The reign of M.C. Hammer as monarch of rap began with a dance video and may end with another video, but not his own. These days the music channels are scraping and bowing before a new monarch, Queen Latifah
, who outraps Hammer and has the qualities to match his mass appeal.
In the video for her new song "Fly Girl," Latifah doesn't need fancy footwork. She wields basic rap skills: smart talk and heavy attitude. While dancers hop around her like jumping beans, the Queen keeps her cool with a regal nod of her African headdress, a cunning smile and a sway of the hips. The song, about unworthy men, includes a list of tacky pickup lines she answers with the rap: "You must be mad!/ Easy lover, something that I ain't/ Besides, I don't know you from a can of paint."
All of Latifah's second album presents similar self-assurance, humor and intelligence. Rap fans will admire her ability to sputter put-downs, boasts and come-ons to a raucous African beat. Pop-music fans will like the way she avoids the tedium of nonstop rap by mixing in reggae chants, jazz, melodic choruses and her own sultry singing. Unlike many rappers, Latifah even employs live musicians.
Queen L.'s raps avoid obscenity, presenting her as a strong-yet-thoughtful role model who advises women to put self-respect ahead of money or sex. She's no Girl Scout though. Latifah (real name: Dana Owens), a former high school basketball star from East Orange, N.J., shows off a tough side, with brash rhymes that assault other rappers who dare to challenge her skills. The album's closing number, "How Do I Love Thee," gets into graphic sex-manual territory: "It pleases me to have you touch me there/ I think you know it gets to me/ Stop! Don't stop! Ecstasy!"
Latifah calls herself "lovely and lyrically loose but ladylike." This isn't just an exaggerated rap boast; it's a fair self-assessment from rap's ruler-in-waiting. (Tommy Boy)