Back in 1993, rap icon Queen Latifah challenged the growing misogyny of hip-hop by demanding, "Who you calling a bitch!?" in her hit single "U.N.I.T.Y." The music she loved was changing, and so was she. Now you can call the 34-year-old just about anything--sitcom star, talk-show host, entrepreneur, Oscar-nominated actor. Well, anything but a rapper. On her first album in six years, Latifah trades her hip-hop moniker for her given name, Dana Owens. Even stranger, she swaps her rapid-fire raps for crooning.

Anyone who saw Latifah as Mama Morton in "Chicago" knows that the New Jersey native can sing. But this record, a collection of standards such as "I Put a Spell on You" and "Hello Stranger," is still a potentially humiliating move--even for somebody who sang a duet with Rod Stewart not so long ago. On "The Dana Owens Album" she lights up decades-old songs and makes them her own. Her voice is so smooth, deep and steady, you get the feeling she could sing most of this stuff in her sleep. But Owens's saving grace is always her passion. On Dinah Washington's '40s hit "Baby Get Lost," she's a sassy seductress fronting a big band: you can practically see the smoke and red lipstick. On Al Green's R&B ballad "Simply Beautiful," every groove is filled with emotion, be it dewy-eyed love or after-hours lust. (Green actually joins her on the song and their harmonies make this one of the album's best tracks.)

"The Dana Owens Album" has its corny moments, where she actually sounds like an actress pretending to be a singer, but they're too benign to spoil the easy-go-lucky mood. At worst, the stylistic jumps from track to track start to grate on your nerves a little. The songs career from big-band numbers to sugary '50s ballads to (the weirdest choice here) the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'." Owens tries to turn the hippie anthem into a low-key jazz tune but the song's still steeped in patchouli and flowing with gauze.

It's unlikely that the hip-hop world will follow Queen Latifah on her newest venture. Too many years have passed and they know her as an icon and an actor, not as a rapper. That's likely fine with Latifah. She is, after all, the Queen of Reinvention.