<b>WORDS BY AMBER MCKYNZIE</b>
You may best associate Queen Latifah with her role on the ’90s sitcom, <em>Living Single</em>, as magazine editor Khadijah James; or her chart-topping 1994 hit, “U.N.I.T.Y.” The newer generation may recognize her as one of the faces of CoverGirl. But no matter how fans know her, the properly named Dana Elaine Owens has evolved from a Newark, NJ MC to multimillion-dollar brand.
With an estimated worth of $50 million, Latifah has taken over the film industry in movies such as <em>Just Wright</em> (2010), <em>Stranger Than Fiction</em> (2006), <em>Bringing Down the House</em> (2003), <em>Chicago</em> (2002) and <em>The Bone Collector</em> (1999); set the precedent for women in hip-hop with her 1994 Grammy award for Best Rap Solo Performance; and become the reigning face to a cosmetic conglomerate. This Queen has broken down barriers some entertainers have not succeeded in doing, and BlackEnterprise.com is here to breakdown the life of the Grammy-winning rapper turned CoverGirl.
Queen Latifah took over the music scene in 1988 with her first single, “Wrath of My Madness,” and soon after let hip-hop know this wasn’t a man’s world anymore with the release of her debut album, <em>All Hail The Queen</em>. The Newark, NJ-born MC was a pro, and she wasn’t scared to let people know it. Latifah collaborated with rapper Daddy O for her single, “The Pros,” and let the competition know that there was no competition.
“As soon as she attempted to make a sound/I ate her up with a verb, throwed her down with a noun/CauseI hate when someone challenges me, but cannot balance with me/I get annoyed when they can’t go blow for blow.”
Two years after the release of her first LP, the Queen dropped her sophomore album, <em>Nature of a Sista</em> (1991), but it was her third studio album, <em>Black Reign</em> (1993), that truly put Latifah on the map. With the release of this album, hip-hop’s female lead quickly let people know she could never be referred to as a b*tch, or any woman for that matter, with her chart-topping single, “U.N.I.T.Y.” The ’90s female anthem came in at No. 1 on <em>Billboard’s</em> Hot Dance Music/Maxi-Singles Sales chart and No. 2 on the Hot Rap Singles chart. From there, Latifah went on to release four more albums over the next 11 years.
While the breakthrough female MC produced seven albums over 20 years, it was her “U.N.I.T.Y.” single that keep her in the hearts of millions. That track received a 1994 Grammy award for Best Rap Solo Performance, and is still featured on countless hip-hop collective albums including <em>Hip-Hop: Gold</em> (2006) and <em>Mastercuts Hip-Hop</em> (2006).
Many people associate the classic mid-90s film, <em>Set It Off</em>, as Queen Latifah’s first on-camera appearance, but she actually first touched the big screen in 1991 as Lashawn in<em> Jungle Fever</em>. While that role may not be her most memorable, she returned to the screen that same year as Zora alongside Kid ’n’ Play in <em>House Party 2</em>. But it wasn’t until two movie appearances later (<em>Juice</em>, 1992 and <em>My Life</em>, 1993) and her first television cameo with Oscar-nominated actor, Will Smith on <em>Fresh Prince of Bel-Air</em>, that she found her breakout role as Cleo Sims—the loud-talking ring leader that convinces her three friends to rob banks so they can get out the hood—in <em>Set It Off</em> (1996). And although the actress formally known as Dana Owens didn’t take home any mainstream awards for her performance, the film set the precedent for roles to come.
Over the next five years, Latifah starred in 11 films, including the Grammy-nominated film for best song, <em>Brown Sugar</em> (2002). Then, no less than two months later, the New Jersey-born renaissance woman starred as Matron Mama Morton in <em>Chicago</em> (2002), and was nominated to receive an Academy Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her outstanding performance. Since then, Queen Latifah has starred in 25 films including <em>Hairspray</em> (2007), <em>Secret Life of Bees</em> (2008) and <em>Mad Money</em> (2008), and acted alongside critically acclaimed actors such as Jennifer Hudson, Dakota Fanning, Diane Keaton, Katie Holmes, Ice Cube, Will Ferrell, John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer and many more.
To date, the rapper/actress has starred in 41 films, and has a new one on the way, set to release in 2013.
After two movie appearances, the Queen made her television debut on the <em>Fresh Prince of Bel-Air</em> in 1991, but she found her niche two years later in 1993 on the set of <em>Living Single</em> (1993 – 1998), where she played the role of Khadijah James. The show followed the lives of six friends living in Brooklyn, New York. The show aired for five seasons on Fox.
But while Latifah’s sitcom days “only” lasted five years, she continued to make television appearances throughout the years, and over time began voice-over work on shows such as <em>The Fairly Odd Parents</em> and <em>The Muppets</em>. And like any great actress, Queen stepped on the set of <em>Saturday Night Live</em> in 2008, starring alongside Anne Hathaway. But her most recent television highlight is set to take place with CBS next fall as the cover girl inked a deal with the network for a daytime talk show set to launch next fall. The show is called <em>The Queen Latifah Show</em>, and the actress is holding a countdown to the show’s premiere on her website, queenlatifah.com.
Queen Latifah has turned herself into quite the brand over the years. Three years after releasing her memoir,<em> Ladies First: Revelations of a Strong Woman</em> (1998), and three years before releasing her fifth studio album, <em>The Dana Owens Album</em> (2004), the multifaceted entertainer signed on to endorse CoverGirl in 2001. Since then, she has launched her Queen Collection, which is make-up specifically made for women of color, and has appeared in 13 different print ads for the cosmetics conglomerate in the last five years.
Aside from embodying all it takes to be a CoverGirl, Latifah is also a spokesperson for Jenny Craig. She signed on with the weight-loss company in 2009, and has showed women everywhere just what Jenny Craig can do. The all-around spokeswoman has also endorsed Pizza Hut and become a voice for her clothing line, Curvation, a not-for-size-zeros brand.