Queen Latifah’s Jersey Tenacity Remains in Full Force

She got her start in East Orange’s nascent hip-hop scene and has been working on an affordable-housing development in her native Newark for the last several years.

Illustration of Queen Latifah

Illustration: Raul Arias

Queen Latifah has a long list of accolades on her résumé, from her role in the ’90s sitcom Living Single to hit albums, Oscar- and Golden Globe-nominated performances in Chicago and Bessie, and last year, a Kennedy Center honor. She even had her own talk show for a while. But the 54-year-old got her start as Dana Elaine Owen in East Orange’s nascent hip-hop scene.

“Growing up in New Jersey prepares you for whatever you might encounter outside in the world,” the Newark native once told New Jersey Monthly. “We’re not afraid to go places and try things.”

That sentiment couldn’t ring truer for this star. In 1989, she released the album All Hail the Queen on Tommy Boy Records. The smart, flowing and edgy track “Ladies First” didn’t just hit number 6 on Billboard’s rap chart, but also proved to be a pioneering record for female MCs, previously absent in hip-hop culture, adding a layer of feminism to a movement of consciousness. She also set up Flavor Unit Records and Management in Jersey City. Among the stable of artists she signed was Naughty By Nature, also from East Orange.

Her 1993 record Black Reign went gold, thanks in part to the single “U.N.I.T.Y.,” a rap classic that confronted misogyny in urban communities.

Later work saw her put her angelic voice to jazz and pop and delve into decades of TV, film and social justice. She has been working on an affordable-housing development in Newark for the last several years.

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