Singer and songwriter
Born Ashanti Shequoiya Douglas, October 13, 1980, in Glen Cove, NY; daughter of Ken–Kaid (aka Thomas; Ashanti's road manager) and Tina (Ashanti's manager) Douglas.
Office —Murder Inc. Records, 825 8th Ave., New York, NY 10019. Website — http://www.murderincrecords.com .
Worked as a model and appeared in television commercials, 1980s; appeared in music videos, 1990s; signed and was dropped from both Jive Records and Epic, 1990s; made recording debut on Big Punisher's single "How We Roll," 2001; sang on Ja Rule's "Always on Time," 2001; sang on Fat Joe's "What's Luv" single; wrote a remix version of Jennifer Lopez's song "Ain't It Funny;" sang on the soundtrack of the film The Fast and the Furious, 2001; signed with the Murder Inc. label, 2001; released single, "Foolish," 2002; released debut album, Ashanti, 2002; published book of poems, Foolish/Unfoolish: Reflections on Love, 2002; released Chapter II, 2003. Television appearances include: Sabrina, The Teenage Witch, 2002; American Dreams, 2002; Buffy the Vampire Slayer, 2003.
Entertainer of the Year, Aretha Franklin Award, Soul Train's Lady of Soul Awards, 2002; Best R&B/Soul or Rap New Artist, Soul Train's Lady of Soul Awards, 2002; Breakout Artist of the Year, Teen Choice Awards, 2002; R&B/hip–hop artist of the year, R&B/hip–hop female artist of the year, R&B/
Ashanti became the hottest R&B act of 2002 when her debut album, Ashanti, broke sales records for female recording artists, and three of its singles landed on the Top 10 charts simultaneously. The Long Island native had only recently graduated from high school when she first landed on the charts in 2001 with her vocals on the Big Punisher rap song "How We Roll." Contributions on the tracks of other stars from her record label, Murder Inc., pushed her star higher, culminating with the release of Ashanti. That album earned the singer/songwriter two Soul Train Lady of Soul Awards, eight Billboard Awards, and a Grammy. Her second album, Chapter II, released in the summer of 2003, also sold briskly, proving that Ashanti is here to stay.
Ashanti Douglas, named after a tribe in the country of Ghana, was born and raised in the Long Island, New York, community of Glen Cove. At Glen Cove High, she was a track star and an honor student. She began performing before the age of ten, modeling and appearing in TV commercials. Soon afterward, she appeared in music videos as a dancer. Music runs in her family; her father, Ken–Kaid, was a singer before leaving show business for more steady work as a computer systems administrator. Ashanti's little sister, Kenashia, also a singer, took home the grand prize for children on the Showtime at the Apollo television show at the age of six. Ashanti's grandfather, James Davis, was an advocate for civil rights, and served for many years as the head of the Long Island chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
When Ashanti was 12 years old, her mother discovered her daughter's singing talent. She had asked Ashanti to turn off the radio while she did her chores, and left the room. Ashanti did as she was told, but she began to sing the songs from the radio herself. Her mother came back into the room to reprimand her for disobeying, and was astonished to find that it was Ashanti making beautiful music, not the radio. Soon afterward, Ashanti's parents entered their daughter in a local talent show, which she handily won. From then on, Ashanti's mother has acted as her co–manager.
At the age of 14, Ashanti landed her first recording contract, with Jive Records. This label also featured such top artists as the Backstreet Boys, 'N Sync, and Britney Spears. During that time, she divided her efforts between high school and recording sessions with the label. The company would send a limo to pick her up after school to take her to the recording studio, where she would do her best to catch up on her homework before recording and then while being driven home.
Ashanti and Jive ended their relationship after a year, before a single album was released. When she was 17, however, Ashanti was picked up by the Sony label Epic Records. It was a heady time for Ashanti, and the label took out a full page ad in her high school year book congratulating her on her graduation. That deal required her to move to Atlanta, Georgia, which, Ashanti told Nekesa Mumbi Moody in the Gazette of Montreal, "kind of broke up the family." Ashanti admitted that there were a lot of tears from family members the day she left home.
