A. The only part of being famous that I probably wanted growing up was enough fame to get into clubs for free (laughs). Because I was hanging out in New York City and I wanted to be able to get the hook up. I really became famous because of music. Music was really the love that I had and you know, (music brought about) business opportunities to be able to change the circumstances for my family — to buy my mom a house and do things for my family and friends. That was the goal. The fame came along with that.
Q. You did what you loved.
A. I did what I loved. I always did what I loved, and so fame was an adjustment for me. It took me to crazy places. All of a sudden people looked at me, and I was supposed to be a role model. I was 17 years old when my first single came out. I was a kid. It was kind of a lot of responsibility. I felt a little bit of that pressure because I felt I’m still learning. I’m still growing. I also saw the positive side of what I could do and how I could get involved in AIDS activism and the things that were important in my time, growing up as a teenager. South Africa, apartheid, bringing those walls down. It was something we were able to bring to the world’s attention through hip-hop, through music. My generation of hip-hop spoke a lot about social issues, if there was something that needed to be talked about. So there was a lot of upside to that fame.
Q. Would you describe yourself as an ambitious person?
A. I would describe myself as an ambitious person. I was raised to go to college. I was the daughter of a high school teacher, and education was very important in my house. You had to get an education. You had to hit the books. It was tough because I dropped out of college to pursue music. But I skipped first grade. So I made a deal with my mom. Since I had a year to blow in my mind, I said I would take a year off from college and put everything I had into making my music career a success. If it was successful in that amount of time, then I would stick with it. If not, I would go back to college. So we made that deal, and I never had to return. I wish I could have. She was happy, but she still wanted me to get a degree and I wish I had. Everything worked out. I went to the college of life.
Q. Your name is now a brand, but do you ever regret not using your given name because you were so young when you chose it?
A. I actually don’t regret it. If anything I’m kind of glad I did create this sort of persona. It was part of how I visualized myself and something I wanted to portray. I believed the queen part was important because I felt like all women are queens and should be treated as such. I saw a lot of misogyny and chauvinism growing up. I guess I was a feminist back then, and I didn’t know it. I didn’t really know about feminism, but I did know that women should get the same pay as the guys for the same job. I watched my mom work really hard and my dad work really hard. I felt like things should be balanced. To me it was an attitude. Calling myself “Queen” would help me grow into those shoes. Queen Latifah, I never thought people would call me the whole name for some reason. My nickname was Latifah. Everybody called me that already. I kind of stuck the Queen on at the last minute when it was time for me to sign a recording contract. I was surprised when people called me the whole thing. I was like, “OK.”
Q. Being a celebrity and now interviewing celebrities, has that helped you in your approach?
A. I think I’ve had to adjust to being forward. I’m not really a forward person in front of the cameras with other people. I know what it is to sort of have a private life and then have a public life - what we do professionally, it just comes along with that. So between my producer and I, we ask the questions we need to ask. If anything, I can rephrase things or put them in a way that is always respectful to my guests because I have been on that side of the couch I wish to remain respectful and yet curious at the same time. I find when you create a safe environment, I am more inclined to open up. I wanted to create that same environment for guests on the show. Some of them I know or I am friends with, so I just wanted to create a comfortable, safe space and allow them to have at it.