Also known as: Dana Owens
Rapper, actress, producer
During the late 1980s, Queen Latifah emerged as one of the most significant artists to enter the scene of rap recording and earned a reputation as one of the most vital female artists of the following decade. In a recording media characterized by the belligerence of the gangster culture, Queen Latifah established herself as a pillar of female strength and developed a reputation as a role model for her generation. Harnessing her talent, her natural charisma, and her commanding, energetic presence, Queen Latifah has expanded her audience through her work in films such as Bringing Down the House, Chicago, Last Holiday, and Hairspray. In her many public appearances, as well as in books such as her memoir Ladies First: Revelations of a Strong Woman and the picture book Queen of the Scene, she inspires others to learn from her success.
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, Latifah lived in High Court in East Newark with her mother, a schoolteacher. She also maintained ties with her father, a police officer. At age eight, she was dubbed Latifah—from the Arabic for delicate and sensitive—by one of her cousins of Muslim background. She embellished her nickname with the "Queen" appellation on her own.
The intellectually gifted Latifah first began singing in the choir at Shiloh Baptist Church in Bloomfield, New Jersey. She added popular music, especially rap, to her repertoire around the time she entered Irvington High School, where she also played power forward on her school's championship basketball team.
Latifah's love of rap inspired her to form a group called Ladies Fresh along with two of her friends, Tangy B and Landy D. The trio sang in talent shows and made other appearances. They eventually changed their name to Flavor Unit. The three young rappers attracted the interest of a local disc jockey and basement record producer named Mark James, which led to a contract for Latifah with Tommy Boy Music in 1988. Tommy Boy released Latifah's first single, "Wrath of My Madness," and the record proved highly successful. By the time Latifah graduated Irvington High School and entered Borough of Manhattan Community 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 combining hip–hop, reggae, and jazz. The album espoused a number of socio–cultural themes including apartheid, women's rights, and poverty. All Hail the Queen sold over one million copies. During the early days of her career Latifah always sported her trademark queen's crown, 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 tragically in a motorcycle accident in 1992. The incident, by Latifah's own admission, left her devastated and, in 1993, she was harshly criticized for producing Apache's "Gangsta Bitch" release. She defended herself in classic rap rhetoric and argued that the music reflects reality and creates neither the situations nor the problems. Yet by the mid–1990s Latifah developed an association with an informal consciousness raising rap network, the Native Tongues, which involved such groups as the Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, and Tribe Called Quest. The Native Tongues maintained an outspoken stance against violence—especially in rap.
In 1998, 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, Latifah showed prudence and invested her earnings from early record sales. Soon she established herself as an entertainer and as an entrepreneur as chief executive officer of Flavor Unit Management. Latifah owns the recording management firm in Jersey City, along with a partner, Shakim Compere. With Motown Records as a distribution channel, Flavor Unit Management has managed a number of rap artists and groups.
After achieving major success as a rapper, Latifah gained similar notoriety as 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 during the taping of the show, Latifah maintained a home in Wayne, New Jersey, and never 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 contemporary youth. She also spent two years hosting her own syndicated talk show.
Among Latifah's early movies, House Party 2 was released in 1991 and featured Martin Lawrence. Although House Party 2 was widely panned, she received wide acclaim for her role as Cleo Sims, a tough lesbian bank robber, in the film Set It Off with Vivica A. Fox. Latifah also 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 left the public–at–large to speculate impertinently about Latifah's real–life sexuality. Latifah rebuked the invaders of her privacy with a sound determination to keep such personal matters private, asserting that details of her sexuality would never be of anyone's concern but her own.
Latifah's work as an actress runs the gamut of critical approval from an artistic standpoint. Her acting talents inevitably are praised, even when a 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 role in the film Hoodlum, the story of Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, a Harlem gangster from the Depression era. In February of 1998, she starred in Warner Brothers' Sphere with Dustin Hoffman and Sharon Stone.
