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Celebrated most for her yearning love songs and hooks, but just as capable of using her smooth, sweet, meringue-like voice to deliver anguished cinematic ballads, Ashanti became an almost inescapable pop-R&B force in 2002. The week of March 30 that year, the singer and songwriter followed the Beatles as only the second artist to simultaneously occupy spots in the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot 100 with her first three charting singles. She was featured on Murder Inc. labelmate Ja Rule's "Always on Time" and Fat Joe's "What's Luv?," hits that took the fourth and fifth positions, while "Foolish," her debut solo single, moved up to number nine. Upon arrival the next month, her self-titled album topped the Billboard 200 on its way to triple-platinum, Grammy-winning status. After Chapter II (2003), Concrete Rose (2004), and The Declaration (2008) sustained her commercial prominence, Ashanti parted ways with Murder Inc. (aka The Inc.), only to score her fifth Top Ten studio album with the independently released Braveheart (2014). These successes were followed by an assortment of singles and high-profile contributions to titles ranging from The Hamilton Mixtape (2016) to DaBaby's "Nasty" (2020).
Born and raised on Long Island, Ashanti Douglas started performing, singing, and writing songs in her youth. She established her enduring acting career with roles in commercials and uncredited appearances in Malcolm X and Who's the Man?, and danced in music videos. A track star, she set the record for the triple jump at Glen Cove High School, and was offered an athletic scholarship to attend Hampton University. Ashanti opted to pursue music, and after some potential label deals fell through, she ingratiated herself with Irv Gotti at Murder Inc. Records. She arrived in 2001 with featured appearances on Big Pun's "How We Roll," Ja Rule's "The Inc." and "Always on Time," and Fat Joe's "What's Luv?," and contributed "When a Man Does Wrong" to the soundtrack of The Fast and the Furious. "Always on Time" topped the Hot 100 and "What's Luv?" reached number two before Ashanti made her solo breakthrough with "Foolish." The ballad went to number one just after the April 2002 release of the self-titled parent album. Ashanti, the entirety of which the singer co-wrote, went straight to the top of the Billboard 200 and contained two more hits with "Happy" and "Baby," singles that respectively topped out at number eight and 15. During this flurry of activity, Ashanti appeared on yet another Top Ten entry, Irv Gotti's "Down 4 U." By the end of the year, the album was triple platinum, and Ashanti collected Grammy nominations in four categories: Best New Artist and Best Contemporary R&B Album, along with Best Rap/Sung Collaboration (for "Always on Time" and "What's Luv?") and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance (for "Foolish"). Ashanti won the Best Contemporary R&B Album award at the ceremony the following February.
Ashanti's hot streak was far from over. Her follow-up, Chapter II, was released in July 2003 and topped the Billboard 200. It yielded Top Ten hits with the deeply contrasting "Rock wit U (Aww Baby)" and "Rain on Me," the latter a marked shift into filmic soul with a sample from Isaac Hayes' version of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David classic "The Look of Love" (whereas her previous singles exuded sunnier nostalgia with servings of reheated DeBarge and the Gap Band). Ashanti was nominated again for Best Contemporary R&B Album, Best R&B Song ("Rock wit U"), and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance ("Rain on Me"). Ashanti's Christmas, primarily a covers set, was out in time for that year's holiday season. Preceded by featured appearances on singles by Ja Rule "Wonderful" and Lloyd ("Southside"), and heralded by the grimy number 13 hit "Only U," Concrete Rose appeared in December 2004, landed at number seven, and became her third platinum album. Remixes and previously unreleased tracks were rounded up for Collectables by Ashanti, issued in December 2005. By then, Ashanti had devoted more time to acting. Roles in Coach Carter and The Muppets' Wizard of Oz led to more between-album work with John Tucker Must Die and Resident Evil: Extinction.
The Declaration was Ashanti's last album with Murder Inc., or The Inc. -- as it had become known by the set's June 2008 release date -- but it was far from an in-house effort. Unlike Ashanti's previous LPs, Irv Gotti was hands off, and Channel 7 (aka 7 Aurelius) was the only Inc. regular to contribute in a significant capacity. Ashanti enlisted an extensive cast of producers and fellow writers that included Babyface, Diane Warren, Rodney Jerkins, Robin Thicke, and Akon. It was one of a few L.T. Hutton collaborations, "The Way That I Love You," that became the album's biggest single, a number 37 pop hit. Around the same time, she was heard on Nelly's "Body on Me." A handful of supporting vocals, along with the single "The Woman You Love" and a Christmas EP -- the first releases on Ashanti's own Written Entertainment label -- were scattered over the next several years. Braveheart, the artist's fifth proper album, appeared in March 2014. Including guests Beenie Man, Rick Ross, Jeremih, and French Montana, it debuted at number ten on the Billboard 200. Over the next several years, Ashanti alternated between making featured appearances and issuing intermediary singles. She was beside Ja Rule again on The Hamilton Mixtape and assisted on tracks by Lil Wayne ("Start This Shit Off Right") and DaBaby ("Nasty"). Among her diverse singles during this time were the DJ Mustard and Ty Dolla $ign collaboration "Say Less" and the Afro B-assisted "Pretty Little Thing." She returned after a fairly quiet 2020 with 2021's "235 (2:35 I Want You)," a lean slow jam made with Jerome "J Roc" Harmon. ~ Andy Kellman
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