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The Unrivaled Technique Of Queen Latifah

Read Why We Picked ‘All Hail The Queen’ This Month

On July 26, 2018

In August, members of Vinyl Me, Please Rap & Hip Hop will receive an exclusive pressing of Queen Latifah’s debut studio LP, All Hail The Queen, which is being reissued on vinyl for the first time since it came out in 1989. Pressed on splatter vinyl, you can sign up over here.

Below, read more about why we picked All Hail the Queen.

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All Hail the Queen is the 1989 debut album from Queen Latifah, born Dana Owens: a New Jersey-born member of the Flavor Unit and the First Lady of the Native Tongues movement that dominated hip-hop’s first Golden Era. Latifah is Arabic for “delicate and sensitive,” the moniker christened at age eight by Owens’ cousin Sharonda. Queen came later, born from a formative reclamation of Black history and celebration of Owens’ Black womanhood like the women who came before her. Together, they propelled Owens to a stature unseen before her, the impact trailblazing for every woman-identified MC after her: She became a superstar without compromising her gender expression or the Afrocentric positivity that beamed from her skills. The Queen was a loud, proud woman in every way she knew how to be; her presence alone became the standard.

Ms. Latifah’s first work arrived like many stories in the bygone era of stacked contracts and chance opportunities: She was a brilliant student with Jersey roots, a basketball star who also sang in the school play. When hip-hop began its ascension from infancy, Latifah found her in as a beatboxer for the group Ladies Fresh and never turned back, growing into her role under the Flavor Unit as helmed by DJ Mark the 45 King. After 45 King cut Latifah’s demo — an early recording of “Princess of the Posse” — it circulated to Fab 5 Freddy of Yo! MTV Raps fame, culminating in Tommy Boy Records’ Dante Ross signing Latifah over the phone. At age 19, Latifah recorded her first solo effort with hip-hop firmly at her core; when the biggest rap records of the late ’80s had pop crossover appeal as a near prerequisite, she set out to craft an album that stitched the pieces of her influences together into an amalgamation of the empathetic empowerment and the no-nonsense whistleblowing that put the whole game on notice.

All Hail the Queen debuted in November 1989, Considering her company — De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest, Salt-N-Pepa, Boogie Down Productions, Public Enemy and more — Latifah came out swinging. With Mark the 45 King on most of the production — save for Louie Louie Vega, KRS-One, Daddy-O and Prince Paul on their respective collaborations — Queen Latifah’s world runs on royalty and loyalty. The former arrives literally in her subject matter of kings and queens, but also in her delivery, swaying and stepping through every beat like a heavyweight making light of an opponent; no matter the context, Latifah’s come for the heads of any competitor, no matter the gender. She can invite you to dance with the same tongue she’ll use to cut you down in your tracks if you dare deny her right to be here. The latter attests to her connection to not only the listener, but the art that saved her life. It’s the ethos that dared her to subvert hardcore hip-hop expectations on her first album, opting to curate a fluid journey through the influences of her youth: reggae, house, jazz and the Jersey club of her backyard.

All Hail the Queen is not the album for every woman who raps or every woman at all; contrary to the monolithic discourse creeping its way into its reception, Queen Latifah gently rejected the media’s notion of being the hip-hop spokesperson for all women. Not unlike the women in her lineage who’ve reached similar ceilings in their perception, Latifah’s curse-free upbeat stylings became easy material to weaponizing against the normalized shaming of women diligently curating their sex appeal to sell their music in a male-dominated industry. But the gendered dynamics of Latifah’s politics, reserved as they were, never came at the expense of another woman for her choices; she merely existed as another symbol in an newly expanding conversation, further paving the avenues. And the offerings speak for themselves: Latifah’s debut lives on as an oft-cited seminal work, its contents shifting the context that gave it life. It’s pro-Black, pro-woman, without the slurs or the excess to reach deeper into the recesses of the unconvinced masses determined to dismiss hip-hop itself. And when you strip it back to its essentials, All Hail the Queen embodies everything a first hip-hop album should be: a proper introduction to the unrivaled technique of a new MC, a she weaving tales of the mind, body and soul with every piece in its place.

Profile Picture of Michael Penn II
Michael Penn II

Michael Penn II (aka CRASHprez) is a rapper and a former VMP staff writer. He's known for his Twitter fingers.

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