Born Dana Owens in
Newark, N.J., Queen Latifah has starred in TV sitcoms and Hollywood films
(including "Living Single" and "Beauty Shop"), headed her own production
company (Flavor Unit Entertainment) and numerous other businesses, and
signed on as a spokeswoman for a line of plus-size intimates (Curvation).
At age 34, she is
also a pioneering force in the development of hip-hop, one of the first
female rappers to be taken seriously, and a talented singer who took a
surprising turn toward jazzy standards on 2004's "The Dana Owens Album."
To this impressive
list of accomplishments, Latifah hopes to add the Perry Farrell or Sarah
McLachlan-like role of founder of an annual summer concert tour. Described
as "the black Lilith Fair," the initial bill for the Sugar Water Festival
features neo-soul queens Jill Scott and Erykah Badu, the rap duo Floetry and
We spoke as she
prepared to bring the show to Chicago tonight.
WITH JILL SCOTT, ERYKAH BADU, QUEEN LATIFAH AND FLOETRY
Charter One Pavilion, Northerly Island
Tickets $60.50 to $76
How did this tour come about?
This is an artist-oriented thing. My partner Sha-Kim Compere and I toured on
Lilith Fair a few years ago and just thought it would be great to do a tour
that was owned and operated by the artists on it, something that could be
done as a festival and geared toward an urban audience. So we kicked it
around for a while and approached Jill and Erykah, and they got it right
away, and Floetry jumped on board as well. We just made it happen.
What makes you feel a kindred spirit to Erykah and Jill?
The whole vibe: the music they make, the kind of style they have. Me and
Erykah are both Pisces, and I performed on her last album, so we're cool
with each other. Jill as well. We have our own style, but we're coming
Since you first entered the hip-hop game, the misogyny of many rappers
has grown much worse. Does that frustrate you?
It doesn't really frustrate me. There are a lot more people out there who
think the way we do than you would imagine. It's just that publicly, that
other image gets more play. It's what is pumped to the people through radio
and videos and magazines. But I think people want to hear good music,
period. It ain't about all that, especially the people I grew up with in
hip-hop. We're older now, and we want to hear Common, we want to hear Kanye
[West]. We want to hear Jay-Z, too, but at least we know he'll give us
clever lyrics to go along with the "big hoes" stuff.
What sort of set will you be doing? Is it more along the lines of the
jazz standards on your last album or old-school hip-hop?
I'll be mixing it up: four or five songs from "The Dana Owens Album" and
some blasts from the past. For me, music is music. I listen to all kinds of
music, and people who love music don't listen to one type of music. Radio
would rather segregate things and play specifically to a certain audience,
and that's cool. Luckily we can make our own CDs at home or listen to
satellite radio and let them mix it up. But my hip-hop records have always
been pretty musical. They've been jazz-influenced, reggae-influenced, Latin
music-influenced. Records like "Ladies First" [from 1989's "All Hail the
Queen"] and "U.N.I.T.Y." [from 1992's "Black Reign"] had singing hooks
anyway, so bridging that gap was not too hard. And you should see how the
audiences get excited when we give them a taste of the new and then hit them
with the old. You go through several moods when you watch one of my shows.
Has your musical diversity worked against you in your career? Other
rappers who've branched out as much as you have been written off as "soft."
You have to be strong in your own spot. You can't worry about what other
people say about you. The strength has to start from the inside. I can sit
with the rawest rappers out there, but as far as putting all that on my
record, that's not my style. I'd rather give other things to the public and
keep that for myself and my crew when we are just freestyling. It's not
necessary for me to put anymore of that out there when I know I have all
these other gifts to offer. I have talent; I don't have to chase other
rappers out there. A Tribe Called Quest had a great career, and are about to
drop another album. Busta Rhymes, De La Soul, to me it's the ones who tried
to follow the trends who are not out there anymore. Those trends play out
and that's not really who you are, so you can't outgrow them or surpass
When you pump the
people with short attention spans, it is what it is. We devalue our own
music. It's not anyone else's fault. If we treated our artists with the
respect they deserve as they've made record companies millions and millions
of dollars, then you'd see more of that. But many of us do respect our
hip-hop history. I'd love to see more old-school tours going around. That
music was the bomb. I could go see a concert with Slick Rick, Eric B & Rakim,
Run-DMC, EPMD. I'd be more quick to spend my money on that than I would on
most modern rappers. I know those artists know how to do a show; secondly,
they have the hits I love, and thirdly, it's a respect thing: That was the
era when hip-hop was hitting me as a kid.
You've succeeded as an
actress, a businesswoman and an entrepreneur. Where does music fit in for
you these days? Is it still your first love?
Music will always be the first love. It's just in me. Everything else is the
result of hip-hop. If it wasn't for that music, I don't know if I would've
gotten into acting; I know I had that ability, but I don't know if I
would've been able to get in. I thank God for hip-hop music and it being a
starting place for me to explore my creativity and see what I'm capable of,
whether it's singing or acting or business.
There's nothing like
being on stage and performing for a crowd: Whether they love you or hate
you, it's real and it's right there. You are receiving energy right away,
and most of the time it's positive energy. Life is tough; life can be hard,
so why not go to a place where you can get good energy all day?