Queen Latifah Sings

Rapper turns torch singer with help from Green, Hancock

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Queen Latifah's new collection of standards, The Dana Owens Album, began with a request from above. "My momma said it's time to sing, and I always listen to my momma," says Latifah, born Dana Owens. "Actually, I sang all my life. And between the movie Living Out Loud and Chicago, I felt like the timing was good to go ahead and do this."

Released today, the twelve-track album includes collaborations with Al Green and Herbie Hancock and, while favoring jazz standbys, also includes blues and rock covers like Screaming Jay Hawkins' "I Put a Spell on You" and the Mamas and Papas' "California Dreamin'."

"I wanted to have enough meat on the album in the jazz department, but a lot of people have been doing jazz-standards albums," explains Latifah. "So we wanted to switch it up and make it a little different. Plus, I'm a little younger than a lot of those guys, so I wanted to touch on songs that meant something to me growing up."

Rather than saddle herself with the task of rejiggering old favorites, on tracks like "Hard Times," the singer let the band play and the arrangements fall where they might. "I think my voice and the original singer [Charles Brown]'s voice are kind of similar," she says. "But the song had such a groove the way the band was playing it that I suggested we let them groove a little more. And I started scatting on the record -- and that's definitely not on the original. We just kind of scatted and grooved and jammed for an extra minute and a half."

Although Al Green wasn't physically present when Latifah recorded his "Simply Beautiful," hearing his vocals on the duet helped cement her faith in the project. "It wasn't planned for him to be on the record originally," she says. "But after we listened to it, we thought, 'Al would really sound good on this.' For me, I never really cared about what anybody thought -- except for the people who made these records. So when I got Al Green's stamp of approval and his vocals on the record, it was like, 'Yeah!'"

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