Queen Latifah returns to her rapping roots

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How’s this for hip-hop royalty news: None other than Queen Latifah is set to release a new album in December — and she actually raps on it. After focusing on acting (and garnering an Oscar nomination for her efforts in 2002′s Chicago) and releasing two well-received collections of pop standards (2004′s The Dana Owens Album and 2007′s Trav’lin’ Light) it seems that the Queen is ready to get back in the game for the first time in more than a decade. (Yes, Order in the Court came out in the summer of 1998!)

Queen Latifah grew up in Newark, N.J., and got into hip-hop as a teenager, beat boxing with the group Ladies Fresh. She went on to emcee with Flavor Unit, through which DJ Mark the 45 King heard her song “Princess of the Posse.” He passed a demo on to Fab Five Freddy, host of Yo! MTV Raps, who helped Latifah sign with Tommy Boy Records and release her debut All Hail the Queen in 1989, when she was only 19. The rest is a Grammy-studded stroll down the Hollywood Walk of Fame (on which she was the first hip-hop artist to get a star).

Queen Latifah recently told RollingStone.com that she almost decided to call the upcoming and still-untitled project The L Word, “Just to mess with people’s heads.” Hmm. I’ll just leave that one alone.

The album was largely produced by LL Cool J and Dr. Dre, and other contributors include Ludacris and Kenny Flav, with a rumored cameo from Busta Rhymes.

I’m curious to see what happens with this. My recollection of Order in the Court is kinda “meh” (though I did always dig the cover art), but maybe a decade away from rapping has left her energized and inspired. We all would certainly benefit from having the Queen back in fighting shape, if for no other reason than I won’t have to pull my hair out anymore when people desperately cite her as a favorite current female rapper. I mean, cite her as a godmother absolutely, of course, but it’s a little depressing to read her name atop lists that are supposed to be contemporary — inevitably next to Lauryn Hill.

Besides putting together the record, The Queen has been busy: Her new film The Secret Life of Bees, co-starring Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and Dakota Fanning, comes out on Oct. 17. She’s also been working a fragrance line with Parlux, set to launch in 2009.

The first single from the new album is supposed to drop soon, so keep your ears open. Especially with Dre on board, this could be interesting. I definitely want to hear what she has to say — don’t you?

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