By 1993 Queen Latifah was a budding actress, with the hood classic Juice under her belt and starring in the first season of her severely underrated sitcom Living Single. Oh yeah, and she also had two solid hip-hop albums under her belt and was arguably the most respected female emcee in the game at the time. The Queen would return at the end of 1993 with her third release Black Reign.
The bulk of the production work for Black Reign would be handled by Tony Dofat, Kay-Gee (of Naughty By Nature) and newcomer, S.I.D., and the album would go on to earn Latifah her second gold selling certification. Latifah would dedicate Black Reign to her brother Lancelot H. Owens aka Winki, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1992.
Like Latifah, Black Reign will always be connected to death for me as well. In December of 1993 my high school homie, Sophia Lewis, was shot in the head while sitting in the passenger seat of some dude’s car, and of course, he was the one the bullets were intended for. He would walk away unscathed, while Sophia would become a victim of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, because, as momma used to say, “a bullet don’t have nobody’s name on it”. Sophia was only 16 years old. Ironically, Black Reign was the album I was bumping in my Walkman (remember those?) the day I got the news of Sophia’s demise, and some of the album’s dark and moody undertones would help me cope with the lost for the bulk of that winter. Thank you, Queen.
Winki and Sophia, may you both rest in peace.
Black Hand Side – Black Reign opens with a spacey S.I.D. instrumental and Latifah warming up her mic, while she welcomes the listener to the album and a new day (“a new day to hit me”). She and S.I.D. both deserve five on the black hand side for this gem.
Listen 2 Me – Keeping with the spacey feel, Tony Dofat gets his first production credit of the evening and builds an airy/moody jazz instrumental for Latifah to spit on, and she does a decent job with it. This song brings back memories and sounds just as good today as it did twenty plus years ago.
I Can’t Understand – This song has the Queen pondering why wack emcees want to try her (*cough* Roxanne Shante), why men play games, why white and black people fight each other, why good people die, why the sky is blue, etc. etc. Tony Dofat hooks up a dope up-tempo backdrop and Latifah does a good job of keeping pace with it.
Rough… – Tony Dofat hooks up a rugged backdrop and the Queen invites a few of her all-star emcee friends to join her on this cipher joint: Treach, Heavy D and KRS-One stop by to spit a verse along side Latifah. Everyone involved contributes a solid verse, but of course the Blastmaster walks away with this one.
4 The D.J.’s (Interlude) – S.I.D. chops up the intro to Al B. Sure’s “Die For You” along with a soundbite of someone saying “gimme the microphone”, and turns it into a decent interlude.
Bring The Flavor – This was included on the Flavor Unit compilation Roll Wit Tha Flava. Read my thought on this song here.
Coochie Bang… – One of the few songs on Black Reign that Latifah actually gives one of her writers (Treach) a credit in liner notes. S.I.D. creates a smooth mid-tempo groove which lays the ground work for this cool safe sex PSA.
Superstar – S.I.D. continues to bless the Queen with excellent production work. This time around he churns out a beautifully melodic backdrop that has the Queen in search of an ordinary guy. Picture that: the Queen with an everyday peasant.
No Work – Kay Gee gets his first production credit of the evening and hooks up funky instrumental for Latifah to talk her shit, or should I say Treach’s shit, over (I don’t care what the liner notes say, can’t nobody tell me Treach didn’t write “we’re ready for the worst things first, anything you thought I thought twice, thought through and thought first”). La even adapts Treach’s flow and cadence on this one, but it’s still a banger.
Just A Flow (Interlude) – Latifah freestyles a short spoken word piece over S.I.D.’s track that has good vibes dripping all over it.
Just Another Day… – This was the second single from Black Reign. Latifah uses this soothing S.I.D. backdrop to give the listener a glimpse into the life of the Queen, and who would have thought she still lives in the hood and walks around with a nine, tech and condoms, just in case she needs protection? Even with her exaggerations, this song is still dope.
U.N.I.T.Y. – This was the lead single from Black Reign and is easily the biggest hit on the album. Kay-Gee hooks up a somber jazzy instrumental that Latifah uses to create arguably the greatest feminist movement song in hip-hop history. And with all the sexual assault accusations against some of the entertainment world’s most powerful men, this song couldn’t be more relevant. “Who you calling a bitch?!”
Weekend Love – When it comes to combining hip-hop with the island vibes, Latifah was through with it before Drake learned what to do with it. Kay-Gee lays down a smooth Caribbean flavored instrumental for Latifah to showcase her lovely singing voice and tell her weekend boy toy that what they have is just a weekend ting, or thing. Tony Rebel adds a reggae chant for the hook on this breezy feel good joint.
Mood Is Right – This sounds like something that should have been on La’s Nature Of A Sista album. S.I.D. hooks up a mid-tempo-slightly r&b tinged backdrop, as Latifah expresses her readiness to give up the box to her new man. She also continues to show and prove she can sing a little bit, on the hook.
Winki’s Theme – Black Reign fittingly closes with a tribute to Latifah’s late brother, Winki. Unlike most tribute songs, this one is not super sappy, but you can still feel the emotion in the upbeat instrumentation (that Latifah is credited for producing). I wasn’t a big fan of this song back in the day, but now as an adult, I can appreciate it a lot more. What a perfect way to end Black Reign.
Black Reign definitely lives up to the album’s title as Kay-Gee, Tony Dofat and S.I.D. (who I’m shocked didn’t get more production work after his masterful job on this album) sew together a sonically cohesive darkly moody quilt that the Queen lays her quality and versatile verses on, as she combines battle bars with consciousness, while occasionally rhyming and singing about love, all done with a mournful heart. There is not one song on the album that is worthy of skipping, and that’s pretty impressive, considering there are fourteen tracks. Black Reign is a great album that doesn’t get nearly the credit that it deserves.