In 1990, Latifah won an award as Best New Artist from the New Music Seminar of Manhattan. In April of 1994, she was nominated as solo artist of the year in the First Annual Source Hip–Hop Awards. Although she lost the award to Snoop Doggy Dogg, she came back in March of 1995 to win a Grammy Award for Best Rap Solo Performance. Also in 1995, at the Soul Train Music Awards she won the Sammy Davis, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year. Latifah performed at the American Music Awards in January of 1995, and in January of 1997 she was nominated for two Image Awards, including Best Actress in a Motion Picture for her role in Set It Off.
Queen Latifah's film career took an impressive jump on the fast track 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. However, she was determined to get the part. As the rap star explained to US Weekly, "You don't want to feel you are twisting someone's arm but I would have done it five times." Latifah's hard work paid off. She was nominated for an Oscar, a Golden Globe, and a Screen Actors Guild Award the following year. The role in Chicago also cemented Latifah's reputation as a mainstream actress. According to Miramax studio head Harvey Weinstein, "The Queen has it all, talent, intelligence and a voice that soars. She made Chicago red–hot."
In 2003, Latifah produced and starred in Bringing Down the House with famed comedian Steve Martin. Although the film did not win over the critics, Latifah was again highly praised for her role. It was also the first film produced by Flavor Unit Entertainment, her production company. In 2004, Queen Latifah continued on her path of success. 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. Towards the end of 2004, Queen Latifah planned to release two new albums. One is a rap record which will feature performances by Missy Elliot and several up–and–coming Flavor Unit artists, and the other is a jazz–influenced collection of original songs and classics covered by Queen Latifah. Latifah's roles in 1998's Living Out Loud and 2002's Chicago both flashed her vocal prowess, which she had the opportunity to showcase on the highly anticipated and much beloved recording.
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. Toward 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, worked on several movies in the mid–2000s. They include Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, Stranger Than Fiction, and Last Holiday. Queen Latifah may be a Queen solely in title, but her many talents continue to make her a royal entertainment figure.
January 27, 2008: Queen Latifah won the Screen Actors Guild Award for best actress in a television movie or miniseries for Life Support. Source: CNN.com, January 30, 2008.
January 13, 2008: Queen Latifah won the Golden Globe Award for best performance by an actress in a mini–series or motion picture made for television for Life Support. Source: Golden Globes, January 16, 2008.
Born Dana Owens on March 18, 1970, in Newark, NJ; daughter of Lance, a police officer, and Rita Owens, a teacher. Education: Attended Borough of Manhattan Community College. Addresses: Publicist––PMK HBH, 650 Fifth Ave., 33rd Fl., New York, NY 10019.Career
Released first rap single, "Wrath of My Madness"/"Princess of the Posse," 1988, Tommy Boy Music; European tour and appearance at the Apollo 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). TV appearances include: "Living Single," "Fresh Prince of Bel Air," "In Living Color," "Ellen," Hangin' with Mr. Cooper," "Mad TV," "The Arsenio Hall Show," "Mama Flora's Family," 1998, "Queen Latifah Show," 1999, "Spin City," 2001, (miniseries) "Living with the Dead," 2002; film appearances include: House Party 2, 1991; Jungle Fever, 1991; Juice, 1992; Who's the Man, 1993; My Life, 1993; Set It Off, 1996; Hoodlum, 1997; The Wizard of Oz, 1998; Living Out Loud, 1998; Sphere, 1998; The Bone Collector, 1999; (voice) Bringing Out the Dead, 1999; The Country Bears, 2002; Brown Sugar, 2002;; (voice) Pinocchio, 2002; Chicago, 2002; Bringing Down the House, 2003; Scary Movie 3, 2003, The Cookout, 2004, Beauty Shop, 2005, Last Holiday, 2006, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, 2006, Stranger Than Fiction, 2006; The Perfect Holiday, 2007; Mad Money, 2008; What Happens in Vegas, 2008; The Secret Life of Bees, 2008;.; albums include All Hail the Queen, 1990, The Nature of Sista, 1991, X–tra Naked, 1992, Black Reign, 1994, Order In The Court, 1998.