Michael Loccisano/Getty Images for VH1
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:
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.