Any 21-year-old who calls herself a queen and boasts "This is the best you'll ever hear from a female MC" had better be able to really rock the house. Queen Latifah demonstrates she is quite capable of living up to her claims on All Hail the Queen, her debut album. Queen Latifah actually has little use for the super-ego rhymes employed by other rappers. Although she occasionally lapses into puffed-up self-congratulation, the extroverted singer focuses much of her rapping on social issues, whether the plight of the homeless or South African apartheid.
Latifah avoids the threat of voice overkill by inviting friends to take the mike on several numbers. The members of De La Soul lend their playfulness to Mama Gave Birth to the Soul Children and teen-age rapper Monie Love infuses the harmonies of Ladies First with youthful optimism.
The most pleasing cuts on All Hail the Queen display strong reggae influences. The languorous, sensual saxophone on Latifah's Law is a sample from an old UB40 song, but it sounds natural alongside Latifah's throaty, dubbed vocal. On The Pros, Jamaican-style toasting propels Latifah's teasing duet with Daddy O.
Roxanne Shante shares Queen Latifah's fondness for reggae influences, but unlike the Queen, Shante's No. 1 topic of conversation is herself.
Shante hit the singles charts in 1985 with Roxanne's Revenge, a pithy reply to UTFO's bimbo-rama Roxanne, Roxanne. Since then, she's established an impressive catalog of 12-inch dance records. Bad Sister is her first full-length album.
Shante continues to take jabs at the negative gender stereotypes some rap groups perpetuate. That is, when she's not extolling her many virtues, making snide but lusty observations about the opposite sex or dissing the women in the California rap trio J.J. Fad.
Shante's impeccably enunciated, speed-of-sound raps are offset by bare bones music _ at times the only sounds audible besides her breathless torrent of words are a snare drum, a booming bass and an echoic, reggae-style piano.
Shante's non-stop attitude nearly threatens to cross the line between amusing and annoying. For the most part, her talent justifies her bragging. Let's Rock Y'all and and Wack Itt are dance-floor workouts, and the title cut is radio-ready enough to be Shante's first venture into the Top 40.
Neither Queen Latifah nor Roxanne Shante directly address their roles as female leaders in the male-dominated world or rap music. But by presenting themselves as multidimensional women, not fly girls, they set a healthy example while keeping intact the spirit and urgency of rap.