The world sees plenty of Queen
Latifah (real name Dana Owens) these days -- at movie theaters, on magazine covers, in CoverGirl ads -- but it rarely hears new music from her. Latifah's last two albums consisted entirely of jazz and soul standards.
"Trav'lin Light," released in 2007, sold 263,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and "The Dana Owens Album," which came out three years earlier, sold 730,000.
Recently, Latifah went back to rapping (and yes, singing) on everything from a Lady Gaga
remix to a Rhymefest mixtape. "Persona," her first album of new material since 1997, is due August 22 on Flavor Unit Entertainment.
Billboard: How does it feel to be rapping again?Queen
Latifah: It feels good. It's like riding a bike -- once you know it, you know it. This album is definitely rooted in hip-hop, but there's a lot of singing, too. I've been singing a lot over the past few years, so I wanted to bring it all under one roof. But really, I've always sung on my records. I was always a person who mixed a lot of melody with rhymes. It's fun getting my feet wet again.
Billboard: This is your first time working with producers Cool & Dre. What made you decide to record "Persona" with them?
Latifah: I met them during this pilot that we did with Eve
called "Bridging the Gap" about an artist getting to meet their hero. At the end of the episode, Eve
and I went into the studio to make a record that Cool & Dre produced. It was just such a good vibe. They're very creative and easy to work with, and they just took ideas that I had for my album and really made them hot. They were like, "If the music sounds good to us, it should sound good to other people." So we went down to Miami and recorded the whole album. It's the best place to record, with the sun and the water. You could literally jump off a jet ski and go right in the booth. There aren't too many places you can do that.
Billboard: You also collaborated on this album with 25-year-old Ingrid Woode, who won a songwriting contest you conducted in collaboration with the People's Choice Awards. Why did you select an unknown to write one of your songs?
Latifah: Part of my whole intention with this album, and with edging back into the urban world, is to give all the females an opportunity to make records. This girl from Ohio wrote a great song and we just went and recorded it. She actually produced it all by herself in her bedroom, but Cool & Dre helped hook up the beat for us. It's a really nice song about friends who let you down.
Billboard: Is it harder for women to succeed in the music industry today than it was 10 or 20 years ago?
Latifah: Never since my start in this business at 17 years old have I seen it so male-dominated. It's deplorable, to be honest. You cannot just have male voices. Not in the world, not in society, not in music. When there are no female records being played on the radio, there's a voice that's missing, a story that's not being told. Labels don't sign females to their rosters. Radio stations play only 15 or 20 records over and over again. A lot of us are in the studio now -- me, Missy (Elliott), Eve
-- so I guess when we're ready to go you'll hear more from the females. But we really have to step up and support one another. It has to come from video channels and radio, and women have to make sure they're supporting their sisters.
Billboard: Why do you release your albums independently?
Latifah: The last few albums I've done have been joint ventures, so at this point I don't know how to be signed to a label. We end up working these albums and promoting them ourselves. It's normal for us.
Billboard: Do you have any sales expectations for "Persona"?
Latifah: Not at this point. I realize that I haven't been in the game for a while, so I'm going to have to do everything I can to work it up to a reasonable number. I just want it to be heard. I want people to feel it and take it on the road.