But after only a year in Atlanta, the person who had signed Ashanti to the label was let go, and the artists he had signed were also dismissed. Ashanti returned home, again without an album to show for her time with the new label. After graduating from high school in 1998, Ashanti was faced with a difficult decision: to go on to college as many of her friends were doing, or pursue her music career full time. She had been admitted to Hampton University in Virginia on a track scholarship, and her music career had yet to take off. Even so, she chose music over continuing her academic education. At first it was difficult for her not to feel discouraged as she struggled to gain broader recognition as a singer while her friends enjoyed their freshmen year of college.
Nevertheless, Ashanti stuck it out, recording demos in New York while looking for yet another record deal. After two years of hard work, she got her break in the form of Chris Gotti, the brother of the president of the Murder Inc. label. He introduced her to his brother, Irv, who hired Ashanti to sing backup on a Big Punisher album released after the hip–hop star's death. The song was "How We Roll," and Ashanti's backing vocals helped to propel the song to the top of the charts in early 2001.
Ashanti first hit the airwaves in a big way with her contribution to the Ja Rule song "Always on Time," which came out in the second half of 2001. The song, helped along by her refrain on the song, hit the Billboard 100 as the seventh most–played song in the United States. Hard on the heels of that release, she appeared on the television show Saturday Night Live with Ja Rule. Soon people were stopping her in the street to ask for her autograph.
Another collaboration soon followed, this time with Fat Joe, on a song called "What's Luv." This song was also a hit, and Murder Inc. signed Ashanti to her own contract. She began to play concerts with Ja Rule at the same time that she worked on her own album. Also during this time, Ashanti wrote a remix version of a song for Jennifer Lopez called "Ain't It Funny," and sang on the soundtrack for the film The Fast and the Furious.
The first single from Ashanti's debut album, released before the album itself, was "Foolish," which takes its melody from a DeBarge song, and which was made famous by Notorious B.I.G. in his hit rap "One More Chance." The song is based on Ashanti's experience breaking up with a boyfriend. That relationship, she told Rolling Stone 's Matt Diehl, was "real, real serious," but could not stand up to the stress put on it by Ashanti's success and her heavy traveling schedule. According to Ashanti, the recording of the song benefited from the synergy created by the fact that everyone involved in the production, including the engineers, was going through similar relationship troubles.
The melody for Ashanti's debut was chosen by Irv Gotti, and Ashanti was nervous about having her debut single ride on the shoulders of such a big star as B.I.G., but she trusted Gotti to put the best possible sound on her debut. Gotti felt that the song needed "a familiar beat that people would recognize," as he told Richard Cromelin in the Los Angeles Times. His strategy, coupled with Ashanti's heart-felt lyrics and her sultry vocals proved a winning combination; her single became a hit, remaining at the top of the charts for ten weeks.
Ashanti continued to live at home, even after becoming a successful recording artist, albeit in a separate apartment with her own entrance. That situation had to change, she and her parents acknowledged in a 2001 New York Times interview with Seth Kugel, since she was just a bit too accessible to her ever–increasing numbers of fans. "They come right up to the house," Ashanti's mother told Kugel. "Then they bring kids from out of town." The family decided to move, but not far—their new home was also on Long Island, though much larger than their old one.
Ashanti's self–titled debut album hit the racks in April of 2002, immediately dislodging Celine Dion from her perch at the top of the charts by selling more than a million copies in a single month. The album eventually outsold not only Dion, but also every other female recording artist in history, with four million copies and counting. Ashanti also became the first recording artist since the Beatles to have three singles on the Top 10 charts at the same time. The album earned Ashanti no less than five Grammy nominations, one of which—Best Contemporary R&B Album—it won. The album also earned Ashanti eight Billboard Awards. Over at MTV she grabbed four nominations at the Video Music Awards and performed live at the popular event. She also scored "Breakout Artist of the Year" from the 2002 Teen Choice Awards. In January of 2003, she won two awards at the 30th annual American Music Awards.
However, one award she won in 2002 was also 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 on–line 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 Elliott or critically acclaimed singers like Alicia Keys and India. Arie were more deserving of an award that carries the name of a musical legend. However, veteran singer Patti LaBelle, who presented the award, said the singer was "extremely deserving of this wonderful recognition," according to a report in the Cincinnati Post. Ashanti also picked up the Soul Train Lady of Soul award for best new solo artist.
