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THE SUNDAY CONVERSATION

Queen Latifah

The singer-actress-producer talks about Michael Jackson, her upcoming album and her production company.

July 05, 2009|Choire Sicha

Queen Latifah was staying at a swank hotel in New York City under a hilarious historical pseudonym when we phoned her the day after Michael Jackson's death. She voices one of the characters in the animated family film "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs," in theaters, and her ninth album, "Persona," is due out later this summer.

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I'm still reeling about Michael Jackson.

Seems everyone is! It's pretty shocking.

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I'm about your age; that all came out at such an important time for us.

I remember being a kid, my brother and I dancing to "Dancing Machine." It was one of our first records when we were little, trying to robot and stuff. And watching their cartoon. They were huge. Michael just -- there'll never be anyone like him. He just introduced us to the world, just an international megastar. And a heart of gold. And just, you know, brought attention to things going on around the world and to being an African American man. All these people, in every country, they were just crying, happy to see him and dressing like him, people of every nationality and culture. Just an amazing human being from an amazing family. I just feel for his family. Sudden death is never easy to deal with. You can't wrap your mind around it.

And God bless Farrah Fawcett, she was my fave too. She fought so long, so hard, so valiantly. So yeah, my friends and I had to pour out a little liquor for my boy Mike. Every person on the street that I passed, I had to say, do you know what happened? Do you get it? Do you know what we lost? I didn't because I didn't know these people.

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That's probably good.

At the end of the day I'm happy, he's free to be, free to fly, free to be welcomed by God's arms. He's had an amazing and incredible life, and it's not been without his sacrifices and trade-offs. Just to lose your anonymity, to be followed, where you go, and not be able to run around and play like a little kid? Grow up fast, and hang out with adults all the time. You don't want to have the responsibility of a life dissected like that. I look at some of those videos they're playing, you see the mischievousness, the kid in him that comes out in these things. One of my favorites was "Scream," with him and Janet. I always wanted that video to be a movie starring Michael and Janet. It'd be huge. Anyway! This could go on and on.

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OK. So what is the new album all about?

It doesn't have a specific theme -- each [song] was so different from the next, me being the common denominator. And I realized my different characters were coming through on these [songs]. My acting, singing and rapping identities all came together under one roof as well as my taste in different kinds of music. I'd say it's half rap and half singing. If I had to categorize it, it would be more like hip-hop urban alternative.

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Did you ever think when you were coming up that you'd be recording jazz standards?

Oh, actually I did. I always loved all kinds of music. I would watch musicals a lot as a kid, on TV, watch the Fred Astaire movies. I'd watch "The Wizard of Oz." I was a big Jerry Lewis fan, and they'd have these big bands and someone singing -- some siren, or some guy singing some gorgeous song. I was always enamored of that style of music. When I got older and started to buy music, I guess my dad, who played jazz constantly, that influence kicked in. Quincy Jones, big band stuff, Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington, Della Reese. I love the way artists would use their voice as an instrument. Plus jazz music has had a big influence on hip-hop. If you listen to A Tribe Called Quest, or my biggest hit, "U.N.I.T.Y.," the loop is from a Jazz Crusaders record -- the horns, the jazz horns, the soul horns and stuff? That's been very influential in hip-hop.

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Can you tell me a little more about your production company, Flavor Unit Entertainment? It seems like you have your fingers in a lot of pies.

We've produced "Beauty Shop" to "The Cookout" to "The Perfect Holiday," and now "Just Wright." We're developing film and television production. We'll be having a big announcement soon -- it's not ready yet. I shouldn't tease you like that! We were a big music management company. As my career started to gain more strength on the film side than the music side, we started to swing our resources over to the film side.

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Where does this all end up?

I don't know that it ends up. If anything it continues up. I would love to eventually have our own studio. A real studio to produce films, television, whatever it is we like to do. To be a self-contained company, like a Tyler Perry, I suppose. You write it, you shoot it, you market it, you license it.

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So you have no interest in retirement.

I started in the business when I was 17. I thought I'd be done by 40. Things have grown! The goal is to be able to retire, but I don't know what the future holds.

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calendar@latimes.com

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