Queen Latifah was one of the most recognized women in hip-hop in the early 1990s. Having released two well-received albums and landed some acting gigs in films like Jungle Fever, House Party 2 and TV shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And she's just landed the starring role of Kadeejah James on a new FOX sitcom called Living Single.
But she was still a rapper first, and Latifah had heard criticism that she was becoming more of a crossover star than a serious rapper. Her sophomore album Nature of A Sista had included lots of house and R&B tracks, and she sang on that album more than she had on her acclaimed 1989 debut All Hail the Queen. With East Coast hip-hop embracing the jazzy, hardcore sound of producers like Pete Rock and DJ Premier, Latifah had to deliver something that cemented her credibility as an artist.
In 1993, women in hip-hop were firmly established--but not as commercially successful as their male counterparts. With the notable exception of platinum-sellers Salt N Pepa, there had yet to be a solo female rapper to even land a gold-selling album. That would change with Queen Latifah's third album.
We looked back at Black Reign and picked five tracks that stand out as highlights on Latifah's most hardcore project.
"Rough..." feat. Heavy D, KRS-One, TreachProd. Tony Dofat
After 1991s Nature of A Sista was met with some chatter of Latifah going R&B, the Jersey rhymer was eager to remind everyone that she could deliver hardcore hip-hop. On "Rough...," she teamed with KRS, Treach and Heavy for an underrated posse cut that proved Latifah had skills to keep up with anyone.
"Weekend Love"Prod. Kay Gee
But Latifah wasn't going to stop being Latifah, and as a result, she was able to also deliver smoother tracks, like this island-flavored single that featured her vocalizing with Tony Rebel.
"I Can't Understand"Prod. Tony Dofat
In 1992, Roxanne Shante had taken shots at MC Lyte, Yo-Yo and Latifah after an incident at a taping of Sisters In the Name of Rap, so Latifah responded with the first verse of this single. "Next time, there won't be no talkin'..."
"U.N.I.T.Y."Prod. Kay Gee
It became Latifah's biggest single and made Black Reign her best-selling rap album. It was impossible to escape "U.N.I.T.Y." in late 1993/early 1994; it became one of Latifah's defining songs and an anthem against misogyny and abuse. It also carried a little bit of beef; Latifah took lyrical shots at Detroit rapper Boss in the final verse.
"Just Another Day"Prod. S.I.D.
Obviously, "U.N.I.T.Y." was the biggest hit; but the best song on Latifah's third album is this smoothed out ode to the neighborhood. Criminally underrated in the wake of the single that preceded it, it remains arguably Latifah's finest moment before she shifted her focus to Hollywood.