Quick Spin: Review of Queen Latifah's Album 'Persona'

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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

PERSONA

Queen Latifah

It's not difficult to pinpoint the moment when Queen Latifah's first hip-hop album in many years goes off the rails: It happens during "Runnin," an uncharacteristically awkward track centered on, of all things, an interpolation of Bon Jovi's appealing-until-now hit "Runaway."

Even in theory, the unholy union of old-school Bon Jovi and new-school Latifah is an intensely bad idea. But "Runnin" falls victim to a larger point that Latifah, or more likely one of the small village of producers and guest stars tasked with assembling "Persona," seems to be making about the increasingly porous boundaries between pop-rock and hip-hop, worlds that "Persona" otherwise bridges with occasional effort.

Latifah, pioneer of a particular brand of no-nonsense, woman-centric rap, has spent the past few years as a jazz vocalist, and "Persona" contains a hitherto unusual mix of singing and rapping. It's a bit of a mess in places, a jumble of styles that begins with a spoken-word shout-out to fellow New Jerseyans Springsteen and Sinatra and ends with "The World," a worthy but slightly clunky mid-tempo confessional about abused children.

In between there are singalong dance-pop tracks ("Cue the Rain"), brisk ballads ("People") and cameos both necessary (Missy Elliott on the flip, fine "Fast Car") and superfluous (Busta Rhymes on the busy, '80s-recalling "Hard to Love Ya").

Latifah is usually a towering presence capable of dominating -- and redeeming -- even the iffiest tracks, but she's operating at a dimmer wattage here. She seems to be observing the proceedings as much as participating, as if she were interested, but not particularly invested, in how it all turns out.

-- Allison Stewart

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Cue the Rain," "Fast Car"


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