Ashanti Reflects On Her Early Passion For Singing And The 20 Years That Have Passed Since The Single “Foolish”

This AshantiThe name, referring to the Ashanti Empire of Ghana, means “woman of strength” should come as no surprise to anyone who has worked with the singer-songwriter.

With a career spanning over two decades and numerous hit singles and movies under her belt, she more than delivers. That’s why on April 7, Ashanti will receive a star on the Hollywood walk of fame.

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While fans can tell this accolade is long overdue, Ashanti believes the honor comes just in time. That’s because 2022 is shaping up alongside Ashanti’s 2002 as the singer embarks on a slate of projects. In addition to her star ceremony, Ashanti is gearing up to release a book, film a documentary, and produce and star in a feature film.

She also plans to release new music and recently announced a partnership with EQ Exchange, a Web3 company dedicated to the musician-fan relationship that uses blockchain technology. As a co-founder, Ashanti is the first black woman to hold the title in a Web3 company.

Silicon Valley is a far cry from Glen Cove, NY, where Ashanti grew up, applying the “woman of strength” creed from a young age, both in school, where she raced on the track, and in the house, where she acted as a leader in a neighborhood full of boys.

“All the girls wanted the ‘My Little Pony’ Ferris wheel, I wanted the ‘Transformers’ Ferris wheel,” Ashanti says. Variety. “I had the boys play my Barbies, they had me play kickball and street baseball. I had a really cool active childhood and I remember it was very diverse.

In addition to sports, Ashanti loved music. She sang in church choirs, at family barbecues and at house parties, but didn’t consider a career in music until after performing in her first talent show at age 12. years.

Still, she admits she never “woke up and said, ‘Hey! I want to be a singer.’ According to the story: Ashanti was cleaning the house one day, and her mother told her not to listen to the radio or watch television, so as not to distract her from her chores. To amuse herself, Ashanti began to sing “Reminisce” from Mary J. Blige’s “What’s the 411?” album.

As Ashanti recalls: “I’m vacuuming and my mother comes downstairs…stomping and shouting, like, ‘I thought I told you not to listen to the radio!’ And I’m, like, ‘That wasn’t the radio, I was just singing.’ And then she was like, ‘Wait, that was you?’ and it turned into something else.

Ashanti and her mother, Tina Douglas, would later visit Bad Boy Records to meet Puff Daddy. At the time, they didn’t have enough money to do a demo, so Ashanti handed him a picture and sang live. Before Ashanti and Puff discussed a deal, she exchanged pleasantries with rapper Notorious BIG

“Biggie signed an autograph for me,” Ashanti says. “I was so excited. He was the first person to call me ‘Shorty’.

Ashanti would eventually sign her first contract with Jive Records. She was 14 and the label wanted to make her a pop star, à la Britney Spears. The material did not match Ashanti, and she asked to be released from Jive.

“When you’re 14, you want to show off in front of your friends and you want to be proud of everything,” Ashanti says. “And my friends would come, and I was a little embarrassed to play my songs. So I said to my mother, ‘I don’t think I want to do this.’ I don’t know if I would have been bold enough to just say “Oh, I’m going to get another deal”.

Ashanti would later move to Atlanta, where she heard Rule Ja on the radio.

“It was a culture shock coming from New York and moving to Atlanta, the music was very different, especially in the 90s,” Ashanti says. “When I hear [Jay-Z’s] ‘Can I get a…’ I heard Ja’s voice, and I was like, ‘Wow.’ I immediately remember liking his voice.

A few years later, Ashanti would meet Ja Rule at the offices of Def Jam and Murder Inc.. At the time, Murder Inc. co-founder Irv Gotti was mostly interested in working with rap artists. Ashanti’s sound was R&B, and she found her place among the roster acts as a featured collaborator and vocalist.

In 2001, she appeared on Ja Rule’s “Always on Time”, which topped the Billboard Hot 100, becoming a breakthrough hit for both artists. She also appeared on the chart-topping remix of Jennifer Lopez’s “I’m Real”, alongside Ja Rule, although she is not credited for her contributions to the remix’s chorus.

The following year, Ashanti would appear on Fat Joe“What is Luv?” taken from his album “Jealous Ones Still Envy (JOSE)”. With an interpolation of “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” by Tina Turner, “What’s Luv?” would peak at No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.

The song, however, almost did not go to Ashanti. As she learned only two years ago, the original plan was to have Ashanti’s recording reference vocals for the hook, which would later be replaced by Lopez’s. But when Fat Joe heard Ashanti’s vocals on the track, he insisted on keeping it.

“Sometimes you can never duplicate greatness,” says Fat Joe. “When I hear [‘What’s Luv?’]I was just like, ‘Yo, this girl looks amazing, man.'”

Ashanti would continue to contribute guest vocals to other artists’ projects, but more often she would appear alongside fellow Murder Inc. labelmate Ja Rule. With songs such as “Down 4 U” and “Mesmerize”, the two quickly became a household name at the intersection of hip-hop and R&B.

“It’s just really organic,” Ja Rule says of the couple’s chemistry. “It fits. It works. I think we look like, together on screen, what people would consider black excellence.

In 2002, Ashanti would release her first solo single, “Foolish”, from her self-titled debut album. Containing a sizable sample of DeBarge’s “Stay With Me,” “Foolish” sat at No. 1 on the Hot 100 for 10 weeks and sold over 2 million copies.

“I really didn’t understand what all this success meant,” says Ashanti. “When the numbers came in and we were No. 1 on Billboard, that’s all I knew. I had nothing to compare to. I’d be like, ‘OK, is that a good thing?’ or ‘Oh, I just sold 1 million records, is that a good number?’ I really didn’t know. I think I was happy. But I couldn’t really enjoy it, because I didn’t know how amazing it was until a bit later.

This album was certified gold in its first week of release and earned Ashanti three Grammy nominations, including for New Artist.

In the years that followed, Ashanti put her screen skills to the test, starting with the video for 2003’s “Rain on Me.” Bringing on Hype Williams to direct and actor Larenz Tate to co-star, she filmed three versions of the video, one of which was a 10-minute mini-movie portraying Tate as an abusive boyfriend. Their goal was to raise awareness about domestic violence, and a partnership with the San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund to help distribute the film helped get the message heard.

Other acting opportunities arose and Ashanti later appeared in films such as ‘The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz’, ‘Coach Carter’ and ‘John Tucker Must Die’. In her latest film role, Ashanti stars in the Netflix original “Honey Girls” as a pop star named Fancy G who hosts a singing competition for teenage girls.

Ashanti says, “It was cool portraying a female figure that young girls and teens connect with, and showing women camaraderie, empowerment, and inspiring young girls to pursue their dreams.”

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