Queen Latifah Celebrates Major Career Milestones and Praises Jamie Foxx for Behind-the-Scenes Work (Exclusive)

The award-winning actor and rapper speaks to ET about her big career milestones and gushes about friend Jamie Foxx.

Queen Latifah has done a lot over her 30-year career and she's celebrating some major milestones!

Among her many accolades? The beloved "First Lady of Hip-Hop" made history in April when she became the first-ever female rapper to be inducted into the Library of Congress' National Recording Registry with her classic 1989 debut album, All Hail the Queen.

On April 12, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced that Queen Latifah is among several music icons, including Madonna ("Like a Virgin"), Mariah Carey ("All I Want for Christmas Is You") and 22 others whose musical recordings will be preserved in the Library of Congress for 2023.

"The National Recording Registry preserves our history through recorded sound and reflects our nation's diverse culture," Hayden said at the time. "The national library is proud to help ensure these recordings are preserved for generations to come, and we welcome the public's input on what songs, speeches, podcasts or recorded sounds we should preserve next. We received more than 1,100 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry."

The recordings selected for the National Recording Registry bring the number of titles on the registry to 625, representing a small portion of the national library's vast recorded sound collection of nearly 4 million items.

"It's crazy," Queen Latifah, whose real name is Dana Owens, tells ET's Rachel Smith. "I don't know if I've had a chance to wrap my mind around a lot of things lately. My mind has been in so many places, but when the plaque came to my house, I looked at it and was like, 'Wow...this is history. This is literally history.'"

"But I'm surprised that I'm the first woman to be honest with you," the 53-year-old entertainer added after sharing her gratitude for those who have been with her throughout her journey. "Hip-hop is just too big, and so many came before me. So thank you to them for inspiring me, to put me in a position to do this."

Released on Nov. 28, 1989, All Hail the Queen made its mark as a groundbreaking album that featured the then-19-year-old spitting innovative lyrics of female empowerment, sharing the experience of Black women and the struggles they face in their communities, including poverty, domestic violence, sexism and street harassment.

The album features some of Queen Latifah's most iconic hits, including "Ladies First," which quickly became a rallying call for women to assert their independence and confidence. 

Two months after that news dropped, the rapper was announced to be one of five honorees who will be recognized for their lifetime artistic achievements at the 46th annual Kennedy Center Honors.

The Kennedy Center announced that Queen Latifah, comedy legend Billy Crystal, Bee Gees member Barry Gibb, "America's Soprano" Renée Fleming, and pop music trailblazer Dionne Warwick, will all be honored during this year’s ceremony in Washington, D.C. Fellow honoree Gloria Estefan will return to host the Dec. 3 ceremony. 

In her statement celebrating the news, Queen Latifah reflected on the journey of hip-hop, writing, "When we started on this journey decades ago, we were often told, 'No.' No, you won't be able to leave New Jersey. No, if you rap you can't sing. No, singers can't become actresses. No, actors can't also produce. To now be recognized amongst so many multi-hyphenates feels unbelievable, not for just me and my team, but for our community. The work the Kennedy Center does is immeasurable so I'm beyond grateful for this recognition."

As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the revolutionary genre, Queen Latifah notes to ET that its longevity shows that "we were right."

"It's not a fad. We knew this wasn't a fad; we knew this would stay around. We knew that there was no un-ringing that bell -- once we heard that beat, once we heard those rhymes, once we started making this music, there's no way that this was not gonna stay around," she adds of the world's initial disregard for rappers and other hip-hop artists. "To turn 50 years old and touring around the world and... I remember being 20 and going to Japan and doing a show with The Flavor Unit, and barely anybody could speak English. But they were performing full rap records."

"They knew every single word in English and they were saying all the words to our records," she recalls. "And it was just like, this is gonna be major. Going to France and seeing the same things happen and hearing dope rappers from France, and going to different parts of Europe, going to different parts of Asia, Africa and being able to experience the fact that this music is going around the world. It was just amazing." 

"But the music wasn't just about a localized experience; the Equalizer star notes how impactful music has been worldwide. "I feel like hip-hop is part of the reason apartheid was even ended in South Africa, because we were able to, like, talk about it and we were able to spread the word through our videos and through our records. To be helpful with making people aware of what was happening with HIV and AIDS, you know... I think we think about the beats, the rhymes, the fun, but we found a way to spread the word about what was affecting our communities through our music," she adds, noting: "It was the message in other records before that... [We were] talking about the pressures of poverty, of everything going on in the city at the time, and people can relate to that. And especially when you put it over dope-ass beats."

When it comes to the genre's future, Queen Latifah says she just hopes the artists keep growing in positive ways. "I hope that we grow in that we really own what we're doing, you know? And own it literally as well as in take ownership of it and realize the power of it and realize that we do have the power to affect change in a positive way, in a beautiful way for our world," she says. "[Realize] that music can heal people, including hip-hop music. It can heal people, and we need that kind of healing. We need that healing for our planet and for each other right now because we've been through a lot. But we can pick each other up too."

And as she looks back on some of her much-loved projects celebrating their 20th anniversary -- like 2002's Chicago and 2003's Bringin' Down the House -- the award-winning actress muses on her favorite memories with the various stars she's worked with throughout the years. 

"Oh my gosh, there were too many great scenes -- they were all so wrong," she shares of working on Bringin' Down the House. "That movie is so right and wrong at the same time! Everything with Eugene Levy was fun [and also] everything with Steve Martin. The Betty White stuff must have been -- I mean, we laughed so hard [and] she had so many different takes... God bless her, [she] was so kind and so funny. I mean, you are talking about some serious pros in this movie and I was still coming up, so to be able to work with my icons from SNL and watch them and be a part of a movie with them, it was just a blast. Bring them a little hood to Hollywood it was perfect."

Another famous face she can't help but gush about is Jamie Foxx. Sharing that she's "praying hard" as the actor recovers after he was hospitalized for a "medical complication" in April, Queen Latifah tells ET that the Oscar winner is "one of the nicest people that you've ever met."

"He is secretly behind so many people's success in music, in Hollywood," she adds. "Jamie is a unicorn, and if you aired a whole show on him you'd be surprised how many people had been put on because they came by Jamie's house and they invited him over to play piano or make some beats or make some music. I hear so many kind stories about people who tour with him and how he treated them so respectfully and made sure they were all taken care of."

"I don't know how he found the energy to do that after parties after the shows, but I sure partied with him a couple times 'cause he'd be on the mic and singing. I'd be like, 'You just did a whole two-hour show and you still at the club doing another [one]!' So, he's really the genuine article and I just wish him nothing but the best."

This interview was done prior to the SAG-AFTRA strike, which began on July 13, 2023.