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Ja Rule. J. Lo. Big Pun. Fat Joe. She’s worked with some of the industry’s best—writing lyrics and singing hooks that help their records reach the top of the music charts. Now it’s time for 21-year-old Ashanti Douglas to take center stage and shine on her very own self-titled debut, the much-anticipated Ashanti. In April, Ashanti hits the scene as the first R&B vocalist on Murder Inc. 

Although this is a departure for the hip hop powerhouse label that has a roster including rappers Ja Rule, Vita and Charli Baltimore, all indications show that the transition has been more than smooth and successful. Ashanti’s lead single, “Foolish,” has already made waves at radio getting heavy rotation on urban stations and galvanizing fans to demand an earlier-than-planned release of her album, a tantalizing blend of edgy hip hop groves and subtle R&B styling. With Ashanti’s clever lyrics and slick production by Murder Inc.’s president Irv Gotti, “Foolish” immediately reminds music lovers of the Notorious B.I.G.’s popular “One More Chance” remix. (True old school heads will remember the familiar melody from DeBarge’s 1983 hit “Stay with Me.”) Either way, you’re sure to be hooked. And that’s what Irv’s depending on.

“Ashanti’s album is full of ‘one-listens’ like ‘Foolish’,” says an exuberant Gotti, whose passion for this project is palpable. “When you hear this song, and other songs on the album like “TK,” which is based on one of Scarface’s old cuts, you remember it, you’re bopping your head to it and you immediately get it.”

Making sure people “get it” and truly feel where she’s coming from is also of the utmost importance to Ashanti, who penned all 12 songs on the album, most written on-the-spot in the studio. “I want to create something so real and reflective that people just sit back and listen like, ‘damn, was she in my window last night, because this really happened to me,’ ” says the eldest daughter of a dancer and singer. “Everyone has gone through something that’s on this album, and I want to be able to articulate their feelings.”

With cuts like “Happy,” “Baby” and “Rescue,” which detail the ins and outs of relationships, the precocious Long Island native is sure to make her mark with streetwise sophistication similar to the reigning queen of hip hop soul, who first blended hardcore beats and heartfelt lyrics in the early nineties. “Mary paved the way,” says Ashanti, who began pursuing her singing career at age 12 and also cites Ella Fitzgerald and Blue Magic as influences. “I didn’t want to sing only slow songs and I didn’t want to be spittin’ rhymes. But Mary put those concepts together. 

She cleared the way, and now I’m following my own path.” Says Irv, who executive produced the project, “I want Ashanti’s album to pick up where Mary’s My Life left off. By no means are we trying to take Mary’s slot because she’s undoubtedly the queen. But Ashanti is Murder Inc.’s princess—with a gansta feel to her.

I really want men to champion this album,” Irv continues. “Usually, with an R&B record, women pioneer it or champion it before anyone else. I want men, thugs, ganstas—I want them to hear the record and be like, ‘yo, this shit is hot.’ That’ll make women like it even more. Ashanti flips the hardcore songs and makes ‘em sweet, so she appeals to both sexes.”

Ashanti’s already well established track record has placed her on the sweet road to success. (Ja Rule’s “Always On Time” has broken history as Def Jam’s top selling single. Her contribution to J. Lo’s “I’m Real” helped give the former fly girl-turned-actress-turned-singer urban credibility.) With her own album, Ashanti continues the saga that is sure to gain her the hip hop/R&B princess crown. 

And the impact she hopes to make during her reign is simple: “If you’re a person who has trouble expressing yourself, all you have to do is pop in this album and it’ll speak for you,” she says with all sincerity. “When you listen to this album with your man or your girl, everybody will be on the same page.” Says a much more boastful Gotti, “Ashanti delivers at the highest level. And she has this personality that makes people love her. She’s got too many people feeling her, too many hit records and too much heat for her to stop,” he praises. “She can’t lose.”

After having success in the music world, Ashanti has also ventured into acting.

Her first role was a minor guest appearance in a season 7 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, First Date, which aired in February of 2003. In 2004, she appeared in the Gurinder Chadha-directed English-language Bollywood movie Bride and Prejudice where she sang “My Lips Are Waiting”. In January 2005, Ashanti made her feature film acting debut in the movie Coach Carter alongside Samuel L. Jackson. She also starred in the 2005 TV movie The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz as Dorothy Gale.

