Nobody's Fool

An interview with Ashanti

Ashanti Douglas is, without question, one of America's biggest stars. The first R&B artist to sign to rap label Murder Inc, the honey-voiced 21-year-old from Glen Cove, New York, seemingly came from nowhere to score three US number ones with debut single "Foolish" and collaborations with Ja Rule ("Always On Time") and Fat Joe ("What's Luv?"). As a result, she became the first female artist to have three singles in the US Top 10 at the same time. Then her self-titled debut album, a seductive mix of bittersweet soul hip-hop attitude, smashed Lauryn Hill's record for the highest first week sales of a debut album by a female artist. But, as she tells contributor Mark Daniels, she's far from an overnight success. Staggering sales figures, broken records...has it been hard to get your head around the sudden success?

Ashanti: It definitely feels, ahh, amazing. You know, it's bananas. After the Ja Rule and Fat Joe collaborations, and your single "Foolish", all went to No.1, you must have had an idea that the album would do well?

Ashanti: Well, expectations were extremely high and you know everyone had high hopes, but no-one had foreseen over 500,000 copies in the first week. That was shocking. So, how did the Ja Rule and Fat Joe singles come about?

Ashanti: It was all through Irv Gotti, the president of Murder Inc. He introduced me to Ja who's on the label. Ja was working on his album Pain Is Love and he had this track, "Always On Time" and he was like, “You know what, I think we need a female on the record," so they put me on that track. It was pretty much the same thing with Fat Joe's "What's Luv?", which was something Ja was also working on. And as it turned out, those were the biggest selling tracks that both Ja Rule and Fat Joe have had.

Ashanti: Mmmmm. That's right. Which begs the question, who made who?

Ashanti: We all helped each other. Very diplomatic. You've been performing since you were very young. Did you always want to be a singer?

Ashanti: Nah, not really. I mean my mom had started me off dancing very young, I was like 3-years-old. But she used to be a choreographer and dancer and it was just something to keep me off the streets. But I never wanted to be on stage singing and performing before the age of 13. Your mother is your manager isn't she?

Ashanti: Yeah, she calls herself "Momager"! It was actually my mom who discovered I could sing. I was about 12 or 13. I was downstairs, doing chores and my mom was like, "No television; no radio; not until you've finished your chores". So I’m vacuuming away, singing "Reminisce" by Mary J Blige, and she comes down stairs yellin', "I thought I told you no radio!" and I'm like, "That was me!" And was that the first time you thought about singing?

Ashanti: Yep. Then we started doing local talent shows, and shoppin' around for a record deal. But we didn't have the money to go into the studio and record a demo, so when we went to meetings with labels, I had to sing and dance in front of all these A&R people. It must have been daunting, singing and dancing in front of record company executives?

Ashanti: Absolutely. When I was 14 there was a little bidding war going on; Jive Records, EMI and Puffy. I went up to Bad Boy Records--Puff Daddy's label--and sang one of Mary J Blige's songs. Biggie was there and everything, and it was really cool. Puffy's sitting at his desk and we're talking about contracts and everything's good, and then he pulls out this cologne. He says, "I got this new cologne, I'm gonna put it out. Tell me what you think about it". He smells it and he's like, "Damn I love this" and brings it over to me. One sniff and I'm like, "Oh pew, it stinks. I hate it". He just started laughing. He said it was just a test to see if I was a real person. I'm like, "Well you know I am because that stinks". Anyway, we didn't sign with Puff. You signed with Jive when you were 14, but that didn’t work out did it?

Ashanti: They were moving on to a pop path and I really didn't wanna do it. I wasn’t allowed to be too hands on, and I wasn't crazy about the music and the lyrics. I mean, I was young, but I'd been writing for a long time and I just didn't like the vibe. I didn't wanna play the songs for my friends, so why would anyone want to play them on the radio? Then when I was 16 I signed to Epic, but then the guy who signed me left. When that happens you get shifted to the bottom of the list of priorities; even though I had an album ready and my name was being mentioned on the radio. So we got out of that deal. That must have been a bitter disappointment. Was there any point when you thought about quitting?

Ashanti: Oh yeah. When I was signed to Epic, I moved to Atlanta where they're based, to concentrate on the album. I was 17-years-old, living by myself in a different state. I had nobody there and nothing was going right. All my friends were going to college and having a ball and telling me about going to parties and meeting boys and I was just sitting at home watching cartoons and Ricki Lake all day. Then I thought, enough is enough, this is the second deal. But once I moved back to New York, I started going to the studio and meeting up with producers and it restored my hope. And Murder Inc's Irv Gotti was one of those producers?

Ashanti: Yeah. Working with Irv, being one of the only females around all these rappers, had a lot of influence on my writing. I was seeing things I hadn't seen before. You know, like what all these thugged-out rappers do every night; all the different girls and action that went on. So it brought my writing skills to another level; writing about reality and relationships and what people go through. What's it like being the only girl around all these thugged-out rappers?

Ashanti: It's fine. Growing up it was all boys on my block. I was a bit of a tom-boy, not that I wanted to be a boy, I wore dresses and stuff, but I just did things that little boys did. I'd ride my bike, play basketball and kick ball in the street. So it's kind of ironic that I'd end up with a whole bunch of guys around me. Do they give you any special treatment?

Ashanti: Nahhh. They just treat me like their little sister. When I go out, if any guys try and approach me, they're straight in there, "Beat it". They're very protective. What about having your mom as your manager, is she very protective?

Ashanti: That's really why she wanted to be involved, to protect me from everything. And it's cool, I don't have to worry about trusting my manager with money, decisions and my well being. And it's cool to have my mom with me for that aspect. You hear stories about pushy mothers, living their dreams through their kids. Was it ever like that, was she ever a "Pushy Mom"?

Ashanti: Naaaa. She was definitely more "Protective Mom". Sometimes she pushed me, but for the right reasons. She would say, "Don't let them discourage you from what you want to do in your heart, but if you don't want to do it, we can sit down and fill out these college applications". And if you had filled out the college applications?

Ashanti: I'd have done forensic science. I'm all into the dead body thing, you know how they can slice your stomach open and tell what time you died by how much the peas in your stomach have digested. I'd have done good in that. So who knows, that might have been one career option.


Ashanti also appears on these albums:

Pain Is Love
Our Price:

150 used & new from £0.01

Jealous Ones Still Envy (Jose)
Our Price:

69 used & new from £0.18

Our Price:

13 used & new from £1.10

Irv Gotti Presents the Inc
Our Price:

73 used & new from £0.01