Blessed with beauty, brains, and dizzying talent, Queen Latifah comes to the Arlington in support of her latest album, Trav’lin’ Light, her second foray into the realm of jazz, soul, and R&B. The versatile, award-winning actress and musician raps about her dual identity, expanding her horizons, and something close to her heart-her family foundation.
I’m sure you’re asked this constantly, but : what do you like to be called? Latifah’s fine, or La : you can call me La. Call me whatever you want : Queen, La, Latifah : whatever you feel comfortable with.
Your last album was recorded under your given name. Was that a return to your roots? Are Dana Owens and Queen Latifah the same person? Queen Latifah’s a lot more famous! She outgrew Dana a long time ago. But the reason I called that The Dana Owens Album is because, yeah, that is who I am and who I was before Queen Latifah fame. All this music was in me all of this time. I wasn’t quite able to release it until the audience was ready to receive it and I was ready to release it, you know? So, yeah, it kind of was like going back, yet moving forward. I’ve always loved jazz. : I love music, period, so to have an opportunity to release these albums is really great for me.
That the “Queen of Royal Badness” is releasing jazz-inspired albums is quite a departure from your hip-hop roots. Will you return to hip-hop at some point? Yeah, definitely. I carry hip-hop everywhere I go, whether it’s hosting a talk show or singing jazz. I am hip-hop. We can do a lot of different things. One thing I never wanted to be was put in a box as a hip-hop artist. I saw myself as wider and bigger and taller than what was typical of my times. So I always try to stretch and push, including my image. I didn’t want to be like everybody else, so I chose a different look. And then, when I realized people didn’t recognize me if I didn’t have a hat on my head, I took it off! I didn’t want to be known as a hat; a kufi, a crown, an outfit. I’ve always made those decisions through my career-to do things that I love and be true to myself. When I do that, it works. And when I’m not, it does not work. I’ve learned that lesson. So whatever God has allowed me to be capable of or gifted at, I try to explore those things and push them. To me, that’s what it’s about. That’s how you open new doors and create new opportunities, not by just staying the same.
Are there doors you haven’t opened yet that you’d like to? There are a few more locks I’m trying to jimmy, I’m not gonna lie. I’ve been playing the drums lately and I enjoy it. Maybe it’s not some major thing; I don’t expect to be some great drummer, but, for me, it’s a new road, a new way to have fun in my life. Coming back with another hip-hop album would be another way. Doing some role that is very challenging and different. Creating more philanthropic opportunities-all of these things are exciting to me.
Tell me a little bit about the foundation you and your mom established in your brother’s memory. We’ve been giving away partial scholarships for almost 13 years now. My brother was killed in a motorcycle accident, and my mom wanted to create something positive out of this tragic situation, so she created the Lancelot H. Owens Scholarship Foundation. Anybody who wants to donate is more than welcome!
Hopefully, with this presidential race coming up, whatever I can do to help motivate young people to get out and vote and become a part of the process. : Hip-hop used to be really strong at discussing social and political issues. : I would love to see us use our voices in that way again, because we made a lot of people aware of a lot of different things-whether it was divesting in South Africa or gun violence on the streets-whatever it was, we talked about it. But we don’t talk about that stuff anymore like we used to. I’d love to see that make a resurgence.
You mentioned wanting to do more challenging film roles. What would be your ideal project? One of the projects we’ve been working on for quite a long time is The Bessie Smith Story. I think that would be one of the ultimate roles for me because she was such an incredible person and pioneer, and had such a crazy life. I know it would be a big challenge for me, one of those things that makes you dig deep to really pull it off, and I like to be challenged in that way.
Queen Latifah plays the Arlington Theatre on Thursday, November 15, at 8 p.m. Call 893-4408 or visit artsandlectures.ucsb.edu.