views updated Jun 27 2018



April Fool's Day 2002 found R&B songstress Ashanti awaiting the midnight release of her self-titled debut album. That week she had already become the first artist since The Beatles to have three songs in the Billboard top ten. Two of those songs went on to grab the number one and two spots, a feat no other woman in U.S. chart history had accomplished. Meanwhile, a song she wrote for another artist was sitting in the number three spot. Of this unprecedented success, she said in an online interview with the night before her album hit, "Oh my gosh, it feels crazy, and overwhelming! It's a blessing!" More blessings were soon to follow. Her album debuted at number one. Within a week it had sold half a million copiesa record for first week sales by a female artist. Irv Gotti, CEO of Murder Inc., Ashanti's record label, and a man known as a visionary in the rap and hip-hop realms, told MTV of the debut, "I always say we can go beyond our expectations, but she went beyond my expectations. It's never happened to me, where I thought we could do something and it went beyond my expectations." Her mother, Ashanti's self-described "momager," seemed to expect Ashanti's scorching success all along. She told MTV, "From the moment she was born I just had the feeling she was gonna be a star."

Began Dancing as a Child

Ashanti Douglas was born on October 13, 1980, and grew up in Glen Cove, a neighborhood on Long Island, New York. Both of her parents worked as computer specialists though their backgrounds were in entertain-menther mother, Tina, danced and her father, Kincaid, sang. From the beginning her parents groomed Ashanti to follow in their footsteps. "I couldn't find a birth announcement that was sufficient for the way I felt about my child, so I made my own up," Ashanti's mother told MTV. "It had all kinds of musical notes on it, and it said that she was gonna be a dancer. We said, 'Dancing to the boogie woogie beats of the lyrics written by her dad.'" She studied dance at the Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center and began dancing at the age of three. "I did tap, jazz, modern, ballet, African, everything," she told Music & Media. She performed in famed venues like Carnegie Hall and the Apollo Theater and danced in the Disney television film Polly.

Ashanti seemed destined for a career in dance until it was discovered she could sing. "Singing was kind of accidental," Ashanti told MTV. Her mother had told her to do some chores and turn off the radio. Twelve year old Ashanti obeyed and went to work, singing to herself. "[My mom] comes storming down the steps: 'Didn't I tell you to turn the radio off?' I'm like, 'Yeah, that wasn't the radio. I was just singing.'" Her mother continued, telling MTV, "She sang Mary J. Blige's 'Reminisce' and I'll never forget it. I put her in a couple of talent shows and she came in first place. Once I found out she could sing, it was a wrap." Less than two years later Ashanti signed her first record contract with Jive Records. That deal went nowhere, in part because Ashanti wanted to write her own songs, something the record company did not like. A few years later at 17, Ashanti moved to Atlanta to work with Noontime, a subsidiary of mega-label Epic. That partnership fizzled out as well and she was soon back in New York, finishing up high school and starting to plan for her future. Of the failed deals she told Music & Media, "It was all like a character builder, I got a chance to learn a lot of things very early."

Despite her budding career, Ashanti kept pace with her schoolwork. She was an honor student in English and belonged to the English club where she began writing poetry. She was also a standout on the track team and brought home quite a few medals for her school. Her academic and athletic talents drew the attention of both Princeton University and Hampton University, the latter of which offered her a scholarship. She turned it down, deciding to give music another shot.

Found Success With Murder Inc.

Ashanti's manager scored a meeting for her with Irv Gotti, the man behind the hardcore rap label Murder Inc. At first it seemed an unlikely pairing. The label had a street thug edgeits artists were called "murderers" and its website opened with the sound of gunshotsand Ashanti was a sweet-faced honor student who sang R&B. However, as her mom told People, "She looks innocent, but if there's something she wants, she'll get it." What she wanted was to fuse her R&B style with harder rap and hip-hop sounds. She credits singer Mary J. Blige with that influence. "I didn't want to sing only slow songs and I didn't want to be spittin' rhymes," she is quoted on the Def Jam website. "But Mary put those concepts together. She cleared the way." Gotti was looking to expand Murder Inc.'s roster and thought that with her sultry voice and stunning looks Ashanti might become his first crossover artist to find popular success. He asked her to sing the choruscalled a hookon "How We Roll" by the late Murder Inc. artist Big Pun. Gotti was impressed and she soon signed a deal to become the label's first R&B artist.

