Whether you know Queen Latifah
as a hip-hop icon, a sitcom legend, an Oscar nominee, or a rom-com queen, no one can deny she has influenced culture for the better.
She can now add “Lifetime Achievement Award winner” to her unrivaled resume, as she was honored at the 2021 BET Awards
on Sunday night, an evening themed “The Year of the Black
Latifah (née Dana Owens) was honored at the Microsoft Theater
in Los Angeles
for her contributions to Black music
and pop culture over her decades-long career, following in the footsteps of previous recipients such as Whitney Houston
and Mary J. Blige.
Rapsody paid tribute to Latifah by performing unapologetic feminist rap anthem “Ladies First” with rapper Monie Love, and Lil’ Kim came out in all white to perform “U.N.I.T.Y.,” with MC Lyte joining in.
Latifah took the stage to accept the award, looking stunning in a cape and a black, white, and pink gown.
“I want to thank BET for creating an outlet for beautiful blackness to thrive and shine when we couldn’t get our videos played on the radio and other places,” she said in her speech. “We couldn’t get our videos played in other places; there was BET that allowed us to be in our fullness and shine.”
Latifah also thanked her longtime business
partner Shakim Compere, without whose "dreams, aspirations, and partnership" she would not be standing on the stage.
Taraji P. Henson, the show's host, praised Latifah for making a name for herself across multiple platforms, allowing other Black women
to do the same.
“I want to tell her in person and on live television
how much she means to me and how much she inspires me,” Henson told Variety
. “She built a brand. She came from hip-hop, she had a record label and flipped it, she became a TV executive producer and had her own show, she did movie after movie. She just reinvents herself.”
Queen Latifah's music career began in the late 1980s
, when she burst onto the hip-hop scene as a powerhouse and pioneering emcee with her debut studio record, "All Hail the Queen." Right away, Latifah made her intentions clear with "Ladies First," informing listeners in the opening verse that "a woman can bear
you, break you, take you."
“I’ve always celebrated the woman because I was raised by a strong Black woman, raised by a father who loves women,” Latifah said in her acceptance speech, holding a photograph of her late mother Rita Owens. “I wanted to celebrate us because I know we stand stronger together than we tear each other apart.”
“Congratulations to all of the female emcees on stage tonight.”
Her illustrious musical career continued with six more albums, including “Black Reign,” which featured her Grammy-winning hit single “U.N.I.T.Y.” Over time, Latifah began to shift away from hip-hop and toward soul- and jazz-inspired sounds in later records.
Latifah was making moves in Hollywood
as her music career grew. In 1993, she landed her breakout role on the sitcom “Living Single
,” which became a ratings success for Fox
and one of the most watched and beloved Black television series of all time. She also starred in the female-led heist film “Set It Off” alongside her friend Jada Pinkett Smith
, with whom she’d previously worked.
Latifah's musical abilities made her a rare on-screen talent, earning her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress for her role as Matron "Mama" Morton in the widely acclaimed 2002 film adaptation of "Chicago
." She also won a Screen Actors
Guild Award in 2015 for her portrayal of blues legend Bessie Smith in HBO
's television movie "Bessie."
Never content to stay in one lane for too long, Latifah launched a talk show, "The Queen Latifah Show," in 1999, which she revived nearly 15 years later for a two-season run on CBS with a total of 175 episodes.
Latifah is currently starring in and executive producing the action series "The Equalizer," which has been renewed for a second season after becoming one of the most watched scripted series on network television this year.