–present: Mainstream success
Although Latifah had previously received some critical acclaim, she gained mainstream success after being cast as Matron “Mama” Morton in Chicago, a musical film that won the Academy Award for Best Picture. Latifah herself received the nomination for Best Supporting Actress for her role, but lost to co-star Catherine Zeta-Jones. Latifah is one of five hip-hop/R&B artists to receive an Academy Award nomination in an acting category. The others are Will Smith (Best Actor, Ali, 2001, and The Pursuit of Happyness, 2006), Jennifer Hudson (Best Supporting Actress, “Dreamgirls“, 2007), Jamie Foxx, (Best Actor, Ray, and Best Supporting Actor Collateral, both in 2004, also winning the first) and Mary J. Blige, (Best Supporting Actress, Mudbound.)
In 2003, she starred with Steve Martin in the film Bringing Down the House, which was a major success at the box office. She also recorded a song “Do Your Thing” for the soundtrack. Since then, she has had both leading and supporting roles in a multitude of films that received varied critical and box office receptions, including films such as Scary Movie 3, Barbershop 2: Back in Business, Taxi, Kung Faux, Beauty Shop, and Hairspray. In early 2006, Latifah appeared in a romantic comedy/drama entitled Last Holiday. Film critic Richard Roeper stated that “this is the Queen Latifah performance I’ve been waiting for ever since she broke into movies”. Also in 2006, Latifah voiced Ellie, a friendly mammoth, in the animated film, Ice Age: The Meltdown (her first voice appearance in an animated film), and appeared in the drama Stranger Than Fiction.
The summer of 2007 brought Latifah triple success in the big-screen version of the Broadway smash hit Hairspray, in which she acted, sang, and danced. The film rated highly with critics. It starred, among others, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, Allison Janney, James Marsden, Christopher Walken, and Zac Efron. Also in 2007, she portrayed an HIV-positive woman in the film Life Support, a role for which she garnered her first Golden Globe Award, Screen Actors Guild Award and an Emmy nomination. For her work, Queen Latifah received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, on January 4, 2006, located at 6915 Hollywood Blvd.
On April 26, 2017, MTV announced that Latifah will be an executive producer for the third season of the slasher television series Scream. The show will undergo a reboot with a new cast and Brett Matthews serving as show runner. In addition, Shakim Compere and Yaneley Arty will also be credited as executive producers for the series under Flavor Unit Entertainment.
Latifah’s music usually contains hip-hop, jazz and gospel and has the elements of R&B, soul, and dance. She possesses a two-octave vocal range. Queen Latifah is a contralto, and she has the ability to rap and sing. Her biggest musical influences are EPMD, KRS-One, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, and Run–D.M.C. She also cites Bessie Smith as one of her influences.
Products and endorsements
Latifah is a celebrity spokesperson for CoverGirl cosmetics, Curvation ladies underwear, Pizza Hut, and Jenny Craig. She represents her own line of cosmetics for women of color called the CoverGirl Queen Collection. Latifah has also launched a perfume line called “Queen” and “Queen of Hearts”. On May 23, 2018, Latifah was named the godmother of Carnival Cruise Lines’ vessel Carnival Horizon.
Latifah’s older brother, Lancelot Jr., was killed in 1992 in an accident involving a motorcycle that Latifah had previously purchased for him. A 2006 interview revealed that Latifah still wears the key to the motorcycle around her neck, visible throughout her performance in her sitcom Living Single. She also dedicated Black Reign to him. In her 1999 autobiography, Ladies First: Revelations of a Strong Woman, Latifah discussed how her brother’s death had led to a bout of depression and drug abuse, from which she later recovered.
In 1995, Latifah was the victim of a carjacking, which also resulted in the shooting of her boyfriend, Sean Moon.
In 1996, she was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana and possession of a loaded handgun. In 2002, she was arrested for driving under the influence in Los Angeles County. She was placed on three years’ probation after being convicted.
She also works out with a trainer for kickboxing.
On March 21, 2018, her mother, actress Rita Owens, passed away due to heart failure, an issue she had been battling since 2004.
Feud with Foxy Brown
Disagreements between Foxy Brown and Queen Latifah began in mid-1996, where media reports indicated that Brown was a prime target in Latifah’s diss record “Name Callin'”, which was featured in the movie soundtrack Set It Off. In response, Brown made allegations of Latifah “checking her out” at musical events and had even gone further to question Latifah’s sexuality in various public radio interviews. In 1998, Brown released a diss record titled “10% Dis”, where she continually questioned Latifah’s sexuality and accused her of being jealous.
By late spring of 1998, Latifah responded to Brown through another diss record titled, “Name Callin’ Part II”. In the record, Latifah disses Brown about her heavy reliance on sex-appeal, in which she implies that Brown has to rely on skimpy outfits to hide her “half-assed flow”. Foxy Brown retaliated via a response-diss record titled “Talk to Me”, in which Brown made fun of the ratings of Latifah’s television talk show and went on to make various homophobic remarks to both Latifah and then-newcomer Queen Pen.
A significant part of media dubbed Latifah as “the winner” of the feud. Hip-hop magazine ego trip stated that Latifah won the feud with her diss record “Name Callin’ Part II” and added that she showed that “the lady’s still first”, in reference to Latifah’s 1990 single, “Ladies First”. In 2000, Brown and Latifah reconciled; to show truce, Brown performed her song “Na Na Be Like” on The Queen Latifah Show.
Legacy and influence
In her music career, she sold nearly 2 million records worldwide. Queen Latifah has been dubbed as the “Queen of Jazz-Rap”. She became the first female hip-hop recording artist to get nominated for an Oscar. The Root ranked her at number 35 on The Root 100 list. Latifah was inducted into the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006 and the New Jersey Hall of Fame in 2011. She is a recipient of a Grammy Award, with six nominations, a Golden Globe Award, two Screen Actors Guild Awards, with two nominations, two NAACP Image Awards, including thirteen nominations, one Emmy Award, with three nominations and an Academy Award nomination. Queen Latifah became an influence to R&B, soul, and hip-hop artists, such as Eve, Da Brat, Lil’ Kim,, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, Missy Elliott, Remy Ma, Ivy Queen, Foxy Brown, Ms. Dynamite, and Naughty by Nature.