Ashanti went into the label's Greenwich Village studio and began to work on her debut album, Ashanti. She wrote the lyrics for all twelve songs, penning many of them right in the studio. "When you perform your own records, records you wrote, for me, the emotion I feel is deeper than when I sing someone else's words," she said on With those songs she also hoped to touch other people. "Everyone has gone through something that's on this album, and I want to be able to articulate their feelings," she is quoted on Def Jam's website.

For the Record . . .

Born Ashanti Douglas on October 13, 1980, raised in Glen Cove, Long Island, NY; daughter of Tina (her manager) and Kincaid (a computer specialist) Douglas.

Signed with Murder Inc., 2001; sang on singles with Ja Rule, "Always on Time," with Big Pun, "How We Roll," and with Fat Joe, "What's Luv," 2002; released debut album, Ashanti, on Murder Inc., 2002; released book of poetry, Reflections on Love: Foolish/Unfoolish, Hyperion Books, 2002; released Chapter II, 2003.

Awards: Lady of Soul Awards, Best R&B/Soul Artist, Aretha Franklin Entertainer of the Year, 2002; Teen Choice Award, Breakout Artist of the Year, 2002; Billboard Awards, Female Artist of the Year, Top New Pop Artist, Hot 100 Singles Artist, R&B/Hip Hop Artist of the Year, R&B/Hip Hop Female Artist of the Year, New R&B/Hip Hop Artist of the Year, R&B/Hip Hop Single of the Year for "Foolish," 2002; Grammy Award, Best Contemporary R&B Album for Ashanti, 2002; American Music Awards, Favorite New Artist in Pop/Rock, Favorite New Artist in R&B/Hip Hop, 2003; Soul Train Awards, Best R&B/Soul Single for "Foolish," Best R&B/Soul Album for Ashanti, 2003; NAACP Image Award, Outstanding New Artist, 2003.

Addresses: Record company Murder Inc., 825 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019, website: Website Ashanti Official Website:

While finishing up her album, she appeared on rapper Ja Rule's "Always on Time." In the song she plays the smooth-voiced girlfriend to Ja Rule's hard-edged man. The song scorched through the charts, landing at number one. At about the same time she appeared alongside another rapper, Fat Joe, on his "What's Luv?" single. Again her sultry cooing played perfectly off the gangsta-fueled rap and the song also tore up the charts. Meanwhile, a song she wrote for Jennifer Lopez, "Ain't it Funny," also began climbing towards the top ten. Murder Inc. promptly released "Foolish," the first single off of Ashanti and it also soared. By April of 2002, "Foolish" was holding the number one spot, "What's Luv?" was at number two, and "Ain't it Funny" was three. She became the first new female artist to hold both the one and two spots, and only the second artist since the Beatles to have three songs in the top ten at the same time.

Balanced Fame With Family

Ashanti's voice was everywhere, booming out of car stereos on street corners, filling the dance floor at clubs, appearing on radio shows with her Murder Inc. brethren. The public was entranced by her sexy blend of R&B and gangsta rap. With the videos for "Always on Time" and "Foolish" receiving heavy airtime, the public also took notice of her drop-dead beauty. Her faceand often scantily clad bodywas splashed across magazine spreads. Ashanti was hot and Gotti and crew decided to take advantage of it, pushing up the release of her album. It was a smart move. Ashanti shot straight to number one and sold an unprecedented 504,000 units during the first week. Ashanti was stunned, "Never in a million years would I have thought it would go down like this," she told Newsweek.

