Featured, Music, Pop Culture

In Case You Forgot, Ashanti Was Once The Queen of R&B.

I know what you’re probably thinking. The world needs an Ashanti comeback. Ok literally no one is thinking that. Except for me. And maybe some random dude on the west coat cause they be on some other shit. Never mind it’s definitely still just me.

Aside from the fact that Ashanti has lowkey been slaying all the present and former R&B chicks with an Instagram account that is just a hair more appropriate than Miracle Watts’, she’s relevant right now because 15 years ago this month, Ashanti released a record-setting debut album. You probably forgot about that. So in the interest of refreshing our attention-deficient, Internet-ruined memories let’s travel back to the summer of 2002.

Allen Iverson was having one of the worst years of his career thanks to his practice rant and, oh just kicking his wife out the crib naked. Elsewhere, non-paying-for-music-ass teens were taking 5 days to burn Neptunes mixtapes out of songs they downloaded from Kazaa at 56 kbps. As in, I was taking 5 days to burn Neptunes mixtapes out of songs I downloaded from Kazaa at 56 kbps. Hot In Herre dominated radio. And Destiny’s Child had broken up. This made room for two things: one, Beyoncé haters to be filled with momentary glee due to Kelly Rowland having the first successful song post-break up with “Dilemma,” which was less about Kelly winning and more about Beyoncé not-winning. And two, Ashanti Shequoiya Douglas.

The certified R&B it girl from 2002 to whenever Beyoncé woke up and casually decided she would destroy the hopes of even toddlers who believed they could be a famous R&B singer one day, Ashanti was basically peerless in her quick ascendance to pop and R&B royalty. It’s easy to forget this, because the singer had no outsized personality. She wasn’t a remarkable singer, dancer, or performer. Still, Ashanti’s airy, pleasant vocals and classic production were enough for the New York Times to declare this one year after her self-titled debut:

ashan

That’s not an Onion article folks. Within the same generation we’ve had America’s first black president and America’s first orange president. As Ashanti would say, all the time in every interview, things can be “bananas.”

Her rise isn’t completely unfathomable though. Ashanti benefited from a confluence of great timing, great connections, being genetically gifted with good looks, and having enough discernable talent to prompt Ja Rule to feature her in his slew of hits in the early 2000s. But above all, Ashanti had the machine of Murder Inc. and Irv Gotti’s ridiculous production behind her. The bottom line–her music was good. The same way Rihanna can coast in her career essentially by just being an aura—like Prince with none of the musical talent– Ashanti’s music just had a vibe you could rock with. And I rocked thee entire fuck out of it.

I was heading into my senior year of high school, and Ashanti had become my coming-of-age soundtrack. I was in the midst of my first glo up out of awkward adolescence and my figure was tryna push through (it’s still trying but whatever). I had my first kiss. I fell in love for the first time. And “Baby” was playing on the radio the moment I realized it had happened. From then on, I couldn’t get Ashanti’s CD out of my Sony Discman for an entire month. It might have been a bootleg Panasonic with the foam headphones that constantly tore through but who’s keeping track.

The summer I graduated, I landed my first part time job and Ashanti released her sophomore effort, Chapter II. Atlanta’s summer heat was finally yielding to bearable fall weather. With a barely functional A/C but robust sound system (I was perfectly content with my priorities), I’d cruise down I-20 blasting “Rock with You” on my commutes between work and campus. And when Ashanti released the video for “Rain on Me,” I lusted after Larenz Tate’s remarkably still-fine ass in between enjoying the opportunity I had to freely twerk at dorm parties without worrying about my mom trying to chaperone and play flashlight cop (that was a real thing in high school y’all).

My fondness for Ashanti may have more to do with, perhaps, the experiences I associate with her and not her specifically. But however I came to like her, I wasn’t alone. Elaine Welteroth, the Editor in Chief of Teen Vogue, recently shared that Ashanti’s 2002 cover was, and continues to be, the magazine’s highest selling issue ever. A formidable accomplishment for a young black woman in a publishing world typically marketed for the white and privileged. And the singer history musically too.