Despite chart–topping success, most reviewers panned Ashanti's debut effort. Other critics pointed to the fact that Ashanti 's phenomenal first week sales were propelled along by Island Def Jam Music Group, the parent company of Murder Inc. The company offered retailers a two–dollar rebate for each album sold in the first two weeks. While it is true that Ashanti was hot, Lyor Cohen, CEO of Island Def Jam, confessed to the New York Times, "We put gasoline in the carburetor." For Ashanti, who was happy just to have a record deal that actually resulted in a album, her debut's astounding success was just icing on the cake. "I never dreamed of all this," she told Glenn Gamboa in Newsday. "I just wanted the album to be released.… To have it finished and have it released and in stores was a major accomplishment."
Always conscious of her roots, Ashanti chose her hometown as the location for the music video for "Happy," one of the cuts on Ashanti. She remembered as a child waiting in vain for stars to visit Glen Cove, and as an R&B superstar, she decided to finally bring some star power to the little city. Her handlers suggested Los Angeles or Monte Carlo as possible locations, but Ashanti was firm; Glen Cove was her favorite place, and she wanted her home-town to share in her success. With that, dozens of crew members and 20 trailers full of production equipment descended on the city for three days of shooting. The mayor presented Ashanti with the key to the city, and the executive of Nassau County declared May 3, 2002, Ashanti Douglas Day.
Around this time, Ashanti also took a stab at bringing her verses to print with a book of poems titled Foolish/Unfoolish: Reflections on Love. Although her book is about love, she has admitted that she has been less than lucky in that department. She blamed it on being overworked with concerts and other public appearances, and also the fact that she is followed everywhere she goes by employees of her record label. As she told Peter Robinson in the Observer, "It's a little difficult to meet people when I have a bunch of big brothers standing there everywhere I go. But I suppose it's a good thing. They do it out of love."
Ashanti's second album, Chapter II, was released in the summer of 2003. In the same vein as her debut, it features, in the words of the Observer 's Robinson, "fresh–sounding breezy beats and irresistible hooks underpinning Ashanti's silky R&B style." Ashanti has said that one of her favorite parts of the album is a short duet she sings with her then–14–year–old sister. The first single from Chapter II, called "Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)," immediately hit the charts and rose to the top 10.
In 2003, Ashanti was nominated for two American Music Awards: Favorite Female Artist—Hip–Hop/Rhythm & Blues Music and Favorite Album—Hip–Hop/Rhythm & Blues Music, for Chapter II.
Ashanti remained determined not to let success go to her head, knowing full well that disappointment in the music business is often not far away. "I take it one day at a time," she told Newsday 's Gamboa. "I've had to get used to so many letdowns."
(Contributor) Endangered Species by Big Punisher ("How We Roll"), Relativity, 2001.
(Contributor) Pain Is Love by Ja Rule ("Always on Time"), Def Jam, 2001.
(Contributor) The Fast and the Furious ("When a Man Does Wrong," "Justify My Love"), Universal, 2001.
(Contributor) Jealous Ones Still Envy (J.O.S.E.) by Fat Joe ("What's Luv?"), Atlantic, 2001.
Ashanti, Murder Inc./Universal, 2002.
(Contributor) Irv Gotti Presents the Inc., Murder Inc./ Universal, 2002.
(Contributor) Disneymania, Disney, 2002.
(Contributor) Irv Gotti Presents the Remixes, Murder Inc./Universal, 2002.
(Contributor) The Last Temptation by Ja Rule ("Mesmerize" and "The Pledge Remix"), 2002.
Chapter 2, Murder Inc/Universal, 2003.
Foolish/Unfoolish: Reflections on Love, Hyperion Press, 2002.
Cincinnati Post, August 26, 2002, p. 12C.
Daily News (New York), June 22, 2003, p. 2.
Gazette (Montreal), May 6, 2002, p. F6.
Houston Chronicle, March 2, 2003, p. 14.
Los Angeles Times, April 27, 2002, p. F1.
Newsday (New York), February 16, 2003, p. D20.
New York Times, December 30, 2001; May 12, 2002, p. 1, p. 15; June 9, 2002.
Observer, July 6, 2003, magazine section, p. 38.
Rolling Stone, May 23, 2002, p. 39.
Seattle Times, August 30, 2002, p. H6.
"Ashanti, Nelly Top Billboard Awards," E! Online, http://www.eonline.com/News/Items/0,1,10954,00.html (August 20, 2003).
— Michael Belfiore