The majority of her records and achievements have yet to be replicated even after two decades
You can’t really flashback to 2002 and not think of Ashanti. The singer, and yes, songwriter was all over the charts. In fact, 20 years ago this week she was listed as a credited artist, a credited songwriter or both on the Top 3 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 charts. At number one was her debut solo single “Foolish”, a massive single that ended up spending 10 weeks at the top of the charts. At number two was Fat Joe featuring Ashanti on their hit duet “What’s Luv,” while at number three Ashanti was a credited songwriter for her work on Jennifer Lopez’s remix single “Ain’t It Funny (Murder Inc Mix).”
Ironically, Lopez was supposed to sing the chorus for “What’s Luv” as a way to attract the Latin market but Fat Joe insisted on Ashanti, who had already put down a demo recording of the track. Ashanti in turn actually wrote the verses to Lopez aka J.Lo by that time for her remix. Ja Rule had been commissioned along with Murder Inc for another version of the single as Lopez’s album had stalled. Ashanti wrote the first two verses while in the studio with Ja Rule, and reportedly completed the final verse while on a two-way call with Irv Gotti.
Not since The Beatles had any artist had their first three hits reach number one. It was a massive achievement for the young artist who capped off 2002 with a win at the Grammys for Best Contemporary R&B Album for her eponymous debut album.
While there was great chart admiration for Ashanti’s achievements, she didn’t necessarily get the credit and respect she deserved. Her career continued respectfully through the aughts with her second album, Chapter II, shooting straight to number one and the first single “Rock wit U (Awww Baby)” topping the charts. However, by the end of the decade, she had parted ways with Gotti and Murder Inc, and what used to be guaranteed hits were now lagging on the charts.
There have been a great number of stories about what exactly happened to the singer who, despite all the rumors, continued to record music and also take on acting roles on television and in films. Many feel her association with Ja Rule and Murder Inc was too strong and thus she couldn’t break free from that very timely sound and style. Others believe that music simply changed and Ashanti’s brand of R&B became dated as the years went by, and she and other contemporaries like Brandy and Monica all witnessed a similar decline. Meanwhile, there are those who believe that she achieved too much success too fast and, for some reason, was undeserving of the accolades she was receiving.
This manifested itself in particular at the Soul Train Awards where the artist was being awarded the Soul Train Aretha Franklin Award for Entertainer of the Year. A high-school student began a petition that nearly 30,000 people signed claiming that the singer was too young and too new to receive the award. The show went on as planned as they stood by their decision, with her peers applauding the singer and legend Patti Labelle on stage silencing everyone once and for all by stating, “She’s a baby and we have to support our babies”.
You have to wonder if there was more to the skepticism of Ashanti’s talents. While much of her early music and success featured prominent samples of other popular songs, Ashanti wasn’t the only person who’d benefitted from that formula. Why didn’t Alicia Keys face a similar backlash the year prior when she swept the award shows? Why didn’t Taylor Swift or Billie Eilish get questioned in the same way about their songwriting and being young female artists when they won Grammy after Grammy? What was it specifically about Ashanti that seemed so objectionable?
Looking back I’m really not sure why things unfolded the way they did for the singer. It perhaps was a combination of what everyone thought, or perhaps it was just that the hits that followed just weren’t as memorable or liked. Regardless, over the years, there has been a mounting level of respect that has made its way towards Ashanti and the legacy she has created.
The majority of her records and achievements have yet to be replicated even with two decades having passed since her breakthrough year. It does feel full circle that the artist has now begun to get the credit for what she really did at a time when no other female or black female was reaching such heights.
In perhaps the most appropriate sign of the times, her hit “Rock wit U” has now been heavily sampled on British rapper Aitch’s single “Baby.” The song actually credits Ashanti, despite her vocals being sampled, and the singer landed herself a Top 2 hit in the UK with the track. Here’s hoping the artist continues to enjoy a Renaissance and her contribution to music is finally given the acknowledgement it deserves for truly being part of our 2002 soundtrack for life.