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Queen Latifah Biography

Last updated: 03/18/2014 05:08:16 AM

(b. March 18, 1970, Newark, N.J.), African American rap artist, actress, entertainment executive, and entrepreneur.

Queen Latifah, born Dana Owens in Newark, New Jersey, was nicknamed "Latifah" (which means "delicate" and "sensitive" in Arabic) at the age of eight by a black Muslim cousin. Soon afterward her parents separated, and Latifah moved with her mother, Rita, and older brother, Lance Jr., into a housing project in East Newark.

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Determined to offer her children a better life, Rita Owens worked two jobs while attending community college. She eventually took a position as an art teacher at Irvington High School, and the family moved to a house on Littleton Avenue in Newark.

In second grade, Latifah was found to be intellectually gifted. Her mother stretched the family finances so that her daughter could attend Saint Anne's parochial school, where Latifah first performed as Dorothy in her school's production of The Wiz.

In high school, the popular Latifah played power forward on the school's basketball team. During her sophomore year, she began rapping with two friends in an all-women's group called Ladies Fresh. Encouraged by her mother, she began recording and performing, and added "Queen" to her nickname.

Latifah was attending the Borough of Manhattan Community College in Manhattan when a demo tape featuring her rap "Princess of the Posse" made its way to Tommy Boy Records, based in New York City. She was quickly signed by the label, and in 1988, she released two singles, "Wrath of My Madness" and "Dance for Me." In 1989 she toured Europe, appeared at the Apollo Theater in Harlem, and issued her first album, All Hail the Queen, to wide acclaim. The album earned her the Best New Artist Award for 1990 by the New Music Seminar of Manhattan, and subsquently went platinum. Its second single, "Ladies First," celebrated black women's contributions to the struggle for black liberation in America, Africa, and around the world. It became a rap classic, eventually named by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock 'n' Roll.

By the time her second album Nature of a Sista' came out in 1991, Queen Latifah had begun investing in small businesses in her neighborhood, and acting both in television and movies (including Spike Lee's Jungle Fever, 1992). These successes were marred by contract conflicts that caused her to leave Tommy Boy, and by her brother's tragic death in a motorcycle accident in 1992.

After signing with Motown in 1993, Latifah released her third album, Black Reign, and with her newfound clout, founded Flavor Unit Records and Management, which primarily handles rap and new-style rhythm and blues groups. "U.N.I.T.Y," the album's first single, denounced sexist attitudes and violence against women. Latifah also landed a regular spot on the highly rated television sitcom, Living Single, which lasted five seasons.

Over the next few years, the Queen went on to more film roles, including the critically acclaimed portrayal of Cleo, a lesbian bank robber in 1996's Set It Off. She also produced and guest-starred on various musical projects, managed Flavor Unit artists, and worked for numerous causes, including antidrug campaigns.

In 1997 Queen Latifah was awarded the Aretha Franklin Award for Entertainer of the Year at the Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards. She released her fourth album, Order in the Court, in 1998.

Contributed By: Marc Mazique