Hip-hop was, at first, pretty much a guy thing. And it still is, in many ways. But many women, along the way, have made their presence felt, and one of the first was Queen Latifah.
“Ladies First,” a track from Latifah’s 1989 “All Hail the Queen” album that featured British rapper Monie Love, was a bold declaration, in the days when hip-hop was still defining itself, that women could hold their own:
The ladies will kick it, the rhyme that is wicked
A woman can bear you, break you, take you
Now it’s time to rhyme, can you relate to
A sister dope enough to make you holler and scream?
It’s a serious point, but the tone of the song isn’t dry or humorless. The music has a wild, funk- and jazz-influenced edge: Latifah is making a joyful statement, not an angry one.
Latifah, who grew up in Newark, East Orange and Irvington, has stuck to the song’s philosophy throughout her career. Just as she wouldn’t take no for an answer as a rapper, seeking hip-hop glory at a time when few women did, she has not conceded to any limits in her career, distinguishing herself as a singer (not just a rapper), an actress, a talk show host, a writer (whose 1998 memoir was titled “Ladies First: Revelations of a Strong Woman”) and, perhaps most significantly, as a businesswoman who has both taken firm control of her own career and helped bring others, including Naughty by Nature, to the attention of the world.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.