Saturday, January 29, 2011

Reflecting on Our Reigning Queen, Latifah

Before Lady O[prah] starting taking over the media and influencing millions of women everywhere, before Queen B[eyonce] began to conquer the charts, the big screen, and the world of cosmetics...even before Mary J. Blige was crowed the Queen of Hip Hop Soul...there was our original queen of entertainment: Queen Latifah.

With the summer 2010 release of her book "Put on Your Crown: Life-Changing Moments on the Path to Queendom," Queen Latifah easily entered another area of entertainment, by penning her life story and getting comfortable in the world of publishing.

And rightfully so. She has excelled at essentially every other area she's touched, since we were first introduced to her in 1998.

Because Dana Elaine Owens is in the media and relevant all the time, it's easy to overlook her contribution to urban entertainment, and now mainstream pop culture.

Of course we remember her best for her 1989 album "All Hail the Queen" and the way she would command the stage, decked out in Afro-centric attire, rapping hard, and at the same time embracing her femininity. She made sure to tell you what you could and could not call her...she reminded us as young girls that we should stand tall in who we were: "who you callin' a bitch?" was a classic female hip hop lyric that spoke volumes.

And somehow in the span of her almost 25 year career, we haven't even had the chance to see how smoothly Latifah went from a New Jersey rapper to an Academy Award nominated entertainment icon.

Now along with her Grammy, she also has a Golden Globe and a SAG award. She has Emmy nominations, and she's an easy go-to-girl to host shows from the BET Awards to the People's Choice Awards. Latifah is loveable, dependable, and she's proven to be a consummate entertainer, on all fronts.

Her book "Put on Your Crown" chronicles her journey from a young girl in New Jersey, up to the present time. While it's neither a detailed autobiography nor a specific self-help book, it's kind of a combination of the two genres. She tells her story, and throws in words of advice and inspiration along the way.

I enjoyed reading her first-person accounts of many of the memorable moments in her life, good and bad. From when she received a star right next to Michael Jackson's on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, to when her brother Winki was tragically killed in a motorcycle accident in 1992.

Greatly influenced by her mother Rita, Latifah shares many of the lessons she learned as a result of great parenting (despite her parents divorce at age 10), and as a result of maintaining self-esteem regardless of her circumstances, appearance, or expectations around her.

At age 40, you still get the impression that there is so much more to see from Queen Latifah. And while it's obvious that she's already done so much in her career, it's actually pretty rare that the viewing audience has yet to tire of her.

In fact, as I was finishing up the book in the elevator today, an elderly (like really elderly) yet nosy/fass neighbour was staring at my book cover, and smiling. "Oh, I really like her," she said to me, pointing at the cover of my book. And I had to agree: EVERYBODY likes Queen Latifah. It's official.

Admittedly, sometimes I get annoyed to discover that everyone and their mother also has a book. Literally. As a writer, you can't help but become jaded when Snooki from Jersey Shore, Paris Hilton, the Kardashians, and every other person making over a million is given a lucrative publishing deal and churns out a full-length book in a matter of month.

But I digress.

Something can be said for having an interesting life experience, and apparently readers will always pick up a copy of "literature" as long as it's written by a famililar face. This is one of the "celebrity" books that I really and truly can't be cynical about. It is what it is: a legendary female figure telling her story. And my ability to whiz through this book showed me that Latifah did a good job telling it.

There's nothing groundbreaking on the pages. Most of it we already know. We know about the fabulous movies (Last Holiday and Bringing Down the House were my personal favourites), and the hit songs and hip hop classic albums. We know about the Flavor Unit, and her sidekick from time, Shakim.

I was kinda wondering if she'd finally drop some bombs about her often-questioned sexuality. Latifah's been rumoured to date her personal trainer Jeanette Jenkins, whom she also reportedly bought a house with...but the rumours will remain that, as she often addresses previous boyfriends in the book and regrets for not having children earlier in life...but Latifah totally stays away from the topic of present-time relationships, or even the fact that her sexuality has always been a hot topic (especially after that role in Set if Off that we remember her playing all too well in 1996).

She went broke in 2000, despite her fame. She was molested at age 5 by a neighbour. There were a few things I didn't really know much about...but again, there was no juicy gossip, just lots of sugary sweet words of encouragement:

"We all need people to help us and lift us up. and other people need our help. When you put that together, you can create something really powerful."

"You make your own oppotunities."

"You have to be constantly improving yourself."

"We can rise up only when we stand on the shoulders of those who went before us."

"Whatever your religion or belief system, the key is to have an active inner life that radiates through all your actions..."

Nothing exceptionally unique or "deep," but definitely taken to heart, given the source it's coming from, and the context it's written in.

But I liked the level of detail that was introduced. For example, I loved to know that her bond with her business partner Shakim is so deep that he actually jumped in front of her to protect her from danger/bullets when an event they were at went awry.

It was endearing to read how she often escaped the madness of her ultra-busy schedule to sit next to her brother's grave and speak to him for hours on end. Moreso, to learn that the scar on her forehead that she refuses to cover with makeup or airbrush, despite suggestion, was a scar she received at age 3 while playing tag with her brother.

And again, I'm fascinated by "celebrity" life because at its core there is always a regular ol' individual trying to make it, who has the faith, determination--and if they're as lucky as Latifah--the support of family and grounded friends to help build those dreams and fantasies into an easy reality.

Yes, there were downfalls in her professional journey as well. I don't know about you, but I definitely didn't buy her 2004 jazz CD "The Dana Owens Album." I also didn't watch her daytime talk show from 1999-2001. Like any career, there were definitely some misses...but it's safe to say that overall, Latifah's had an awesome career...up to here.

And while she came on to the scene as a dope female MC, I think her true legacy will be being able to capture the screen, and make us laugh through her television and film roles. Living Single was a staple TV show while growing up in the 90s, her roles in House Party 2, Juice, and Jungle Fever, are roles we're all familiar with. I love her comedic relief in my favourite movie, Brown Sugar.

So this rapper-turned-actress-turned-Cover Girl is still, and will always remain, a true Queen on so many fronts. She has personified elegance, grace, and just genuine congeniality. It's hard to NOT like this woman.

Keep givin' it to 'em, Queen!

"Take the time to check in with yourself, regularly. Don't lose yourself." ~Queen Latifah

A clip from Latifah's performance of "Latifah's Had it Up to Here" on the Arsenio Hall Show.

1 comment:

  1. I love your commentary about this book. I have read many books; I am often fascinated by how people get to where they are in their lives. But this particular book had a great impact on my life. Like you said, it was simple and like a conversation in many aspects, but her words of wisdom had a certain complexity to them. I could relate to her journey and struggles in certain aspects, and her sharing her "testimony" helped me get through the obstacles that I was going through at the time when I read the book. Actually this book was a confirmation to follow my passion that I had left behind years ago. I strongly believe that God allowed me to read this book at that time to get me on the right path to my purpose. So, this book changed me. Literally. So, I will always be grateful to Queen Latifah for being who she is and sharing a piece of her life with me through this book.