Queen Latifah

Persona

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    5
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Following a pair of vocal showcase albums that involved classy yet fun spins on the likes of Dr. Buzzard's Original Savannah Band, Nina Simone, and Billy Strayhorn, Queen Latifah enlists producers Cool & Dre to help concoct a willfully schizophrenic set of pop-oriented material. As anyone familiar with her recent screen and studio work would expect, Latifah's shifts from character to character are not rocky. "What's the Plan" is an obvious Cheryl Lynn circa-"Encore" impersonation, albeit one streaked with Dre's vocal-effect-driven gibberish. "Cue the Rain" works a rocking backdrop -- not unlike a fist-pumping cut off a mid-'80s soundtrack -- with quotes from Fleetwood Mac's "The Chain." One of the more contemporary tracks, the sleek and flirty "Take Me Away (With You)," features Marsha Ambrosius and is surprisingly effective -- though its extended dancefloor coda, technically longer than the meat of the song, is gratuitous. Just about all of it is enjoyable, but not much of it sticks. Few vocalists who can sing and rap can display such versatility on one album. As demonstrated on Persona, Queen Latifah is definitely one of them, yet the album is easily her least essential release.

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