Ashanti took the title from Lauryn HIll to become the fastest selling new female artist, garnering her a Guinness World Record. No new artist, male or female, sold as much in the 5 years prior to Ashanti’s release. Her debut single, “Foolish,” was just as impressive. It’s in Billboard’s top 20 songs of the decade in the 2000s and spent 10 weeks as the number 1 song in the country.

At one point in 2002, she was featured on 4 of Billboard’s top 10 singles… at the same time. Among them was one of the most successful songs of J.Lo’s career–the remix for “Ain’t It Funny”– which is essentially a Ja Rule and Ashanti duet with J. Lo miming much of Ashanti’s vocals–adlibs and all.

This mainstream success led to 8 Grammy nominations in Ashanti’s first year as a lead artist, and in the first few years of her career, 35 music awards. With three of her albums having gone platinum and with about 15 millions worldwide albums sales, she had become one of the most successful solo female R&B acts in history.

With all that said, at least this one time for the 15th birthday of Ashanti’s historic debut album, put some respeck on that girl’s name. And also, seriously, check out her IG.

Malaika Jabali

Malaika Jabali is a writer and activist who received her M.S. and J.D. from Columbia University. She is too busy doing real social justice work to bloviate on TV every day about imaginary right-wing shit, to the chagrin of dudes who head up the Ain't-Shit Ninja Committee and vomit out grape emojis on Ciara's IG instead of doing any heavy lifting. Malaika is also the Co-Chair of Operation POWER, a Brooklyn-based political organization bringing black, radical politics to NYC. One day she will be less angry. Today is not the day. But she does smile sometimes on her instagram via @missjabali.

  • Spicy Kas

    First

    • Jennifer

      Wayment. The article has only been up for 3 hours and it already has 800 messages?!

      • Spicy Kas

        Let’s just say I side eye most commenters (including myself?) who claim they have a job.

  • AKA The Sauce

    I don’t know how to even address this

  • cakes_and_pies

    Lawd once the beyhive find out they can use twitter to comment here, it’s gonna be ugly.

    • Luke Smith

      :D

    • HouseOfBonnets

      You know they coming, been in distress since Bey on maternity leave ????

      • Janelle Doe

        Hahah, hi HoB. Where ya been? (Easter Hat post I was looking for you and your gifs)

        • HouseOfBonnets

          The usual caught up in work and outside commitments then semi regretting the decision lol

  • Courtney Wheeler

    Ashanti was the chick with the sideburns right?

    It’s hard to remember the 00’s B.B….(Before Beyonce)

    • NonyaB?
    • Mr. Mooggyy

      I remember when folks were comparing her to Eddie Munster! it was sad!

    • catgee12
      • Courtney Wheeler

        I can’t with you all…

      • Emily Harris

        Gaht dambit, I wasn’t ready.

    • Jennifer

      They were dark days. Ja Rule sang a lot.

      • Courtney Wheeler

        When I was in college my best friend use to work at game stop and said Ja-Rule use to come in there all the time..super high and would talk to anyone about video games.

        • Jennifer

          I can see that. He always felt to me like a nerdy guy overcompensating for cool points. (See also: Pitbull)

          • Michael

            Pitbull is the less talented less charismatic cuban Ludacris. he bothers me

    • jtreynol

      Say what you want; she’s still gorgeous.

    • pls

      dad at BB! I’m stealing!!!!!

  • Never rocked with Murder Inc. I can’t debate that she was huge in her prime though.

    • Cute chick. She was was big but I never got the Murder Inc thing. The only good thing about Curtis is he shut them down.

      • Did we really need a pop friendly DMX?

        • No. Not at all. No duets with J.Lo, Ashanti, or anyone else.

      • Jennifer

        He shut them down…and then began his career as a sing-songy rapper.

    • D-Nice

      Someone was just talking about her the other day in my office. Yeah, she was HUGE, and has all but disappeared (hasn’t she?). I sort of appreciate that she’s not trying to desperately extend her fame. She had a great run.

  • HouseOfBonnets
    • Mr. Mooggyy

      Joker even!?

      (that was wrong of me, but eh!)

