As Queen Latifah prepares for her umpteenth interview during a day of promoting the film “Set It Off,” her boredom shows as she settles into an armchair in her hotel suite. But when the conversation begins with rap music and hip-hop culture, this budding film and TV star becomes animated.
It seems that despite her first major film role and the popularity of her TV sitcom “Living Single,” Latifah’s roots remain deeply embedded in the music that turned Dana Owens into The Queen.
At 26, her fourth album is due early next year, and she plans to keep making records “as long as I can compete with everyone out there.”
It’s impossible to overlook her acting, though. Latifah shines as rough-and-rugged Cleo in “Set It Off,” the story of four childhood friends who go on a cathartic bank-robbing spree. The film comes out after a difficult period for Latifah - she was coping with the death of her brother, a carjacking in which a friend was wounded, and her arrest during a traffic stop for gun and marijuana possession. Perhaps her emotions were channeled into her performance.
1. What would mean more to you: an Oscar for “Set It Off” or your upcoming album going multiplatinum?
Latifah: I put my life into this movie for 3-1/2 months. I got locked up during this movie. I cried behind this movie. … So I deserve an Oscar. (Laughs) I’d probably make more money off a multiplatinum album, though.
2. What makes “Set It Off” different from the average flick?
Latifah: It’s four women in an action movie. And I think people will like the relationships. It’s not just about no bank robbin’, it’s about how we feel about each other. The fact that we love each other is what makes us willing to go all out.
3. Defenders of violent rap always say that movies aren’t criticized for glorifying violence. As an artist known for positive music, how can you differentiate playing a bank robber in “Set It Off” and making a record about bank robbing?
Latifah: Yeah, we’re robbing banks, and that’s illegal, but do we not pay for that in this film? There’s consequences to our actions. There’s generally no consequences in these records. … You get to see where you win and where you lose very clearly in this film.
4. Is rap affecting pop culture?
Latifah: Hell yeah. Pop culture likes rap, it’s that simple. They’re embracing all aspects of the music. It used to be just the stuff that was commercial and had a message that was easy to understand, “Wild Thing” by Tone Loc and Young MC and Vanilla Ice and people like that. Now you have hardcore (rappers) that are accepted by white kids in the suburbs and in the cities.
5. What’s the moral to the Tupac Shakur story?
Latifah: (Long pause) This is a great American tragedy. Not just for the black community, for everybody. Everyone was magnetized by him. (Also) don’t think that you have to live for today all the time. Living for today will bring about dying for today. You can’t just think, ‘I’m going to die anyway,’ because that’s what’s stopping us from moving forward.
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