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. Addresses: Record company--Murder Inc., 825 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019, website: http://www.defjam.com/murderinc/. Website--Ashanti Official Website: http://www.defjam.com/murderinc/ashanti/.
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 Teenpeople.com 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 copies--a 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 entertainment--her 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 edge--its artists were called "murderers" and its website opened with the sound of gunshots--and 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 chorus--called a hook--on "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 Teenpeople.com. 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.
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 face--and often scantily clad body--was 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 format--home to rap and hip-hop--as 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 airport--it'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."
by Candace LaBalle
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.
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.
- 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.
July 1, 2003: Ashanti's album, Chapter II, is released. Source: Yahoo! Shopping, shopping.yahoo.com/shop?d=product&id=1921983258, July 2, 2003.
July 9, 2003: Ashanti's album, Chapter II, makes its debut at No. 1, with 326,000 copies sold. Source: Yahoo! News, story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=795&ncid=799&e=8&u=/eo/20030709/en_music_eo/12128, July 11, 2003.
November 18, 2003: Ashanti's album, Ashanti's Christmas, was released. Source: Billboard.com, www.billboard.com/bb/releases/week_4/rock.jsp, November 20, 2003.
January 14, 2005: Ashanti starred in Coach Carter, which was released by Paramount Pictures. Source: New York Times, movies2.nytimes.com, January 21, 2005.
- 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, http://www.allmusic.com (December 6, 2003).
- "Ashanti," Teenpeople.com, http://www.teenpeople.com/teenpeople/chat/transcripts/0,8609,221437,00.html (June 23, 2003).
- "Ashanti: My Sacrifice," MTV, http://www.mtv.com/bands/a/ashanti/news_feature_april_02/index.jhtml (December 9, 2003).
- Ashanti Official Website, http://www.defjam.com/murderinc/ashanti (December 9, 2003).
- "Rockin' Her Way to the Top," Essence, http://www.essence.com/essence/print/0,14882,459978,00.html (December 7, 2003).
- "Spotlight: Ashanti," Alloy, http://www.alloy.com/entertainment/celebcentral/celebspotlight/2002-03-18-ashanti (December 9, 2003).