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Reminisce With M.I.S.S.: Queen Latifah

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Reminisce With M.I.S.S.: Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah, the hip hop legend, has been rapping since the late 80s.

Queen Latifah, the hip hop legend, has been rapping since the late 80s.

When I first embarked on my own blogging enterprises a little over a year ago (shameless plug: www.theladiesfirst.blogspot.com!), I brainstormed what I wanted my blog to represent. Fun, fresh, understated yet unmistakable femininity, and freedom of creative expression were definitely what dreamed of contributing to the online community. So when it came time to name my blog, I was at a loss for a few days. I thought about everything that had influenced me growing up–movies, music, pop culture in general. A lot of potential ideas were tossed around, but I finally settled on a name that came from the song “Ladies First”. The early 90s hit is all about a woman being the prototype when it comes to doing things right, with intelligence and grace. And I think there’s no better way to summarize the fem-cee behind the hit, Queen Latifah, whose power and musical positivity over the course of her 22-year career has changed the way women are received in the hip hop community, for the better.

The Queen started early on in her career by teaming up with the like-minded Native Tongues clique.

The Queen started early on in her career by teaming up with the like-minded Native Tongues clique, and was one of the original members of the Flavor Unit Posse.

Born Dana Owens in Newark, NJ in 1970, Queen Latifah grew up singing in the Baptist church, but as she got older, she found more of a home in the world of hip hop. In high school, the 5’10” Latifah began beatboxing for a crew of girls that called themselves Ladies Fresh. This was good practice, but no indication of the Queen’s full abilities. She began writing and perfecting her own rhymes. She must have been getting ready for what was to come, because when a demo recording of Latifah’s  “Princess of the Posse” landed in YO! MTV Raps host Fab Five Freddy’s hands, she was quickly inked to a contract with Tommy Boy Records.

Her albums: All Haill the Queen (1989), Nature of a Sista (1991), Black Reign (1993), Order in the Court (1998), The Dana Owens Album (2004)

Her albums: All Hail the Queen (1989), Nature of a Sista (1991), Black Reign (1993), Order in the Court (1998), The Dana Owens Album (2004), Travelin' Light (2007), Persona (2009).

In 1989, when she was only 19 years old, Latifah’s first album All Hail the Queen was released to huge critical acclaim. The album also put Queen Latifah on the rap game’s radar with the classic “Ladies First”. The single, a collaboration with her fellow Native Tongues posse member MC Monie Love, spoke to the ferocity and power of women in the game. The song boasted some of the most lyrically sophisticated and influential rhymes, announcing to the male-dominated industry that “A Woman Can Bear You/Break You/Take You”. The song helped the album peak at #6 on Billboard’s Top Albums. With production from the likes of KRS-One and Prince Paul, it was evident that Queen Latifah had definitely earned the respect she deserved as a female rapper. And instead of resting on her rap laurels, the Queen formed Flavor Unit Entertainment, a management/production company that put on some of your favorite pioneers in the game, including Naughty by Nature. Keeping with the whole busy trend, she released her second album on Tommy Boy records, Nature of a Sista in 91.

Tragedy struck Latifah, but she only rebounded harder-- U.N.I.T.Y anyone?!

As part of the Native Tongues and during the 90s, Latifah's look was a mix of Afrocentric and more contemporary pieces.

However, it was not the chart topping success that her last album was, and when her contract expired, she was dropped by Tommy Boy. This seeming failure marked the beginning of a rough time for Latifah– she was victim of a carjacking, and her brother Lance lost his life in a tragic motorcycle accident. Years later, The Queen opened up about dealing with the tragedy: “I don’t know if I ever recovered completely. I know I don’t hurt as bad as I used to hurt. You can’t replace a person, especially someone with a big presence like my brother. We were best friends, there were no secrets between us.” (http://www.femalefirst.co.uk/music/musicnews/Queen+Latifah-58085.html). She has also gone on record to say that her music helped her through that rough time, and after re-signing with Motown Records and working on new material, she released Black Reign in ’93. The album was a smash, mostly because of the signature song U.N.I.T.Y. A firm slap in the face to disrespectful and abusive dudes, the song is an anthem for women everywhere and a SERIOUS life-long inspiration of mine. Lyrics like “You put your hands on me again I’ll put your ass in handcuffs” reminded women everywhere to stand up for themselves, and guys everywhere that the Queen was still in the house!

The Queen has become a big box-office draw, even scoring an Oscar nod for her role in the mega-star musical Chicago.

