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Rap Biographies: Queen Latifah

Queen Latifah
Dana Elaine "Queen Latifah" Owens (born March 18, 1970) is an American Grammy Award-winning rap artist and singer, and an Academy Award-nominated actress.

As with many other rappers, Latifah started out by sending her fresh rap music to local radio stations and DJs. Her mix tapes soon became a hot item and she was signed to Tommy Boy Records at 18 years old.

Queen Latifah was certainly not the first female rapper, but she was the first one to become a bona fide star. She had more charisma than her predecessors, and her strong, intelligent, no-nonsense persona made her arguably the first MC who could properly be described as feminist. Her third album, Black Reign, was the first album by a female MC ever to go gold, a commercial breakthrough that paved the way for a talented crew of women rappers to make their own way onto the charts as the '90s progressed. Latifah herself soon branched out into other media, appearing in movies and sitcoms and even hosting her own talk show. Yet even with all the time she spent away from recording, she remained perhaps the most recognizable woman in hip-hop, with a level of respect that bordered on iconic status.

Latifah was born in Newark, New Jersey to parents Lancelot Owens (a police officer) and Rita (a high-school art teacher); they divorced when she was eight years old. After singing in the choir of her local Baptist church, she performed the number "Home" from the musical The Wiz in a high school play. Born Dana Owens, her stage name, Latifah, meaning "delicate" and "sensitive" in Arabic, was given to her when she was eight by her cousin. While in high school, she was a power forward on her basketball team. Her father also gave her lessons in karate and firearms use.

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 started her career beatboxing for the rap group Ladies Fresh. In 1988, local DJ Mark the 45 King heard a demo version of Latifah's single, "Princess of the Posse", and gave the demo to Fab Five Freddy (who at the time hosted Yo! MTV Raps). Freddy helped Latifah sign with Tommy Boy Records. They released Latifah's first album, All Hail the Queen, in (1989); at the time, she was 18. This debut managed to be both a critical and commercial success and was followed by the albums Nature of a Sista and Black Reign, which contained the hit single, U.N.I.T.Y., for which she won a Grammy. After releasing four rap albums (the fourth being Order in the Court, released in 1998), she released a soul/jazz standards album in 2004 called The Dana Owens Album.

From 1993 to 1998, Latifah had a starring role on Living Single, a FOX sitcom; she also wrote and performed its theme music. She began her film career as a supporting actress in movies like House Party 2 (1991), Juice, Jungle Fever(1991), and Set It Off (1996).

Latifah first attracted notice for her role as a lesbian in the 1996 box-office hit, Set It Off, and subsequently had a supporting role in the Holly Hunter vehicle Living Out Loud (1998). Although she had already received some critical acclaim, she gained mainstream success after being cast over Kathy Bates as Matron "Mama" Morton in the Oscar-winning musical Chicago, the recipient of the Best Picture Oscar. Latifah received an Academy Award nomination for "Best Supporting Actress" for her role. In 2003 she co-starred with Steve Martin in the film Bringing Down the House, which was a big success at the box office. Since then, she has had both leading and supporting roles in a multitude of films that received varied critical and box office receptions, including Scary Movie 3, Barbershop 2: Back in Business, Taxi, and Beauty Shop.

Her latest film, released in early 2006, is a romantic comedy/drama entitled Last Holiday. Latifah has received some notably positive reviews for the role, including a statement by film critic Richard Roeper that "this is the Queen Latifah performance I've been waiting for ever since she broke into movies". Also in early 2006, Latifah voiced a mammoth in the animated film, Ice Age 2: The Meltdown (her first voice appearance in an animated film), and will soon appear in the drama Stranger Than Fiction, the action film Bad Girls, which also stars Jada Pinkett Smith, and a remake of Hairspray, playing Motormouth Maybelle opposite John Travolta; filming on Hairspray will begin in the fall of 2006, for a summer 2007 release.

Latifah is a celebrity spokesperson for Cover Girl cosmetics and Curvation ladies underwear; she has starred in several commercials for the line, as well as a commercial with fellow spokeswoman and singer Faith Hill. She has also had her own talk show, The Queen Latifah Show, from 1999 to 2001. She has been, and still is to this day, a spokesperson for Pizza Hut.

On January 4, 2006, Latifah received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. She is the first hip hop artist to be given this honor.

Latifah's older brother Lance was killed in 1992, in a biking accident involving the motorbike that Latifah had just bought him. She still wears the key to the motorbike around her neck and dedicated Black Reign to him. In 1993, she was the victim of a carjacking, in which a friend of hers was shot. In 1996, she was arrested due to possession of a small amount of marijuana and a hand gun; she was fined and sentenced to two years probation.

In her 1999 autobiography, Ladies First: Revelations of a Strong Woman, Latifah discussed how her brother's death led to a bout of depression and drug abuse from which she later recovered.

Because of her portrayal of a lesbian in Set It Off and her avoidance of discussing her romantic life, tabloid media sometimes speculate that she is a lesbian. Latifah responded to these rumors in her autobiography by saying: "It's insulting when someone asks, 'Are you gay?' A woman cannot be strong, outspoken, competent at running her own business, handle herself physically, play a very convincing role in a movie, know what she wants--and go for it--without being gay? Come on."

In early 2003, Latifah had breast reduction surgery to relieve back pain. She also works out with a trainer and kickboxes.

In March 2006, she announced that she is in the early stages of adopting a child, and will possibly have a baby by the beginning of 2007.
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