When Queen Latifah signed her first record contract in 1988, she was one of only a few women who had a presence in the male-dominated hip hop scene. The following year, in 1989, she released her debut album, All Hail the Queen, featuring her standout track “Ladies First.”
Her music was unapologetically centered around countering negative stereotypes about Black women, and her hit single was an intentional reminder of this fact. The multifaceted entertainer rehashed the origins of the record as part of the “Class of ’88” limited series podcast hosted by Will Smith. In the episode titled “Follow The Leader,” Smith said that “Ladies First” was both “hardcore” and “revolutionary.”
Latifah, however, said that it was something she had to do. She began, “I had to because how am I going to make myself different from my heroes [MC] Lyte, Salt-N-Pepa, [and] Sweet Tee? How am I going to do this?” She recalled thinking, “I need to carve a path that’s different from them. You know, maybe not so far, but it has to be different, you know, and so that was the goal.”
Delving more into how the record was conceived, the actress explained, “So I decided to call the record ‘Ladies First,’ and so a lot of it was, ‘Why am I beefing with these girls? Why do these girls keep beefing with each other? We can do a lot more if we stood together… i.e., ladies first. Why don’t I just embrace you, and maybe you’ll embrace me and let me encourage you, you know?’ Rather than saying, ‘Why you dissing each other?’… it was more like, ‘Hey, we ladies, let’s do this together. We can do this; we can do more together!’”
As for her iconic crowns that she often wore early on in her career, Latifah comically revealed it was a styling decision to save money. “I can’t afford to get my hair done all the time; I’m ’bout to put these crowns on,” she said as she and Smith began to laugh.
In August, Latifah, Da Brat, Latto, Sweetie, MC Lyte, Roxanne, Remy Ma, Kash Doll, and several others retraced the impact of female artists for the four-part Netflix docuseries “Ladies First: A Story of Women in Hip-Hop.”
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