"Foolish" made headway in the urban radio formathome to rap and hip-hopas well as the more mainstream pop format. If her life before the album was, as she described to Alloy, "like a roller coaster," her life after Ashanti dropped became a non-stop loop on a super-coaster. She told Entertainment Weekly, "It gets ridiculous when I'm doing three states in one day with the travel and the entourage and the change and the security checks and the radio and the autographs and the smiling in the airportit's bananas!" Though she was quick to add, "But I remember when I was on the couch watching everyone go to college while I'm watching [daytime talk show] Ricki Lake. And it's worth it."

For Ashanti, a self-avowed family girl, there have been sacrifices. "[The success] is bittersweet because I'm so close to my family, and I haven't seen them in a long time," she told Alloy. "But everyone is so proud of me and so happy for my success." It is younger sister Kenashia's voice that pipes in near the end of the album saying, "I'm glad that your dreams are finally coming true." Her family has been with her every step of the way. When the video for "Foolish" first aired on BET, she recalled to Newsweek, "My whole family came to the house, 'cause we had a big TV in the middle of the living room. My cousin started crying, my aunts, they were screaming." When friends suggested she spend some of her newfound wealth on a sleek $120,000 Mercedes Benz she refused. "It only has two seats," she told People. "I couldn't bring my family anywhere."

Became "Entertainer of the Year"

Ashanti's meteoric streak through the top of the charts brought with it a slew of music nominations and awards. She led Soul Train 's Lady of Soul Awards with the most nominations, five in all, including Best New Artist, which she won. Over at MTV she grabbed four nominations at their Video Music Awards and performed live at the hugely popular event. She also scored Breakout Artist of the Year from the 2002 Teen Choice Awards. In November of 2002 she found out she was up for five awards at the 30th annual American Music Awards. She won her first Grammy Award, taking home the prize for Best Contemporary R&B Album for her debut, Ashanti.

However, the most prestigious award she won in 2002 was also the most controversial. When it was announced that Ashanti would receive the Soul Train Aretha Franklin Award for Entertainer of the Year, a high school boy in California took offense and started an online petition against her. He explained to the Seattle Times that she was too new to deserve the award and "she lacks stage presence in the majority of her performances." Nearly 30,000 people agreed with him, signing the petition. Many pointed out that established artists such as Mary J. Blige and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot or critically acclaimed singers like Alicia Keys and India.Arie were more deserving of an award that carries the name of a musical legend. Despite chart-topping success, most reviewers panned Ashanti's debut effort. On the night of the award ceremony, Ashanti graciously accepted the honor from presenter Patti LaBelle. LaBelle deemed Ashanti "extremely deserving of this wonderful recognition," and the controversy settled down soon after.

Ashanti continued to collaborate with other Murder Inc. artists, appearing on Ja Rule's "Mesmerize" and the summertime hit "Into You" with up-and-coming rapper Fabolous. She also spent time working on her sophomore album, again writing the majority of the tracks on the album. Chapter II, released in August of 2003, debuted in the number one position on the Billboard charts. The album, wrote People reviewer Chuck Arnold, "proves wrong those who thought she would be a one-hit-album-wonder." Though the album lacks lyrical depth, he found it to be the perfect end-of-summer treat. "It's easy, breezy listening that doesn't require much brain power." In an interview with Jet magazine, Ashanti revealed that she has changed since her debut a year earlier. "I've learned that I'm a lot stronger than I thought I was. I'm just going to try to work hard. Whether it's writing music or still singing, I definitely want to stay humble and successful."

Selected discography

Ashanti, Murder Inc., 2002.

Foolish/Unfoolish (spoken word), Hyperion, 2002.

7 Series: Ashanti, Murder Inc., 2003.

Chapter II, Murder Inc., 2003.

Ashanti's Christmas, The Inc., 2003.



Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 2, 2002, p. F2.

