Queen Latifah on affecting widespread societal change: ‘Our white brothers and sisters have to evolve’
Twenty-five years after Queen Latifah because the first woman to receive the Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance, her winning song “U.N.I.T.Y.” — which directly addressed the disrespect of women in hip-hop and more generally addressed the lack of mutual respect in modern society — is more relevant than ever. “It’s just unfortunate for me that those verses still need to be used today. They still apply today,” she tells Yahoo Entertainment during a week of unrest, outrage, and protest following the shocking killing of George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, by white police officer Derek Chauvin.
“We still have to find respect for one another. We’re still watching people get killed in the streets, murdered, and at the hands of police officers whose hearts just are hardened. It’s heartbreaking,” Latifah continues. “And we still have domestic violence. The things that I talk about on that record… nothing has changed. As far as my mindset, it’s just sad that we still have to talk about the same things 25 years later.”
But Latifah is trying to stay positive, because she thinks society in a “pivotal place” currently. “I feel like we got the floor — what are we gonna do with it? This has been a really tough year, what a tough year — not tough for you or me right now, because we’re breathing, we’re alive, we have voices. We have a platform that we’re sharing right now, and there are people whose lives are gone. And there are hundreds of thousands of people whose lives are gone from this pandemic, just overwhelmingly black and brown. So for people to not look at that and say, ‘What can I do about it?’ would make no sense. So right now we have an opportunity to change a lot of things, and we have to take this energy. And it seems like many people in our country are feeling and be smart about it.”
While Latifah encourages everyone to vote (and to vote with their wallet by being wise about what businesses get their money), she also stresses that people of color can’t affect change on their own – white people are the ones who really need to step up.
“I also believe that our white brothers and sisters have to evolve — they have to evolve spiritually, mentally, physically. They’ve got to get involved and do something. It’s not enough to be sad. You know, it’s not enough,” she says a day after Blackout Tuesday, a campaign when the music business and social media went dark, a gesture that was seen by some as just virtue-signaling. “We didn’t set this thing up the way it is, and we can’t dismantle it by ourselves. We need everybody to beat to get involved with this. You need to check it right in your own household… and you’ve got to say, ‘OK, I’m not with that. I’m not going to be that. And I’m going to show you how different I can be.’ It’s always hard to break with the past, but you’ve got to do it, the family forward.”
Looking back on her ‘90s hip-hop career when “U.N.I.T.Y.” became her biggest hit, Latifah says, “I remember how much fun it was — and I also remember how powerful it was.” And she is hoping that young artists can send similarly passionate messages to help affect change and spark conversation in 2020.
“There were a lot of things I wanted to talk about that weren’t really necessarily just BS and partying,” she says. “Some of it wasn’t pretty, but at the same time, there was a lot of voices out there that had a lot to say about a lot of different things, and we spoke to our community. … And so, I implore [current] rappers to speak about what they see happening in their communities and in their worlds, because they are actually the communication devices to the rest of the world.”
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