Shortly after the success of her collaborations, Ashanti released her self-titled debut album, Ashanti, on Irv Gotti’s Murder Inc. record label in 2002. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 album chart and is Ashanti’s most successful album to date. Her debut single, “Foolish”, contained a sample of the 1983 song “Stay With Me” by DeBarge (also utilized by The Notorious B.I.G. in his 1995 #2 hit “One More Chance”).

The song entered the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 in March while her two collaborations were still there, making Ashanti the only artist, other than The Beatles, to have their first three chart entries in the top 10 simultaneously. “Foolish” also became 2002’s biggest hit according to Billboard, spending ten weeks at #1, due in part to a remix titled “Unfoolish”, which featured a rap by The Notorious B.I.G. and received heavy urban radio airplay. Ashanti’s follow-up singles, “Happy” and “Baby”, although not as huge as “Foolish” reached the top 10 and top 20 respectively. During the summer of 2002, Ashanti also appeared on a Ja Rule’s “Down 4 U,” along with labelmates, female rappers Vita and Charli Baltimore. The song appeared on a Murder Inc compilation titled Irv Gotti Presents The Inc.

In early 2003, Ja Rule and Ashanti teamed up again and scored a massive pop hit with “Mesmerize”, the music video for which parodied the plot of the movie Grease. 50 Cent would later mock Ja Rule as being soft and “not a true gangsta”, citing the “Mesmerize” video and its pop-culture appeal as an example. Ashanti was not spared from 50 Cent’s criticism of the entire Murder Inc. family.

In the summer of 2003, Ashanti released her sophomore album titled Chapter II which also debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200. Its first single, “Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)”, became one of the summer’s biggest hits and its steamy video, which showed Ashanti in a bikini frolicking on a beach and riding an elephant, was nominated for a 2003 MTV Video Music Award for Best R&B Video. The second single and video, “Rain On Me”, was released in the fall of 2003. Even though it was not as successful as “Rock Wit U” at pop radio, it still managed to reach the top 10.

Ashanti released the third single from Chapter II, “Breakup 2 Makeup”; its almost complete lack of video and radio airplay along with the flop of her 2003 Christmas album, Ashanti’s Christmas, had some speculating that Ashanti’s career as a superstar singer might have run its course.

In 2004, Ashanti appeared in two more collaborations. Male R&B newcomer and labelmate Lloyd released a duet with her titled “Southside” as his debut single; it was a moderate hit at American radio and video channels during the summer reaching the top 20. She was also featured, along with R. Kelly, on Ja Rule’s successful “Wonderful” single which peaked at #3.

Ashanti released her third studio album, Concrete Rose, in December of 2004. Although neither the album nor its singles were as successful as her previous work, the album did manage to debut in the top 10 of the Billboard 200. Its first single, “Only U”, reached the top 20 of the Hot 100, however, the followup single “Don’t Let Them” did not even chart in the U.S.

Her fourth studio album, The Declaration, was released on June 3, 2008. Ashanti ventured out and acquired producers and collaborators primarily outside The Inc. for the first time. She said the album was a representation of the freedom she felt she had at that time in her career. “I’m steering my own ship and taking the lead on everything. You can definitely hear the growth; I’m working with producers I’ve never worked with before”. Irv Gotti was quoted as saying, “she’s having her little Janet Jackson Control moment. Every artist has their moment when they feel they need to take over their own music and this is hers”.

In May 2009, Irv Gotti announced that he was officially releasing Ashanti from The Inc. Records, stating that “The relationship has run its course. The chemistry of what’s needed — we’re in two totally different places. You’re talking to somebody that took her and shaped and molded her and put her out there for the world, and it blew up. We hold the record for the fastest selling debut by a female R&B artist 503 thousand. We did it! My views and philosophies and her views and philosophies are not meeting up.” Gotti also admitted that he and Ashanti haven’t spoken to each other in a long time. A rep for Ashanti did not respond.

Ashanti confirmed via twitter that she is currently in the studio working on her fifth album, that is being released off her own record label Written Entertainment. Ashanti is rumored to be working with a slew of producers and artist, thus far this is all that has been verified… LT Hutton, Dr. Dre, David Guetta, Game, Theron Feemster bka Neff-U, The American Dream, Cool & Dre, Warryn Campbell, Carvin & Ivan, Common, Darkchild, NE-YO and Tank who co-wrote and co-produced with her the song Paradise. Ashanti’s new single & album is set to be released later on this year.[37] On June 27, 2010, caught up with Ashanti and she hinted she may be making the move to Interscope, but she remained coy. “I can’t tell you yet,” she said with a laugh.

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