Cincinnati Post, August 26, 2002, p. 12C.

Daily Star (London, England), August 26, 2002, p. 15.

Ebony, March 2003, p. 170.

Entertainment Weekly, July 12, 2002, p. 40; July 11, 2003, p. 77.

Jet, August 11, 2003, p. 62.

Music & Media, July 20, 2002, p. 1.

New York Times, May 12, 2002, p. 15.

Newsweek, April 22, 2002, p. 64.

People, May 27, 2002, p. 174; August 4, 2003, p. 35.

Rolling Stone, May 23, 2002.

Seattle Times, August 30, 2002, p. H6.


"Ashanti," All Music Guide, (December 6, 2003).

"Ashanti,",,8609,221437,00.html (June 23, 2003).

"Ashanti: My Sacrifice," MTV, (December 9, 2003).

Ashanti Official Website, (December 9, 2003).

"Rockin' Her Way to the Top," Essence,,14882,459978,00.html (December 7, 2003).

"Spotlight: Ashanti," Alloy, (December 9, 2003).

Candace LaBalle


views updated May 17 2018


Singer and songwriter

Born Ashanti Shequoiya Douglas, October 13, 1980, in Glen Cove, NY; daughter of Ken–Kaid (aka Thomas; Ashanti's road manager) and Tina (Ashanti's manager) Douglas.


Office—Murder Inc. Records, 825 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019. Website


Worked as a model and appeared in television commercials, 1980s; appeared in music videos, 1990s; signed and was dropped from both Jive Records and Epic, 1990s; made recording debut on Big Punisher's single "How We Roll," 2001; sang on Ja Rule's "Always on Time," 2001; sang on Fat Joe's "What's Luv" single; wrote a remix version of Jennifer Lopez's song "Ain't It Funny;" sang on the soundtrack of the film The Fast and the Furious, 2001; signed with the Murder Inc. label, 2001; released single, "Foolish," 2002; released debut album, Ashanti, 2002; published book of poems, Foolish/Unfoolish: Reflections on Love, 2002; released Chapter II, 2003. Television appearances include: Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, 2002; American Dreams, 2002; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 2003.


Entertainer of the Year, Aretha Franklin Award, Soul Train's Lady of Soul Awards, 2002; Best R&B/Soul or Rap New Artist, Soul Train's Lady of Soul Awards, 2002; Breakout Artist of the Year, Teen Choice Awards, 2002; R&B/hip–hop artist of the year, R&B/hip–hop female artist of the year, R&B/ hip–hop single of the year for "Foolish," R&B/hip–hop singles artist of the year, new R&B/hip–hop artist of the year, Hot 100 singles artist of the year, top new pop artist of the year, and female artist of the year, all Billboard Awards, 2002; favorite new artist (pop/rock), American Music Awards, 2003; favorite new artist (hip–hop/R&B), American Music Awards, 2003; Grammy Award for best contemporary R&B album, Recording Academy, for Ashanti, 2002.


Ashanti became the hottest R&B act of 2002 when her debut album, Ashanti, broke sales records for female recording artists, and three of its singles landed on the Top 10 charts simultaneously. The Long Island native had only recently graduated from high school when she first landed on the charts in 2001 with her vocals on the Big Punisher rap song "How We Roll." Contributions on the tracks of other stars from her record label, Murder Inc., pushed her star higher, culminating with the release of Ashanti. That album earned the singer/songwriter two Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, eight Billboard Awards, and a Grammy. Her second album, Chapter II, released in the summer of 2003, also sold briskly, proving that Ashanti is here to stay.

