Women's History in Hip Hop: Queen Latifah

Graphic by Jasmin Valvourt

Graphic by Jasmin Valvourt

By Niki McGloster

Those who overlook the accomplishments of women in hip-hop view the genre through a broken prism. Sure, lyrical men's bars gleam brightly at the top of charts, but the femmes have exceptionally achieved royal heights in the rap world and beyond. Women like Missy Elliott, Lauryn Hill, and Rapsody have elbowed through sexism and misogyny to garner critical acclaim, rack up Grammys and build undeniable empires. There are a few women who’ve bounced back better than Big Sean to become rhyme queens. Earlier this week, we took a closer look at female rapper Lauryn Hill. Keep reading to learn all about rapper-turned-actress-turned-mogul Queen Latifah. We’ll be spotlighting the last female rapper on our list later this week!

Queen Latifah

Her highness, born Dana Elaine Owens, is no fame-seeking Hollywood celeb. Since her dashiki-rocking days singing “U.N.I.T.Y.” and appearing in cult classic film, House Party 2, Queen has created her own lane to success that’s unprecedented for women of color. For Queen Latifah, rap was merely a stepping stone. Spanning across music, film and beauty, the New Jersey-born first lady of hip-hop-turned-mogul has earned countless trophies for her role in front of the camera and behind the scenes. Her journey, however, has not been without setbacks. Yet and still, she now sits in the pantheon of women in hip-hop who reached an untouchable stratosphere (at a net worth of about $60 million). 

1988: Queen is known for tackling black women’s issues in her raps. In her 1989 debut LP, All Hail The Queen, released under Tommy Boy Records, Latifah spits unabashedly about feminism, social politics and girl power. As a Native Tongues member—a hip-hop collective that includes A Tribe Called Quest, Monie Love, De La Soul and other conscious rap acts—she goes on to fight the power through music for years, even venturing into jazz and traditional pop.

1992: Her brother’s death pushed her into depression and alcohol abuse. In 2014, she will explain that time of her life to Good Housekeeping: “Drinking a bunch of alcohol, numbing myself. Every day I would be faded, like a painting that's just not vibrant, whose edges are dull. I wasn't living my full life.”

1993: Queen starred in Living Single, one of the top-rated black sitcoms of its time about four black women living and loving in New York City. Long before Friends stole their swag, the ‘90s hit series compares to fan-favorites like Martin. Simultaneously, the rap pioneer released Black Reign, the first gold-selling album by a female rapper. Its hit single, “U.N.I.T.Y.,” will go on to win a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance in 1995.

1995: Alongside longtime friend and partner Shakim Compere, Queen founded Flavor Unit Entertainment, which produces films such as Steel Magnolias, Brotherly Love and Bessie. Today, not only has the company landed a multi-year film distribution deal with Netflix, but Latifah and Compere have also signed on to relaunch and rebrand BET’s Centric as the first TV network designed for black women.

1999: She premiered her self-titled daytime television talk show, The Queen Latifah Show, which covers a range of human interest topics, including music and had several celebrity guests. Though the first run will only last until 2001, the show is revamped in 2013 to showcase celebrity interviews and musical performances until declining ratings eventually shutter the show in 2015. The upside? She won Favorite New Talk Show Host award at the 40th People's Choice Awards in 2014.

2003: She is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as Matron “Mama” Morton in 2002’s Chicago, which wins the same year for Best Picture. This musical film helps her emerge into a bonafide A-list movie star.

2006: She received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. That same year, she also debuted her Queen Collection for CoverGirl, the first of its kind specifically designed to celebrate the beauty of women of color.

2007: Queen won a Golden Globe Award for her performance as an HIV-positive woman in TV film, Life Support.

2014: For the first time ever, the 2014 Grammy Awards served as the location for 33 same-sex weddings, which Queen officiates during Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ performance of “Same Love.”

2015: Latifah won the Primetime Emmy Award for her role as blues legend Bessie Smith in HBO’s Bessie.

2017: Today, Queen Latifah readies the summer ‘17 premiere of Girls Trip, starring herself, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall and Tiffany Haddish, and a revival of Living Single.