Queen Latifah, "Persona"

70 Billboard Rating

Queen Latifah's new studio set, "Persona," represents a turn away from her '00s work. But it's not quite the return to rap that it's been billed as. About half of the album finds the successful singer/actor making the kind of pop-inflected R&B once heard from En Vogue or SWV. (One track, "With You," even treads into disco, complete with an Auto-Tuned "Believe"-style vocal from Latifah.) Cool & Dre handled the bulk of the album's production, setting the star's vocals against head-nodding beats that come reasonably close to more youthful urban-radio fare. "Hard to Love Ya," with a rather humdrum cameo from rapper Busta Rhymes, summons a bit of Rihanna's authoritative sass, and The Neptunes appear on the reggae-grooved "If He Wanna." But the highlight is "Fast Car," where Latifah and Missy Elliott channel the goofy exuberance of OutKast's "Hey Ya!" --Mikael Wood

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