Rolling Stone posed six questions to rapper/actress/singer Queen Latifah, whose jazz and blues covers album Trav'lin Light came out this week. The woman born Dana Owens had a few words for rappers who don't admit they've made big bucks, shouted out Lil' Mama, and recalled the days when she toured with Big Daddy Kane.
What's the most rock-star thing you've ever done?
Pass out drunk on a toilet.
Your first album came out when you were still a teenager -- how did you avoid becoming a young star trainwreck?
I had my share of trouble. I wasn't sheltered, I grew up in East Orange and Irvington, NJ. I think I came from a street-savvy family that had a lot of class and some down-home normal morals. My first single came out when I was seventeen and I had already been around the block a few times. I had already done a little experimenting and I knew there was some stuff I would never experiment with, and I didn't try to. The work was first and the fun was later because there was a greater purpose involved in it: our whole crew was trying to get out of the 'hood. It wasn't, let's just make records for the fun of it.
Do you think hip-hop has become a more hospitable place for women since you started out?
I think it's gotten better, and I think it's gotten worse. I think there was a lot more female rappers when I came out than now. It's time for a big comeback, a big push for the female voice out there. I don't care what it is in life, you can't have men without women. It's just anarchy. I was just saying I have to do a reality show and find some female rappers, but then I found out VH1 is doing one with MC Lyte [the second season of Ego Trip's The (White) Rapper Show]. So I'm like, oh, great! I like Lil' Mama, her first single was like, classic hip-hop [for the] young, teen market. They need music, too. All this grown-ass nasty music kids are listening to. Everything can't be thugged out. Yes, her lip gloss is popping. We need to get the fun back in hip-hop. Everything can't be all serious and darkest places. We all know where those places are, many of us come from that. But we've also been around the block and rappers have to start bringing some of those stories back. Stop pretending like you don't eat well now, like you can't buy a good meal, like you don't eat organic food. I eat organic food, and I'm not ashamed to say it.
What was your favorite album when you were fourteen?
Who's the coolest person you've ever met?
Prince. Wait, I gotta make that a tie between Prince and Ice-T. Ice has been pretty cool to me. That's my boy. Wait, Big Daddy Kane is pretty cool as well. We'll have to make it a three-way tie. I saw Prince in an elevator at this hotel we stayed at in New York. Ice-T was one of the first rappers I met back in the late Eighties at this New Music Seminar party where every rapper who was anybody was in this room. I remember meeting him and he was like, "You Queen Latifah?" -- because I think I had a nametag on -- "I like you, yo, I got a lot of respect for you." This was the gangsta rapper. That let me know that what I was doing was the right thing. And Big Daddy Kane, we did a lot of shows together back in the day. He was very, very cool. He had a cool stage show, he spit fire, but he was always pretty laid back and mellow until he got back on that stage and unleashed it. Then he'd calm right back down. He was a smooth criminal.
When do you think it'll be time to retire?
I told myself I'd retire at forty, but that may be a little too young. But maybe not, who knows! I just hope I know when it's time. I don't want to do anything that takes away from what I've built. When the stamps in the bank feel right, when I hit that magic number, I'm cool retiring. I don't feel I have to work forever like some people.
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