Long established as one of hip hop's most dynamic monarchs, Queen Latifah, and more recently, Dana Owens, has a reputation that precedes her. Still, when she conquered adult contemporary in '04 with her first all-singing LP, The Dana Owens Album, the only shocker was her actual ability. Sure she'd killed the hook in "U.N.I.T.Y.," but two moderately well-selling jazz albums could have ostensibly cemented her place as a vocalist as well as rhyme-sayer. But she didn't stop there.
In her latest release, Persona, Latifah attempts a return to her hip hop roots, though now with an acute focus on hip-POP. The foremost issue with this is not so much in what was lost but rather what was gained. Which is to say, what was gained? From the start it's pretty unclear. From the confusing string of names she rattles off at the beginning of the “The Light” (Jonas Brothers, Jack Nicholson), her pledge seems only to something everyone will like, or worse yet, that which she thinks everyone can like.
The premise of a song like "Cue the Rain" sounds more like that of an overextending celeb-turned-musician than that of hip hop royalty. The Queen comparing herself to Tinkerbell (?!?) while pleading for a man’s attention is strange, if not just way out of character. Also, rapping and singing, each of which she's mastered to some extent separately, seem to clash on every song except "Take Me With You," a smooth and catchy duet with Marsha Ambrosius. On "People," one of the album's few high points, Latifah sounds most natural as a rapper just by leaving the singing to another queen, Mary J. Blige.
In all, this album makes little sense in the whole of any of Latifah's legacies. Aside from some uncharacteristically weak rapping, it isn't much for hip hop, which is to say it may very well go on to be the pop success she's yearning for. But if it doesn't, we can at least look forward to her turn on Dancing With The Stars.—Judnick Mayard