Ashanti Douglas, named after a tribe in the country of Ghana, was born and raised in the Long Island, New York, community of Glen Cove. At Glen Cove High, she was a track star and an honor student. She began performing before the age of ten, modeling and appearing in TV commercials. Soon afterward, she appeared in music videos as a dancer. Music runs in her family; her father, Ken–Kaid, was a singer before leaving show business for more steady work as a computer systems administrator. Ashanti's little sister, Kenashia, also a singer, took home the grand prize for children on the Showtime at the Apollo television show at the age of six. Ashanti's grandfather, James Davis, was an advocate for civil rights, and served for many years as the head of the Long Island chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

When Ashanti was 12 years old, her mother discovered her daughter's singing talent. She had asked Ashanti to turn off the radio while she did her chores, and left the room. Ashanti did as she was told, but she began to sing the songs from the radio herself. Her mother came back into the room to reprimand her for disobeying, and was astonished to find that it was Ashanti making beautiful music, not the radio. Soon afterward, Ashanti's parents entered their daughter in a local talent show, which she handily won. From then on, Ashanti's mother has acted as her co–manager.

At the age of 14, Ashanti landed her first recording contract, with Jive Records. This label also featured such top artists as the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, and Britney Spears. During that time, she divided her efforts between high school and recording sessions with the label. The company would send a limo to pick her up after school to take her to the recording studio, where she would do her best to catch up on her homework before recording and then while being driven home.

Ashanti and Jive ended their relationship after a year, before a single album was released. When she was 17, however, Ashanti was picked up by the Sony label Epic Records. It was a heady time for Ashanti, and the label took out a full page ad in her high school year book congratulating her on her graduation. That deal required her to move to Atlanta, Georgia, which, Ashanti told Nekesa Mumbi Moody in the Gazette of Montreal, "kind of broke up the family." Ashanti admitted that there were a lot of tears from family members the day she left home.

But after only a year in Atlanta, the person who had signed Ashanti to the label was let go, and the artists he had signed were also dismissed. Ashanti returned home, again without an album to show for her time with the new label. After graduating from high school in 1998, Ashanti was faced with a difficult decision: to go on to college as many of her friends were doing, or pursue her music career full time. She had been admitted to Hampton University in Virginia on a track scholarship, and her music career had yet to take off. Even so, she chose music over continuing her academic education. At first it was difficult for her not to feel discouraged as she struggled to gain broader recognition as a singer while her friends enjoyed their freshmen year of college.

Nevertheless, Ashanti stuck it out, recording demos in New York while looking for yet another record deal. After two years of hard work, she got her break in the form of Chris Gotti, the brother of the president of the Murder Inc. label. He introduced her to his brother, Irv, who hired Ashanti to sing backup on a Big Punisher album released after the hip–hop star's death. The song was "How We Roll," and Ashanti's backing vocals helped to propel the song to the top of the charts in early 2001.

Ashanti first hit the airwaves in a big way with her contribution to the Ja Rule song "Always on Time," which came out in the second half of 2001. The song, helped along by her refrain on the song, hit the Billboard 100 as the seventh most–played song in the United States. Hard on the heels of that release, she appeared on the television show Saturday Night Live with Ja Rule. Soon people were stopping her in the street to ask for her autograph.

Another collaboration soon followed, this time with Fat Joe, on a song called "What's Luv." This song was also a hit, and Murder Inc. signed Ashanti to her own contract. She began to play concerts with Ja Rule at the same time that she worked on her own album. Also during this time, Ashanti wrote a remix version of a song for Jennifer Lopez called "Ain't It Funny," and sang on the soundtrack for the film The Fast and the Furious.

The first single from Ashanti's debut album, released before the album itself, was "Foolish," which takes its melody from a DeBarge song, and which was made famous by Notorious B.I.G. in his hit rap "One More Chance." The song is based on Ashanti's experience breaking up with a boyfriend. That relationship, she told Rolling Stone's Matt Diehl, was "real, real serious," but could not stand up to the stress put on it by Ashanti's success and her heavy traveling schedule. According to Ashanti, the recording of the song benefited from the synergy created by the fact that everyone involved in the production, including the engineers, was going through similar relationship troubles.

