She'll walk the red carpet in hollywood this month at the opening of her new movie, taxi, but Queen Latifah says she owes much of her success to her newark upbringing.


Queen Latifah is trying to seduce me.

Not with her bodacious curves or her oversized personality or even her Oscar nomination for her scene-stealing role in Chicago. ? No, she's trying to seduce me with her hometown. ? "Oh, man, there are so many reasons to go to Newark," Queen Latifah tells me. "Great food, great places to visit. We've got music, culture, good shopping. The people are cool …"

I stop her midsentence. That rap may be fine for the convention and visitor's bureau, I say. But I'm stuck mind, body, and soul in Manhattan. "Why would I leave the city that never sleeps to go to … Newark?"

My insolence almost sends her barreling through the telephone. How dare I doubt the greatness of Newark! How dare I bring my big-city bias to the queendom of Latifah! How could I not know the secrets of the city that produced stars ranging from Shaquille O'Neal to Tony Soprano? How deep is my ignorance that I don't even realize that Newark is in the midst of an economic and cultural renaissance?

"Well, you have an hour to convince me why I should come, and then stay, in the city," I tell her.

With that, she's got me on the 20-minute A train from Penn Station, New York, to Penn Station, New Jersey, where she says she'll pick me up and take me to town on a 24-hour scream that begins, fittingly, with breakfast.

"Je's is the spot," she says. "They serve soul food, but you can get grits, eggs, omelets, pancakes, French toast, and not just regular sausage, but turkey sausage. That's the clincher for me. I can go there and still stay on my health kick."

But I won't be able to resist temptation, she claims. "In fact, you'll need a new shirt, because you spilled all kinds of hot sauce while you were eating so much so fast," she says. "So I gotta take you shopping. We'll just go right around the corner from Je's. We don't even have to drive. We'll get you a nice, fresh, crisp sweatsuit, or some nice jeans and sneakers."

Now that she's got Newark food in my belly and Newark duds on my back, she's ready to start getting Newark into my heart.

"We'll cruise over to Branch Brook Park," where, Latifah says, she had her first childhood kiss. If we time it right, the cherry blossoms will be in bloom, she adds, and I will instantly forget about Gotham across the Hudson. "Branch Brook is about near the size of Central Park," she boasts. "We'll lie out and take a nap in the sun or under a shady tree as we listen to some music. 'Cause you know I gotta bring a box with me.

"I would sing, 'Oh, Happy Day,' " she continues, and she begins crooning, her velvety voice pouring through the telephone. "Or maybe we would throw on some Sarah Vaughn. She's from Newark, you know. Or maybe something by Whitney Houston. She's from Newark, too. Maybe we would just rock out to some Bon Jovi, also from Jersey. Of course, there's the Boss, Bruce Springsteen. He's from Freehold, New Jersey."

Queen Latifah entered the world