* 1/2 QUEEN LATIFAH
"Order in the Court"
With 1989's "All Hail the Queen," Queen Latifah offered a seductive blend of hard-core hip-hop, dance tunes and ballads. Like several other rappers, the New Jersey native eventually parlayed her musical success into a number of outside entertainment avenues, starring on television ("Living Single") and in film ("Set It Off" and "Sphere"). As these careers took off, she put music on hold after 1994's "Black Reign," her best-selling set, appearing on only an occasional soundtrack cut or guest appearance.
Her return lacks on all fronts. On her first three albums, Latifah rapped with charisma and poise about being a strong woman, falling in love and out-dueling inferior lyricists. Here, however, she abandons her once-appealing edge, opting instead to dwell on her romantic dealings and showcase her limited singing ability. Most of the instrumentation on the overtly popish collection stalely incorporates successful pop music staples such as "I Heard It Through the Grapevine."
When she chooses to rap, Latifah seemingly lacks inspiration, and it sounds as if her skills have diminished during the layoff. A messy hodgepodge of watered-down hip-hop, "Order in the Court" ends in a mistrial.
Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent).