Reviewed on this page:
All Hail The Queen - Nature Of A
Sista' - Black Reign - Order In The Court - The Dana Owens Album - Trav'lin' Light - Persona
Queen Latifah made a big splash when she first appeared, rapping
about uplifting the race (but not a separatist) and about being a
proud black woman (but not explicitly feminist), over beats that
were danceable (but not crossover). Since then, she's headed into
more mainstream territory, becoming more popular with the general
public (like Fresh Prince and LL Cool J,
she got her own TV show and went into movies) but has lost some credibility with
the hiphop fans who got her started. (DBW)
All Hail The Queen (1989)
Determined to make a good first impression, Latifah brought in a
bunch of guest producers and performers - De La Soul,
KRS-One, Daddy-O, Monie Love - and it keeps
things interesting. Every track here is good, mostly produced by DJ
Mark the 45 King, who uses lots of sax samples over hard beats to
create a sound that's uncompromising but tuneful. Her boasting raps
are pretty much like anyone else's; what distinguishes her
lyrically is smoking socially-relevant cuts like "Ladies First" and
"Evil That Men Do." And you've got to love a record that borrows
licks from everyone from Sly Stone to the
Barney Miller theme music. (There are three fun remixes on the CD,
but unfortunately they left off the excellent 12" version of
"Ladies First," which first displayed her lovely singing voice.) (DBW)
Nature Of A Sista' (1991)
Queen didn't use 45 King for this album; she has a variety of
producers including Naughty By Nature (a group she'd discovered)
and Soulshock, and they head for a lighter, keyboard-heavy sound:
the single "Fly Girl," with its sung chorus is heavily influenced
by LL's "Around The Way Girl." Some of these tracks work very well
on their terms ("Give Me Your Love" is lovely), but if you're
looking for hardcore hip-hop, this isn't it. She also has some more
traditional hip-hop jams (the single "Latifah's Had It Up 2 Here,"
"If You Don't Know" is yet another sample from James Brown's "The Payback"), Luis Vega (not
Little Louie Vega) recalls the previous album on a couple of sax-happy cuts (title track), and the Queen experiments with reggae on
"Sexy Fancy," and with acid-jazz on "How Do I Love Thee?" (DBW)
Black Reign (1993)
Like MC Lyte's Ain't No Other, this
was an attempt to recapture Latifah's street credibility - the cover
photo shows her angry-faced in gansta gear. She's convincingly
pissed-off and vulgar on "Rough..." (with guest rappers KRS-One, Treach
and Heavy D), but seems more comfortable on gentler crossover material
like the single "U.N.I.T.Y." and "Just Another Day." Once again, she
uses an army of producers: Tony Dofat, S.I.D., Kay Gee - the Queen
herself produces "Winkie's Theme," an excellent, jazzy tribute to her
brother - but mostly the hooks (musical and lyrical) aren't as sharp as
on Latifah's earlier work. There are some catchy tunes, though,
including three uptempo looks at romance: "I Can't Understand,"
"Superstar," and "Weekend Love." (DBW)
Order In The Court (1998)
Latifah's as well equipped as anyone to pull off a Missy Elliott imitation, and
she does that on a bunch of tracks here: sung choruses ("I Don't Know")
and dense, noisy grooves ("Bananas"). Elsewhere, it's the same
retro-soul style Latifah explored on the two previous albums ("Black On
Black Love," which samples The Isley
Brothers's "Make Me Say It Again Girl"). Despite the unoriginal
approach, it's a focused, potent album, with solid backing tracks
("Brownsville"), and some lovely vocals ("It's Alright"). She uses
more different producers than ever before - Marcus DL, Big Jaz, Kaygee,
Darrin Lighty, Pras (whose unimaginative take on "I Heard It Through The Grapevine" is a low
point), Kendu Isaacs, Big Baby McClary, Suga Allen, Devine Styler,
Diamond D, even DJ Clark Kent - but the sound is more or less consistent
throughout. Guests include Apache, Next, Inaya Jafan and Sisqo (remember him?). (DBW)
The Dana Owens Album (2004)
Look, I root for Queen Latifah whatever she's doing, and when I heard she was cutting a
jazz standards album I thought, "With her personality and lovely singing voice, this should
be fun." But it's a big bore, because she doesn't personalize the material: the opening
"Baby Get Lost" sets the tone, a generic big band blues delivered with clichéd
sauciness. The by-the-numbers rendition of "I Put A Spell On You" is downright bizarre,
given the outrageousness of the original.
The most unusual aspect of the project is the song selection: "California Dreamin'" and
Al Green's "Simply Beautiful" - with Green on backing vocals - sit alongside more
traditional fare like Billy Strayhorn's
"Lush Life." In the damning with faint praise department,
nothing's truly terrible, and a couple of the compositions are so strong they carry themselves
despite Latifah's underselling ("The Same Love That Made Me
Laugh," with disco strings; "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy").
A ton of talent is on hand - Arif Mardin produced half the tracks; Herbie Hancock plays piano on "Spell"; James Moody appears on "Moody's Mood For Love" - but everyone sticks to the program of sanding down the rough edges until the tracks are so smooth there's nothing to hold onto.
As an aside, am I the only one who's sick of this trend of rappers using their real name as
their album title? I get the idea about wanting to reveal your true self and not the
media-ready persona, but it still bugs me, especially on an album as impersonal as this one.
Trav'lin' Light (2007)
Another standards album, and again she makes some offbeat selections - 10cc's "I'm Not In Love"; the Pointer Sisters' "How Long (Betcha Got A Chick On The Side)" - in addition to safer choices like Johnny Mercer's title track.
The album also includes Marc Shaiman's "I Know Where I've Been," Latifah's big number from the film version of the Broadway show based on the John Waters film (whew) Hairspray.
The Queen's voice is flexible in the extreme, as comfortable mimicking the soprano pop stylings of Phoebe Snow ("Poetry Man") as the big band sass of Nina Simone's "I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl." In fact, the problem with the record is that she's so adept at copying others (an uncanny Smokey Robinson impression on "What Love Has Joined Together") she never develops her own identity: it sounds like one of those Starbucks "Songs I Want You To Think Influenced Me" compilations rather than Latifah's own album. "I'm Not In Love" is a lovely, sensitive reading; the rest of the album is professional but hollow.
Produced by Ron Fair and Tommy LiPuma; not as many guests this time, though Stevie Wonder's harmonica pops up on "Georgia Rose."
Latifah lurches from nostalgia to fad obsession, with producers Cool & Dre cooking up a set of dance tracks incorporating every late 00s R&B cliché: Auto-Tune ("With You"; "What's The Plan"); bright treble synth atop slow buzzing bass synth ("Fast Car" with Missy Elliott); strongly syncopated toy drums ("The Couch"). There's not much room left for Latifah's vocals - some rapped, some sung - or anything humanizing, and the disc sounds like one Rihanna outtake after another.
Despite a keyboard line recalling Toto's "Hold The Line," the deliberate "Runnin'" is reasonably enjoyable, and the gaga rocker "Over The Mountain" (produced by Skitz) is okay though repetitive - they're the only songs here I can recommend at all. A few name guests are wasted: Busta Rhymes ("Hard To Love Ya"); regguero Serani ("If He Wanna," produced by The Neptunes); Mary J. Blige ("People").
If you don't know...