    • Emily Harris

      Even that was kind of you. I have not been impressed a single day of my life by Ashanti’s subpar vocals- pretty girl from high school but not much more than that face, or one single water droplet above dry personality. Listen, riding Ja Rule’s coattails and repeating “ah baby, oh baby, oooh baby” ad nauseum just did not and does not do it for me. Judge me all ya want!!!!!

      • miss t-lee

        I love you…lol

      • catgee12

        Tell it girl …

      • SororSalsa

        Yeah, if you took the word “baby” away from Ashanti, she would’ve had a single and maybe an EP. Whooo, girl overused that word big time!

        • Jennifer

          LMAO!

      • It was never really about the vocals with this one. She had girl next door appeal while being sexy and making catchy music.

        She and Ja Rule could’ve taken over the world.

        Enter Beyonce and Fitty. AKA Ferrari F50

      • jtreynol

        Her music…unappealing…her album covers…very much appealing.

      • Michael

        I’m late but this is the best VSB article EVA, i’m here for the Ashanti shade because I never understood how she became a thing

    • miss t-lee

      maybe a Lady…at a super tiny manor somewhere.

      • jtreynol

        Blah, hah, hah.

        • miss t-lee

          *giggling*

      • I_AmU

        “cackling”. Gurl you missed your calling as a comedy writer and/or comedienne.

        • miss t-lee

          Awww. You’re sweet. :)

      • My ni66a!

    • Duchess is a stretch… maybe a lady in waiting… but she is CUTE.

    • pls

      I wasn’t gonna take it there lol! There was no queen, they were all good (enough) and all peers.

  • Luke Smith

    Oh No, they coming for you :P

  • grownandsexy2

    I was just listening to Ashanti and Ja Rule this past weekend (Always on Time). I’ve always liked Ashanti, but if my memory serves me correctly (which is suspect at times) I seem to remember a whole lot of push back when she came on the scene when she was dubbed the “Queen of R&B.” Word was Mary J. Blige was the “Queen.”

    • HouseOfBonnets

      This is closer to my 14 year old memory

    • Courtney Wheeler

      They would tag each singer a certain way. like ashanti was the princess of R&B , Mary J was the queen of hiphop soul…etc..

      • HouseOfBonnets

        Princess…. That’s a better fit lol

      • grownandsexy2

        I ain’t ever heard that (but like I said, my memory is suspect).

      • Amazonian Midget

        Yeah, didn’t they even call her “Princess of R&B” on one of the album’s interludes?

        • Courtney Wheeler

          I believe so? Ugh my memory is trash.

    • Mary was the culture’s champion. Ashanti had the outsiders.

    • Emily Harris

      Look, how about for the history books we just dub her “Participant of R&B”

      • jtreynol

        #SavageAF

      • grownandsexy2

        Works for me. lol

    • Michael

      Mary J Blige would be the queen of “off key”

  • Giantstepp

    Nothing personal against her but average/mediocre talent overall. The Murder Inc. machine had legit hits and a decent run, her included. But eh.

    • Michelle is my First Lady

      This is how I feel.

    • Murda Inc was the finessed Ruff Ryders.

      • Mr. Mooggyy

        I see no lies here!

  • Val

    Foolish is one of my all-time favorite songs. I listen to it all the time. That’s all I have.

    • Jae Starz

      Listen Foolish was the theme song to every teen/young adult love affair or at least that’s what I tell myself when I think back to my youngin days.

    • Courtney Wheeler

      Didn’t she date Nelly for a spell?

      • KMN

        A spell? Like daggone near a decade…I don’t know how I feel about that…
        She was Cassidy to his Diddy

        • mssporadic

          She didn’t want to acknowledge him a public. I watched his reality show and I think she ended the relationship. She might have been the Diddy that relationship.

          • KMN

            color me surprised…thank you for that info I thought he dumped her…huh…

          • Rewind4ThatBehind

            Weirdly enough she had the money compared to him.

            Nelly had gotten all that shine but she was the one with the writing credits.

          • Nelly put St. Louis on the map and dropped one of the best selling albums ever

      • Val

        Yep. And that kind of ruined her for me after a certain point.

      • IDontKnowAnyMore

        Yep.

      • grownandsexy2

        They were together for a good long time (10 years) and he tried to say they were never an item – just friends.

      • AKA The Sauce

        She and several others at the same time

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