Queen Latifah is a legend. Arriving on the scene in the late ’80s, the rapper born Dana Owens came with an attitude and intelligent, enlightened style that was all her own. With her knockout debut album, 1989’s All Hail The Queen, Latifah urged empowerment, knowledge of self, and broadcast to the hip-hop world that it was ladies first. Along with contemporaries such as MC Lyte, Monie Love, and Salt-N-Pepa, Latifah was among a new generation of women in rap at the tail end of the ’80s, and one of the genre’s most enduring figures. Latifah is one of hip-hop’s preeminent feminists, and she has had significant critical and commercial success throughout her career, even jumping into television, movies, the stage, and more. Got to give Latifah her props.
There’s something about Latifah’s third record, 1993’s Black Reign, which resonates with me. Maybe it was because it was my first exposure to her music, I remember “U.N.I.T.Y.” being a hit right around the time she was starring on Living Single. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s an unabashedly mid-’90s hip-hop record: Heavy the low end, full of horns, and a whole lot of that rough and rugged, Timberland boot and hoodie-style attitude which dominated east coast rap from ’93 to like ’96. It’s definitely a product of its time, but has aged pretty well. Latifah comes with enough hardcore moments on the record, but also moments of tenderness and realness, and depth that only a person like Latifah can bring. Black Reign is still that go-to record for bumping in your Jeep on a hot summer day rollin’ through your neighborhood. I love it, and listening again for the first time in a few years, there’s still a lot of strong tracks on this one.
“Black Hand Side” is the opener from the record and it definitely feels like a soundtrack for a Saturday afternoon. The Queen delivers with authority on a booming jam where she announces her return and lets you know that she can still bring tha flava. Feels good.