The Queen has become a big box-office draw, even scoring an Oscar nod for her role in the mega-star musical Chicago.

While her rap rebound was on the come up, Latifah began the second phase of her career, which would soon make her a household name–acting. Starting with smaller guest starring and supporting roles in films like Jungle Fever, House Party 2 and Juice, the Queen made memorable early on-screen impressions. Who could forget her guest-starring turn as Hillary’s bitchy celebrity boss on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air?! CLASSIC. The small roles paid off, because Latifah soon landed her own sitcom, Living Single, the hilarious thorn in my productive side. Seriously, yo, it seems like ANYTIME I try to get something really important done, a Living Single marathon/DVD box set pops up and derails my plans with hours of laughs. *Sigh* It’s becoming a real problem! But I digress… on the show, which centered on the lives of six friends living in Brooklyn, Latifah played Khadijah James, a hard-working editor/publish of the fictional urban independent magazine Flavor. Portraying a strong, intelligent woman was something Latifah had no problem doing, and she received the NAACP Image Award for her work on the show in 1998. After the end of Living Single, the Queen got her mini-Oprah on and hosted her own talk show–The Queen Latifah Show, and continued to act. Her breakout role, in terms of boosting her star power and making her a certified Hollywood celeb, was her work as Matron “Mama” Morton in the 2002 Oscar-sweeping musical Chicago. Latifah managed to steal the spotlight even amongst a cast of heavyweights like Richard Gere, Renee Zellweger and Catherina Zeta Jones, and was nominated herself for a Best Supporting Actress Oscar that year. Even though she didn’t win, the nomination marked a serious turning point in her career. These days, The Queen is a bone fide star, she commands anywhere from $10 to $15 million per flick, and has carried hits such as The Perfect Holiday and the upcoming Just Wright.

Now a Cover Girl spokeswoman, sometimes-face of Weight Watchers, and that mysterious Voice-Over in the Pizza Hut campaign on TV– the Queen is a certifiable part of American culture. Sure, she’s in a bit more (OK, a LOT more) of a commercial place now than she was when she started, but at least she’s done it her way. When hip hop, or the world at large, gets too out of check, Dana Owens–The Queen– is right there, quietly but powerfully reminding us that the Ladies really are First!

Especially Queenly Facts

*Queen Latifah played power forward on her basketball team all through high school– and won two championships! You go girl!
*She played two VERY different guest starring characters on The Fresh Prince: One, Marissa Redmond (Hillary’s stuck-up boss) and the other, DeDe (Will’s tomboy crush)
*”Latifah” is Arabic for sensitive and delicate– a cousin gave her the nickname when she was 10.
*One upon a time, even this Queen flipped burgers at Burger King.


Queen Latifah feat. Monie Love– “Ladies First”

Queen Latifah– U.N.I.T.Y.

Queen Latifah as Matron “Mama” Morton in Chicago

Queen Latifah– THE LETTER O!!

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Reminisce with M.I.S.S. – Monie Love

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Reminisce with M.I.S.S. – Monie Love

Monie Love's solo debut

Monie Love's solo debut

Monie Love was one of the first CDs I bought with my “own money”. Before buying any of her discs, I bought the TAPE SINGLE (remember those?) for the song “It’s A Shame (My Sister)”. Monie had a cute voice, a little lighter than MC Lyte’s, but with just as much panache. Monie was a pioneer in the female rap game, and although she was not as well known as some of her colleagues, she still contributed greatly to the genre and helped gain some respect for the “female voice” in hip-hop.

Monie Love was born Simone Gooden (a great name in itself) in London in 1970. She started in hip-hop as an emcee in the British Jus Bad crew on Tuff Groove records in 1988, but gained worldwide commercial attention through her cameos in Queen Latifah’s “Ladies First”, The Jungle Brothers’ “Doin’ Our Own Dang”, and in De La Soul’s “Buddy” remix. These cameos led Monie to sign with Warner Bros. Records. Monie was a member of the rap collective Native Tongues, which also included A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, Queen Latifah, and the Jungle Brothers among others (The Source).

Queen Latifah and Monie Love were both members of Native Tongues collective

Queen Latifah and Monie Love were both members of Native Tongues collective

Monie Love was featured on De La Soul's "Buddy" (see video below)

Monie Love was featured on De La Soul's "Buddy" (see video below)

The covers for Monie's second album and for the single for "Born to B.R.E.E.D."