The melody for Ashanti's debut was chosen by Irv Gotti, and Ashanti was nervous about having her debut single ride on the shoulders of such a big star as B.I.G., but she trusted Gotti to put the best possible sound on her debut. Gotti felt that the song needed "a familiar beat that people would recognize," as he told Richard Cromelin in the Los Angeles Times. His strategy, coupled with Ashanti's heart-felt lyrics and her sultry vocals proved a winning combination; her single became a hit, remaining at the top of the charts for ten weeks.

Ashanti continued to live at home, even after becoming a successful recording artist, albeit in a separate apartment with her own entrance. That situation had to change, she and her parents acknowledged in a 2001 New York Times interview with Seth Kugel, since she was just a bit too accessible to her ever–increasing numbers of fans. "They come right up to the house," Ashanti's mother told Kugel. "Then they bring kids from out of town." The family decided to move, but not far—their new home was also on Long Island, though much larger than their old one.

Ashanti's self–titled debut album hit the racks in April of 2002, immediately dislodging Celine Dion from her perch at the top of the charts by selling more than a million copies in a single month. The album eventually outsold not only Dion, but also every other female recording artist in history, with four million copies and counting. Ashanti also became the first recording artist since the Beatles to have three singles on the Top 10 charts at the same time. The album earned Ashanti no less than five Grammy nominations, one of which—Best Contemporary R&B Album—it won. The album also earned Ashanti eight Billboard Awards. Over at MTV she grabbed four nominations at the Video Music Awards and performed live at the popular event. She also scored "Breakout Artist of the Year" from the 2002 Teen Choice Awards. In January of 2003, she won two awards at the 30th annual American Music Awards.

However, one award she won in 2002 was also controversial. When it was announced that Ashanti would receive the Soul Train Aretha Franklin Award for "Entertainer of the Year" a high school boy in California took offense and started an on–line petition against her. He explained to the Seattle Times that she was too new to deserve the award and "she lacks stage presence in the majority of her performances." Nearly 30,000 people agreed with him, signing the petition. Many pointed out that established artists such as Mary J. Blige and Missy Elliott or critically acclaimed singers like Alicia Keys and India. Arie were more deserving of an award that carries the name of a musical legend. However, veteran singer Patti LaBelle, who presented the award, said the singer was "extremely deserving of this wonderful recognition," according to a report in the Cincinnati Post. Ashanti also picked up the Soul Train Lady of Soul award for best new solo artist.

Despite chart–topping success, most reviewers panned Ashanti's debut effort. Other critics pointed to the fact that Ashanti's phenomenal first week sales were propelled along by Island Def Jam Music Group, the parent company of Murder Inc. The company offered retailers a two–dollar rebate for each album sold in the first two weeks. While it is true that Ashanti was hot, Lyor Cohen, CEO of Island Def Jam, confessed to the New York Times, "We put gasoline in the carburetor." For Ashanti, who was happy just to have a record deal that actually resulted in a album, her debut's astounding success was just icing on the cake. "I never dreamed of all this," she told Glenn Gamboa in Newsday. "I just wanted the album to be released.… To have it finished and have it released and in stores was a major accomplishment."

Always conscious of her roots, Ashanti chose her hometown as the location for the music video for "Happy," one of the cuts on Ashanti. She remembered as a child waiting in vain for stars to visit Glen Cove, and as an R&B superstar, she decided to finally bring some star power to the little city. Her handlers suggested Los Angeles or Monte Carlo as possible locations, but Ashanti was firm; Glen Cove was her favorite place, and she wanted her home-town to share in her success. With that, dozens of crew members and 20 trailers full of production equipment descended on the city for three days of shooting. The mayor presented Ashanti with the key to the city, and the executive of Nassau County declared May 3, 2002, Ashanti Douglas Day.

