Queen Latifah has a real urge to get her dance on.
Her new album, Persona, is a mélange of styles funneled through the sterile house-inspired production of hip hop producers Cool and Dre that is clearly aimed at the dance floor.
But this is the most boring, lifeless dance record since Madonna’s Confessions on a Dance Floor. And though the album is only 14 tracks long, it feels much much longer. And Latifah’s voice is digitized within an inch of its life, stripping any of the songs of the urgency that they really need to soar as dance floor mainstays.
The only songs worth anything on the album are “Take Me Away (With You)”, with Marsha Ambrosius of Floetry, and the opening song, “The Light”. The former is the one song where the vocals and melody actually blend beautifully with the production. Marsha and Latifah’s singing is expressive and catchy, even with the slight digital modification. I can hear this song getting major play in the clubs. The extended house mix that follows it, “With You”, is standard fare but the clubs will probably love it as well. “The Light”, an inspirational track that is the closest approximation of the spirit and lyrical depth of the Queen Latifah that we all know and love, features Latifah’s strongest rhyming on the album. Clearly she hasn’t touched a pen in a couple of years, as elsewhere she sounds incredibly uncomfortable on the mic.
But everything that makes these songs work is missing from the other tracks. This is one of those albums where each individual element is fine, but the combination just does not work. Latifah is completely washed out by the vocal production, and frankly, the melodies and lyrics she has written probably aren’t very strong. I doubt that they would have worked as straight pop or R&B songs. They certainly do not have the anthemic energy that makes house music work. Persona is essentially an album’s worth of bad house remixes of bad R&B songs. Even the addition of Busta Rhymes (in an oddly muted, boring performance), Serani, Mary J. Blige, and Missy Elliott barely breathes life into these songs.
It is clear that Queen Latifah wanted to make a “fun” album. But someone should have told her that even house music needs something for the listener to latch onto. Like many “serious” artists looking to “let loose,” Latifah confuses “fun” with “lifeless.” Just because the production is (mostly) doing its thing, doesn’t mean the lyrics and melodies can afford to be weak. As “The Light” shows, you can combine a dance track with lyrics that actually say something and come up with a pretty decent track.
This is an album that could have been recorded by any dance artist. There is very little of the personality that made Queen Latifah a star. There is, frankly, very little of Queen Latifah (as we know her) at all, on this album.
Maybe that’s why she called it Persona. Maybe this is her way of deconstructing the Queen Latifah persona and showing us who she really is and we just aren’t getting it. I don’t know. I highly doubt it, though.