The covers for Monie's second album and for the single for "Born to B.R.E.E.D."

On Warner, Monie released Down to Earth in 1990. Her solo debut reached #26 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and contained the singles “Monie in the Middle” (which got two Grammy nominations) and “It’s a Shame (My Sister)”. This record also featured the hilarious single “Grandpa’s Party” (video below). Three years later in 1993, Monie released In a Word or 2, which featured some slower tracks had much more of a Tevin Campbell-style R&B flavor. This album only reached #75 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts, which is quite a surprise, considering the single “Born to B.R.E.E.D.” was produced by the one and only Prince and at one point was #1 on the Hot Dance Music chart. The song deals with the issue of young mothers, and offers a positive spin on a woman’s ability to “Breed”, or “Build Relationships where Education and Enlightenment Dominate”. Prince liked Monie so much, he even hired her to write lyrics for one of his side-projects – which happened to be an album he was producing for Carmen Electra. Yes, even the chick behind the Electra Pole once had an album! Prince also produced the title track “In a Word or 2” on Monie’s eponymous sophomore effort. This is a standout track, but one of my favorite cuts on the album was the track “Full Term Love” which contained a sample of Fatback’s “I Found Lovin’” and had a verse that ran through my head every time I attempted to run the mile in gym class in middle school: “Speedy Gonzalez/You better slow down/Because I’m level-headed with my feet on the ground.” I would hear that funky bassline as I jogged, and it would keep me going. Don’t ask me why we remember such mundane things from our childhood. People are wierd lke that with their selective memories!

"Monie in the middle. Where she at? In the middle!"

"Monie in the middle. Where she at? In the middle!"

Later on, Love entertained a short career in radio, and was the morning drive host on Philadelphia’s WPHI-FM 100.3 from 2004-2006. It has been rumored that Young Jeezy was responsible for getting her fired from this gig, as her resignation was announced shortly after she and Jeezy had a heated argument on-air about the state of hip-hop. Check the audio out below….you can hear Jeezy leaving the studio in a huff, and getting offended by Monie’s observations. Personally, I think Monie does know more about real hip-hop, and has a point when she says the subject matter of songs now contrasts greatly with the topics discussed in the hip-hop of yesteryear. She doesn’t really explain her argument with complete reticence – I mean, she says “irregardless” at one point in the discussion – but she was the OG of the rap game in this situation, and Jeezy seemed not to know her background in the industry aside from the fact that she originally came from England. Jeezy gets defensive when Monie gets loud, and immediately assumes that Monie was insulting him and his style of rapping. Supposedly, Monie left the talk show “amicably”, but there is a lot of speculation that Jeezy’s label encouraged the station to let Monie go.
Monie Love Fights with Jeezy
(click to listen)

Despite the aforementioned roadblocks, Monie is not in the middle, but at the top – She secured a radio show on XM Satellite Radio called Ladies First Radio with Monie Love, and lives with her 4 children in Philadelphia, PA. She laments the state of rap and the negative messages/roles of the female rappers in this day and age. She even went as far as to call Jermaine Dupri “retarded” during an interview after learning he made the following statement:

“In order for women to stand out in hip-hop, you need to talk about what women want to hear about, and that’s dick.”

(The Source).
In the interview, she also calls Lil’ Kim a

“Salt-N-Pepa on steroids”.

Fun Facts about Monie

1. Her song “It’s a Shame (My Sister)” was featured in the Kid N’ Play movie Class Act….the song is playing when Kid (aka Blade Brown) tries to teach Play (aka Duncun) how to dance for the upcoming prom. See the video below! Oh, and the Blade Brown’s moves are ON POINT in the most hilarious way.
2. Monie Love was on MTV’s show Lip Service.
3. “It’s a Shame (My Sister)” contains a sample of a Spinners’ “It’s a Shame””; a song originally written for the group by Stevie Wonder.

“Monie in the Middle”

“It’s A Shame (My Sister)”

“Buddy” (Monie around approx. 3.00 mark)

“Full Term Love”

“Grandpa’s Party”

Scene from Class Act

“Born to B.R.E.E.D.”

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Ladies Love Hip Hop

This Friday, October 27th, in Philly, “Ladies Love Hip Hop” hosted by the one and only Monie Love & DJ Ultraviolet at Fluid 613 S. 4th Street. OPEN BAR from 10 to 11. And if you’re in Philly, please have a cheesesteak for me – it’s been a while!!

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