The First Ladies of Rap and Hip Hop culture are all forward-thinking pioneers whose legacies, both individual and collective, are undeniable. While these women don’t technically require a proper introduction at this stage in their careers as veterans, there’s no better time than Women’s History Month to celebrate the achievements, challenges overcome and contributions each have made over the past three decades.
The relationship women have with Hip Hop is a complicated one, as listeners, as creators and in how they are represented. While overcoming being subjected to misogyny, adversity, economic hardship, incarceration, sexual abuse/objectification, violence, and so on, these particular women have long worked to get their voices heard, consequently paving the way for other women to blaze their own paths as well. Despite securing a rightful place and identity within the culture not coming easy, the First Ladies of Hip Hop have pushed all sorts of boundaries over the years, creating some of the most seminal works helping to define and refine the genre as we know and love it today as a result.
Celebrating: Queen Latifah
Introduction: Born Dana Elaine Owens, on March 18, 1970, Queen Latifah has worn many, many hats both literally and figuratively. Her official titles range from songwriter, rapper, actress, plus-size model, television producer, fashionista, comedienne, talk show host and singer. Name it, she’s likely done it, and with her own signature blend of unmatched confidence, sass and poise.
All Hail The Queen: Despite her extremely successful career in entertainment, one cannot forget Latifah’s roots as a rapper. She signed her first recording contract at 17, sharing that the first thing she did afterwards was buy a gold tooth—which she then says she lost within one week.
Her debut album, All Hail The Queen, featured the hit single and feminist anthem “Ladies First,” and was released in 1989 via Tommy Boy Records. Four years later, and Latifah would go on to win a Grammy Award for her single “U.N.I.T.Y.” for Best Rap Solo Performance. Latifah has since recorded seven studio albums, selling nearly 2 million records worldwide. She would later also become the first female Hip Hop recording artist to be nominated for an Oscar.
List Of Achievements: How much time we got? From being a CoverGirl spokesmodel to having hosted her own syndicated daytime television show to running her own management company to her successful music career to starring and later producing major feature films, Latifah’s list of accomplishments is more than a mile long. Also notable is her feminist spirit and fearless leadership, countlessly speaking out on issues in order to uplift others, especially women of color and minorities.
Noteworthy: Queen Latifah is a contralto, which means her voice ranks classically as being the lowest voice type for a female. She possesses a two-octave vocal range, and can effortlessly rap and sing, often dubbed the “Queen of Jazz-Rap.”
Fun fact from the vault: At one point in time, Queen Latifah managed the careers of OutKast, LL Cool J and Naughty By Nature.
Wise words: “Fear can be good when you’re walking past an alley at night or when you need to check the locks on your doors before you go to bed, but it’s not good when you have a goal and you’re fearful of obstacles. We often get trapped by our fears, but anyone who has had success has failed before.”
Where she is now: Queen Latifah most recently took home a 2016 SAG Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Miniseries or Television Movie for her role in Bessie. 2016 will see her as the voice of the character Ellie in Ice Age: Collision Course.
Take a listen: