Queen Latifah says historic Kennedy Center honor celebrates hip-hop’s evolution: “It should be embraced more”


Queen Latifah has achieved many milestones in her career that include being a Grammy, Emmy and Golden Globe winner. But this month, the rapper and actress born Dana Owens added becoming first female hip-hop artist to be honored with a Kennedy Center Honor to her list of achievements.

She found out on the set of her CBS series “The Equalizer” that she was among the Kennedy Center honorees, along with Barry Gibb, Billy Crystal, Renée Fleming and Dionne Warwick.  

“I appreciated watching all the creative people who were honored in the class of 2023. I have been inspired by them throughout these years. And so I’ve danced to Barry, I’ve cried to Renee Fleming’s music, you know, and Dionne Warwick has helped me to learn how to sing melodically and beautifully,” she said. “I’ve learned to act and laugh, you know, with Billy Crystal.”

Latifah said she views this recognition as a testament to hip-hop’s significance as an American musical form, standing on the shoulders of pioneers like Salt-N-Pepa and MC Lyte.

“I feel like this should’ve been something that should’ve happened a while ago. Hip-hop is truly an American form of music,” Latifah said. “As much as jazz, as much as the blues — as much as the musical. So I think it should be embraced more, you know?”

Latifah chose her stage name at the age of 8. Meaning “delicate” and “very kind” in Arabic, it has come to symbolize her impactful presence in the music and entertainment industry. Despite entering a male-dominated field, Latifah quickly became a pioneering force, not just as the first female crossover rap star, but also as the first female rapper to receive an Oscar nomination and the first hip-hop artist honored on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Latifah’s artistry extended beyond music, demonstrating her versatility as the star of the hit TV sitcom “Living Single,” and later earning acclaim as an Academy Award-nominated actress, talk show host, and CoverGirl.

Her music, particularly the Grammy-winning “U.N.I.T.Y.,” addressed critical issues like sexual harassment and domestic violence, reshaping the hip-hop genre for women.

“I don’t know if that my record company knew what to quite make of me, but I was fortunately signed by women as well. So I had, you know, a lot of women around me to support these ideas,” she said.

Latifah said that throughout her career, she has “tried to remain humble as much as possible, yet … as confident as I can be.”

“Dana Owens has taken some hits through the years, you know? But we get up and we keep on trying,” she said. 

The 2023 Kennedy Center Honors airs on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Wednesday, Dec. 27, and streams on Paramount+.

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