She's won Grammys and sold millions
of records. But who is the woman anointed the latest princess
of R&B? Japan gets to take a closer look when she makes
her first appearance here later this month at the glittering
Tokyo International Forum.
Ashanti, as it turns out, is a nice, ambitious, girl from
Glen Cove, New York. And like her rival for the R&B title,
Beyonce, she grew up the child of parents from the world of
performing arts. Predictably precocious, Ashanti scored her
first record contract at 13. The deal, however, fell through,
and the young singer returned her focus to high school, where
she became the star of the track team and received a scholarship
offer from Princeton.
Deciding instead to focus on her music, Ashanti began a series
of major label flirtations, first with Jive and then Epic.
When these didn't work out, she finally got her break
when Irv Gotti, CEO of Murder, Inc., matched her with rapper
Big Pen on "How We Roll." The blend of tough
gansta rhymes with Ashanti's delicate vocals struck
gold, launching her on a series of collaborations, including
with Ja Rule on "Always on Time" and Fat Joe
on "What's Luv," both No. 1 hits.
She was fast on her way, in fact, to becoming hip-hop's
favorite hook girl, and told Rolling Stone last summer that
this put even more pressure on her to write her own material.
"I liked the exposure because the records were successful,"
she said. "But because I was all on everybody else's
joint, I had to smack it up with [my first single] "Foolish"
and show that I can write."
The 21-year-old Ashanti, it turns out, could. Her debut album,
simply titled Ashanti, went on to sell more than 500,000 copies
in its first week. She also claimed a Best Contemporary R&B
Album at the 2003 Grammys, and at one point last year had
the remarkable honor of playing a role in four Top Ten hits.
(One consisted of demo vocals for a track to be recorded by
This year hasn't seen any slackening of the pace. Ashanti's
follow-up, Chapter II, is still in the Top 20 more than three
months since debuting at No. 1, and is locked in a duel with
Beyonce's Dangerously In Love for the top album by
a new-generation R&B diva.
In many ways, in fact, Ashanti is the anti-Beyonce. Whereas
Beyonce's "Bootylicious" bounce serves
a warning notice to all comers ("My body's too
bootylicious for you, baby," she sang), Ashanti plays
the vulnerable, sweet young thing. "It's not
about confessing," she told Rolling Stone. "It's
about keeping it real. There was one song I did that I left
off my album. It's kinda corny, but I liked what I
said in it. It was about being insecure, about what was going
on in my life, about the things that were happening...late
at night. Like people going through my clothes and drawers."
"Huh?" asked the interviewer. "We'll
save that for the next interview," the singer replied.
Ashanti is preceded on stage by the latest J-pop idoru to
come out of the Avex clone factory, Asuka, and ten-year veteran
of the Manhattan club scene, hip-hop DJ and Def Jam tuff girl
Ashanti plays the Tokyo International
Forum on October 25-26. See listings for details.
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