Around this time, Ashanti also took a stab at bringing her verses to print with a book of poems titled Foolish/Unfoolish: Reflections on Love. Although her book is about love, she has admitted that she has been less than lucky in that department. She blamed it on being overworked with concerts and other public appearances, and also the fact that she is followed everywhere she goes by employees of her record label. As she told Peter Robinson in the Observer,"It's a little difficult to meet people when I have a bunch of big brothers standing there everywhere I go. But I suppose it's a good thing. They do it out of love."

Ashanti's second album, Chapter II, was released in the summer of 2003. In the same vein as her debut, it features, in the words of the Observer's Robinson, "fresh–sounding breezy beats and irresistible hooks underpinning Ashanti's silky R&B style." Ashanti has said that one of her favorite parts of the album is a short duet she sings with her then–14–year–old sister. The first single from Chapter II, called "Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)," immediately hit the charts and rose to the top 10.

In 2003, Ashanti was nominated for two American Music Awards: Favorite Female Artist—Hip–Hop/Rhythm & Blues Music and Favorite Album—Hip–Hop/Rhythm & Blues Music, for Chapter II.

Ashanti remained determined not to let success go to her head, knowing full well that disappointment in the music business is often not far away. "I take it one day at a time," she told Newsday's Gamboa. "I've had to get used to so many letdowns."

Selected discography

(Contributor) Endangered Species by Big Punisher ("How We Roll"), Relativity, 2001.

(Contributor) Pain Is Love by Ja Rule ("Always on Time"), Def Jam, 2001.

(Contributor) The Fast and the Furious ("When a Man Does Wrong," "Justify My Love"), Universal, 2001.

(Contributor) Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E.) by Fat Joe ("What's Luv?"), Atlantic, 2001.

Ashanti, Murder Inc./Universal, 2002.

(Contributor) Irv Gotti Presents the Inc., Murder Inc./ Universal, 2002.

(Contributor) Disneymania, Disney, 2002.

(Contributor) Irv Gotti Presents the Remixes, Murder Inc./Universal, 2002.

(Contributor) The Last Temptation by Ja Rule ("Mesmerize" and "The Pledge Remix"), 2002.

Chapter 2, Murder Inc/Universal, 2003.

Selected writings

Foolish/Unfoolish: Reflections on Love, Hyperion Press, 2002.



Cincinnati Post, August 26, 2002, p. 12C.

Daily News (New York), June 22, 2003, p. 2.

Gazette (Montreal), May 6, 2002, p. F6.

Houston Chronicle, March 2, 2003, p. 14.

Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2002, p. F1.

Newsday (New York), February 16, 2003, p. D20.

New York Times, December 30, 2001; May 12, 2002, p. 1, p. 15; June 9, 2002.

Observer, July 6, 2003, magazine section, p. 38.

Rolling Stone, May 23, 2002, p. 39.

Seattle Times, August 30, 2002, p. H6.


"Ashanti Bio,",, (August 20, 2003).

"Ashanti, Nelly Top Billboard Awards," E! Online,,1,10954,00.html (August 20, 2003).

"Eighth Annual Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards,", (August 20, 2003).



views updated May 14 2018


Born: Ashanti S. Douglas; Glen Cove, New York, 13 October 1980

Genre: R&B, Hip-Hop

Best-selling album since 1990: Ashanti (2002)

Hit songs since 1990: "Always on Time," "Foolish"

The guest-appearance cameo has long been a means of introducing a new voice into the worlds of rhythm and blues and rap. Few artists, however, so quickly and successfully capitalized on the strength of a handful of smartly placed guest spots as New York-born Ashanti Douglas, whose recordings eventually sold millions.

Trained as a dancer at New York's renowned Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center, Ashanti had harbored dreams of pop stardom since her childhood in Glen Cove, New York, in the home of a singing father and a dancing mother. After honing her chops in a gospel choir beginning at age six, the singer signed her first recording contract at age thirteen with Jive Records. Nothing came of the contract, and it took nearly eight more years before Ashanti made a name for herself.

