New Jersey has been home to many celebrities — and during Pride Month, we take the time to celebrate a New Jersey icon who officially came out last year. Singer, rapper, and actress Queen Latifah has roots in Newark, East Orange, Colts Neck, and Jersey City. On June 28th, 2021, New Jersey’s Queen Latifah accepted the BET Lifetime Achievement Award when she unexpectedly closed her speech by coming out, thanking her longtime partner and their son before wishing everyone a “Happy Pride!” Read on to learn all about Queen Latifah’s New Jersey ties and her public entry into the LGBTQ+ community.
(Photo credit: @queenlatifah)
Queen Latifah’s Vast Accomplishments
Any attempt to list Latifah’s vast accomplishments will seem trite, but a small sampling helps put into perspective all of the ground which she has broken and the doors she’s opened. In 1993, Latifah won a Grammy Award for her feminist anthem, “U.N.I.T.Y.” In 1998, she was the first rapper to perform at a Super Bowl halftime show (24 years before Eminem and Dr. Dre). In 2002, she became the first female hip-hop artist to become nominated for an Oscar for her role in the film, Chicago.
In 2006, Latifah became the first hip-hop artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and in 2011, she was inducted into the New Jersey Hall of Fame. In 2008, she won a Golden Globe for her role in the television film, Life Support. In 2015, she won a Primetime Emmy Award for her portrayal of Bessy Smith in the HBO film, Bessie — a film in which she starred and co-produced. Lin-Manuel Miranda declared that Latifah inspired the portrayal of Angelica Schuyler in his musical Hamilton, and she even spoke at President Barack Obama’s inaugural address.
The Queen Reigns in New Jersey
Queen Latifah was born Dana Owens in Newark and grew up nearby in East Orange, New Jersey. She was gifted the nickname ‘Latifah,’ which is Arabic for ‘delicate’ or ‘sensitive,’ and this became the inspiration for her stage name, Queen Latifah.
Though she’s become a superstar, she never forgot where she came from. Since leaving Newark, Latifah has returned to film her show, The Equalizer, and even came back this April to help break ground on a new high-rise building.
“There’s love in this city,” Latifah said of the project. “There’s love from this Owens family for this city.”
After turning 21, Latifah also made Jersey City her home and moved into a converted pencil factory, Dixon Mills. She explained in an interview with the Hudson Reporter, “[Dixon Mills] was my first apartment that I ever had under my name… I just felt like Jersey City was a cool community… I liked my neighborhood. I liked my neighbors.”
But Latifah did much more than simply call Jersey City home. She called it her home base. Not content with simply being the reigning queen of rap, Latifah wanted to flex her business acumen. In 1991, coming off her second studio album, Latifah decided to open up a video rental store on the first floor of Dixon Mills at 259 Varick Street. MTV News even came to Jersey City to document Latifah’s entrepreneurship.
Location of 1991 MTV Interview
This was only Latifah’s first foray into business. 5 years later, in 1996, she restored an old firehouse at 155 Morgan Street in Jersey City where she launched her artist management company, Flavor Unit Entertainment. From this headquarters, Latifah managed and represented the careers of actors like Terrence Howard and rappers such as Big Boi and Eve.
What’s more, Queen Latifah also has ties to Colts Neck, where she owned, lived in, and sold a mansion back in 2014. There’s no doubt that this artistic icon certainly has an immense amount of New Jersey pride.
The Rise of a Queen
But what ignited all of Latifah’s success was her hip-hop flow interspersed with female-affirming lyrics. At a time when the newly emerging hip-hop culture struggled with issues of misogyny, Queen Latifah elevated the discourse with sophistication, grace, and poise. In her 1989 anthem “Lady’s First,” she raps, “Some think that we can’t flow / Stereotypes, they got to go… Who said the ladies couldn’t make it, you must be blind / If you don’t believe, well here, listen to this rhyme / Ladies first, there’s no time to rehearse / I’m divine and my mind expands throughout the universe / A female rapper with the message to send the Queen Latifah is a perfect specimen.”
Latifah’s third studio album, Black Reign (1993), became the first album by a female rapper to achieve Gold Status, but also continued her protests against hip-hop’s growing misogynistic messages. Her song, U.N.I.T.Y., challenged how rap depicts and disrespects women.
“Every time I hear a brother call a girl a bitch or a ho, trying ta make a sister feel low, you know all of that gots to go.” On the same song, she speaks out against domestic abuse when she raps, “Bad days at work give you an attitude and you erupt, and take it out on me but that’s about enough, you put your hands on me again, I’ll put your ass in handcuffs… A man don’t really love you if he hits ya.”
Heartbreak at Her Height
Despite all of Latifah’s early success, those years were also marred by heartbreak. To celebrate her newfound prosperity, Latifah bought herself a Honda CBR600 motorcycle. Her older brother, Lancelot Jr., thought the bike was so ‘fly’ that he wanted one too, and so Latifah bought him the baddest bike around, a Kawasaki Ninja ZX7. But in 1992, Lance collided with a car while making a turn. He was rushed to University Hospital in Newark where doctors did everything they could to save him. Knowing Lance was an East Orange police officer, doctors used eight more pints of blood than they normally would, but to no avail. In a cruel twist of fate, the very present she’d gifted to her big brother had killed him. Latifah said it was like losing half of herself. She took the key from the mangled motorcycle and placed it upon a chain which she wore around her neck. The key is visibly prominent in Latifah’s music video U.N.I.T.Y.
The Queen Ascends to Film + Televisions
Despite her heartbreak, Latifah’s career continued to evolve and amplify louder than the music she produced. In 1991, she guest-starred in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper (1993). Beginning in 1993, Latifah starred in her own Fox sitcom, Living Single. She began her own talk show, The Queen Latifah Show, and starred alongside Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie in The Bone Collector. Soon, she landed the role of Matron “Mamma” Morton in Chicago, for which she received an Oscar nomination — becoming only the second hip-hop artist to receive an Oscar nomination (after Will Smith’s Best Actor Nomination for Ali in 2001).
(Photo credit: @queenlatifah)
Following this mainstream success, Latifah attained voice work as the friendly mammoth in the animated film, Ice Age: The Meltdown, and appeared alongside Will Ferrell in Stranger than Fiction. She showcased all of her talents in the smash hit Hairspray, where she acted, sang, and danced. Then, in 2014, Latifah officiated the weddings of 33 gay and straight couples during a performance of Macklemore’s song “Same Love” at the Grammy Awards.
Finally, in 2021, after many rumors and speculations, Latifah affirmed and confirmed her gay pride. One year ago, while receiving the BET’s lifetime achievement award, Latifah shocked the audience by announcing, “Thank you so much for all of you, the fans, for supporting every crazy-ass thing I’ve done through the years… Eboni, my love. Rebel, my love. Peace. Happy Pride!” With understated power and joyful charisma, Latifah declared her love for Eboni, her partner, and her son, Rebel.
On the anniversary of her public expression of LGBTQ+ love, The Montclair Girl would like to recognize all the kings, queens, and non-binary royalty who have fought for the right to love. From Alfred Kinsey to Marsha P. Johnson, and from Nathan Lane to Queen Latifah, North Jersey residents have shown the world what love can truly be.