By Frank Donovan
To celebrate the week of Queen Latifah’s 45th birthday, we’re serving up 8 things that today’s younger generation simply must realize about the great QL. Today she’s one of those figures you take for granted. You see and hear her everywhere–officiating a mass wedding at the Grammys, looking glam in Cover Girl ads, voicing Ellie in the Ice Age movies–she’s an omnipresent media icon.
But Dana Owens started as the beat-boxing daughter of a policeman and an art teacher in New Jersey. She broke out on the scene at just 19 years old and immediately made a name for herself as one of the most successful and respected female MCs in hip hop in the late 1980s. She didn’t stop there though. In a rare career arc, Latifah has conquered almost every facet of entertainment and business–from rap to jazz, comedy to drama, managing to producing. She is a force.
Read on for more essential knowledge about the venerable Queen Latifah.
1. She was once the queen of hip hop.
Before Lil’ Kim, Missy Elliot, and Nicki Minaj there was Queen Latifah. One of the founding females of hip hop, Queen Latifah came up in the early days of the genre in the 1980s and rose to royal status at just 19 years old when her debut All Hail the Queen dropped in 1989. She was at the top of the game in the early 90s. In 1993 her third album Black Reign became the first album by female rapper to go gold. Though she hasn’t been rhyming for some time now, her career has never stopped moving onward and upward to new territories.
2. She is seriously multi-talented.
Queen Latifah is one of those people who can casually pick up a hobby and accidentally become the best at it. She has certifiably conquered music, film, and TV with Grammy, Emmy, and Academy Award nominations (and some wins) to prove it. After making a splash in the hip hop scene, Latifah made her acting debut in Spike Lee’s Jungle Fever, and went on to do several more films and TV shows, including a starring role in Living Single. She’s continued recording, but has moved on to jazz instead of hip hop. What can she not do?? It was no surprise to anyone when she was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2006.
3. She has major acting chops.
Queen Latifah isn’t just good enough to dabble in TV and movies. She made everyone look twice after shining in her first dramatic role alongside Jada Pinkett Smith and Vivica A. Fox in the 1996 film Set It Off. In 2002 she starred in the film adaptation of the musical Chicago and earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress–making her one of just three hip hop artists to ever be nominated for an Oscar in an acting category (alongside Will Smith and Jamie Foxx.) This was a major milestone for QL, and she has since continued to act in films like Hairspray, The Secret Life of Bees and Life Support–for which she won a Golden Globe.
4. She is private about her personal life.
Queen Latifah is not a Kardashian era celebrity–all up in social media airing their dirty laundry, relationship ups and downs, or what they had for lunch that day. Her inner circle mostly consists of family and pre-fame friends. For years there’s been widespread speculation that she may be gay, but Latifah offers next to no commentary to inquiring press. She told the New York Times in 2008 “‘I don’t feel like I need to share my personal life, and I don’t care if people think I’m gay or not. Assume whatever you want. You do it anyway.’”
5. She is an advocate for women.
Her name says it all. Since day one, Queen Latifah has embodied female empowerment. She added “Queen” to her nickname “Latifah” just before making her rap debut, because “every woman is a queen and should be treated as such.” While still a teen, she rapped about sexism in hip hop with the influential “Ladies First” off her debut album. The Grammy-winning “U.N.I.T.Y.” further broadened the scope of her concerns about sexism to street harassment and domestic violence against women. QL has also made a point of differentiating herself from other female artists by not over-sexualizing her public image.
6. She is a business woman.
Instead of blowing her first big paycheck on a car, house, or wardrobe, Queen Latifah decided to invest her money in a video store and a deli in the ground floor of her apartment building. “I’m not living large; I just want to live comfortably. I wanna have financial stability that is unshakable. Real estate. Maybe a C.D. I think I’d like to invest in solar cars,” she told Interview magazine–in 1990! It was around that time that she, her mother, and her childhood friend founded production and management company Flavor Unit Entertainment. QL has truly built an unshakable empire. On top of her success as a rapper, singer, and actress, she produces for film and TV and has become a spokesperson for Jenny Craig and Cover Girl, where she has her own line–Queen Collection.
7. She spots and nurtures young talent.
Not only is she a talented star herself, but Queen Latifah has a knack for spotting talent in others. With management company Flavor Unit, Queen Latifah represented and managed Outkast, Naughty by Nature, Monica, Faith Evans, SWV, and many other hip hop and R&B artists. She even came up with Naughty by Nature’s name!
8. Her one achilles heel: hosting talk shows.
Clearly, Queen Latifah can do it all–with one exception. Twice now the Queen has hosted a talk show The Queen Latifah Show. Once from 1999 to 2001, and another iteration in 2013 that lasted just over a year before being canceled. But she is so personable and charismatic–she’s an ideal talk show host! What’s the deal?!
[Photo: Getty Images]