In the meantime, Ashanti danced in a variety of settings: as part of the Senior Pro Ensemble at Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, and the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and in Disney's television musical Polly. The singer also danced in several music videos and appeared in the hip-hop comedy Who's Da Man and Spike Lee's Malcolm X.

While focusing on her schoolwork, Ashanti, a talented runner, was offered track scholarships to Hampton and Princeton Universities, which she turned down in order to pursue her singing career. Two more record deals fell through before Ashanti was discovered in 2001 by Irv Gotti, the CEO of a rising record label. Mining a formula that he used to make his record label, Murder Inc., one of the most successful of the early 2000s, Gotti paired the girlish singer with the late Latin rapper Big Pun on the 2001 hit single "How We Roll," giving Ashanti her big break via a cameo vocal on the rapper's song.

Like many of her future hits, the song mixed Pun's street-themed, sometimes profane boasting with Ashanti's smooth, elegant vocals on the song's chorus, a formula that shrewdly appealed to both male and female hip-hop fans. Gotti tried the "gangsta and the lady" trick with Ashanti a few more times, pairing her with rapper Fat Joe, on the smash hit "What's Luv?" and with the Murder Inc. cornerstone Ja Rule on "Always on Time," which hit number one on the Billboard singles chart in early 2002. Ashanti also sang backup on the remix of the number one hit from Jennifer Lopez, "Ain't It Funny."

An Instant Hit Debut

With several hit singles under her belt working for Gotti in a freelance role, Ashanti was officially signed by him as the first R&B act in the label's nearly all-male, testosterone-heavy lineup. In addition to her facility with singing a song's "hook"the catchy portion of the chorus between versesAshanti proved to be a deft lyricist, penning singles for Lopez and singer Christina Milian.

It was no surprise then that the singer wrote all twelve songsmany on the spoton her self-titled debut (2002), which broke first-week sales records for a debut from a female R&B artist. The album easily topped the Billboard charts as her debut solo single, the obsessive love tale "Foolish," reigned on the singles chart. Owing to her sudden ubiquity, in a single week in March prior to the album's release, "Foolish," "Always on Time," and "What's Luv?" all sat in the Top 10 on the singles chart.

Ashanti songs such as "Happy" (featuring Ja Rule), "Baby," and "Rescue" explore the ups and downs of relationships with a mix of preternatural maturity and high school-crush sincerity, all delivered in the singer's understated, seductive style. In "Leaving (Always on Time Part II)," another tale of infidelity, Ashanti pleads, "When you was cheating you was probably thinking I won't sense a thing / But love got a funny way of catchin' up to lies."

"Foolish" relied on a sample of the same El Debarge song ("Stay with Me") used by the late rapper Notorious B.I.G. in his hit of the same name. A sample of a Notorious B.I.G. rap is included on the equally popular remix of the song, "Unfoolish."

Ashanti's mix of hip-hop rhythms, a girlish, sensual voice, and ties to a credible, street-tough label set the stage for the singer to quickly catapult into the same rarefied air as one of her idols, the "queen of hip-hop soul," Mary J. Blige. It also opened doors for the hip-hop community by finding a way to appeal simultaneously to male and female audiences.


Ashanti (Murder Inc./Universal, 2002).

gil kaufman


views updated Jun 27 2018

Ashanti Administrative region and ethnic group of central Ghana, w Africa; the capital is Kumasi. The Ashanti people (a matrilineal society) established a powerful empire based on the slave trade with the British and Dutch. In the 18th century their influence extended into Togo and the Ivory Coast. Conflicts with the British throughout the 19th century were finally resolved in 1902, when the Ashanti territories (a British protectorate since 1896) were declared a crown colony. The society is traditionally agricultural. The region is the main area of Ghana's vital cocoa production. The Ashanti are renowned for their crafts, including high-quality goldwork (a gold-encrusted stool was a symbol of their sovereignty) and weaving. Today, Ashanti is the most populous of Ghana's ten regions. Area: 24,390sq km (9414sq mi). Pop. (2000) 3,187,601.