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Ashanti - Topic

The Declaration Play

On her fourth proper studio album, Ashanti remains with The Inc., but you would not know it unless you checked for the logo. The closest tie is the occasional presence of ex-Irv Gotti associate and longtime Ashanti collaborator Seven Aurelius (who now calls himself Channel 7), followed by a minor assist from Chink Santana. Gotti himself is nowhere to be found. L.T. Hutton (Snoop Dogg, Bone) is behind most of the production work, with a handful of notables -- Rodney Jerkins, Jermaine Dupri, Ron Feemster, Babyface, Akon, and...Diane Warren -- on separate tracks. Even though this album marks a nearly complete break from The Inc., it's very much in line with what came before it, hardly a major departure. Each Ashanti release has had at least one major single, and in this case it's "The Way That I Love You," more in the mold and spirit of "Rain on Me" -- full of similarly effective melodramatic flourishes -- if much more vengeful in nature than depressive. Nothing is quite as irresistibly fun as "Baby" or "Rock wit U," or as sexy as "Only U," but "You're Gonna Miss" comes close in the case of the former, while the lifeless Akon/Nelly feature "Body on Me" is no good at all, containing no distinguishing qualities. Bottom line, this is neither a great nor a poor Ashanti album. It's decent, just like the rest of them. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Ashanti Play

Young, pretty, sexy, stylish, and hip, Ashanti is everything a modern, post-hip-hop soul crooner should be. She looks the part, trucks with hitmakers -- at the time her eponymous debut was released, she was featured on a hit single by Fat Joe -- and even approximates Alicia Keys' visuals on the back cover. She can sing, but she's not showy; she never hyperventilates, she croons. Her first album sounds modern, with fairly fresh beats and lightly insistent hooks, and is just naughty enough to warrant a parental advisory sticker (though if you're just listening to this record, it's nigh on impossible to figure out where the objectionable lines are). So why doesn't Ashanti play as greater than the sum of its parts? Largely because it lacks distinctive material, in either terms of the actual songs or the production -- and when that's combined with a singer who is good, yet not distinctive herself, the entire production sounds as if its treading water or providing nifty aural wallpaper. It's not bad by any means, and it has its moments, but at 17 tracks, including skits, it all becomes a blur. A pleasing blur, one that shows promise, but a blur all the same. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Chapter II Play

The pictures on Ashanti's album covers mean something -- not just because she's gorgeous, but because they signal in which musical direction she's heading. On her first album, she was a streamlined, diva-esque spin on Alicia Keys; on her second, she was styled like Beyoncé Knowles, the Destiny's Child leader who had released her solo debut a week before Chapter II. Ashanti is malleable like that. She has a sweet, appealing voice that has no defining characteristics -- she doesn't have the dizzying range of Mariah Carey or Whitney Houston, the sexiness of Janet Jackson, the riskiness of Aaliyah, the elegant smarts of Alicia Keys, the sheer ambition of Knowles, or, needless to say, the hell-bent skankiness of Christina Aguilera. She sings well and sounds good on modern R&B tracks, fitting into the fabric of the production more than delivering the song. That lack of personality, incidentally, makes her a good vocal foil for rappers, since she never overshadows them. This explains why Irv Gotti used her as the diva for his Murder Inc empire; he's also savvy enough of a producer (along with his colleague Chink Santana) to keep Chapter II entertaining -- more entertaining than her debut, actually -- all the way through. The key is that the production is seductive, whether it's on the actual ballads or the bright, sunny dance numbers, and that Ashanti's crooning fits right in without ever drawing attention to herself. She's not enough of a singer to really belt out the tunes and depart from the melodies with showy runs that are all about her, so she just sings the material straight, which is quite refreshing. The songs have about as much personality as Ashanti's voice, but that actually is a point in its favor, since it keeps everything on an even keel and makes Gotti and Santana's stylish production the star. They are the secret ingredients that make Chapter II good romantic mood music for the summer. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Ashanti's Christmas Play

After a year filled with controversy, allegations, and investigations, Murder Inc label head Irv Gotti finished it on Ashanti's Christmas. Ashanti's voice fits sweet holiday music well, and multi-instrumentalist Demi "Doc" McGhee provides the accompaniment in total, seemingly emulating a whole orchestra with what sounds like a lone synthesizer. Ashanti contributes four new compositions with "Christmas Time Again" and "Sharing Christmas" being simple and sweet, although her "Hey Santa" reflects the season's materialistic side as she begs the big guy for a "baby blue convertible." ~ David Jeffries, Rovi

Concrete Rose Play

Now that Ashanti's career runs three albums deep, not including 2003's floptastic Ashanti's Christmas, it's high time Inc head Irv Gotti put the Mary J. Blige comparisons to rest. Mary -- power tempered with finesse -- and Ashanti -- consistently soothing, never overstated -- are entirely different stylistically, and a compilation of the younger singer's best work wouldn't stand a chance against her elder's What's the 411? or My Life. Disregarding the ill-suited standards, an Ashanti album is always good for a handful of strong singles, as Concrete Rose helps indicate. As expected, Ashanti firmly believes this is her best album to date, but it's no better or worse than her 2002 debut or 2003's Chapter II, with the standout singles, decent album cuts, and filler fluff provided in equal doses. As opposed to Chapter II, which was essentially a production showcase for Chink Santana (with some work and guidance by Gotti), Concrete Rose puts most of the control back into the hands of 7 Aurelius, the one behind "Foolish" and "Baby." Excepting an appearance from T.I., the album is strictly an in-house Inc. affair, with staffers Santana, Jimi Kendrix, and Demi-Doc also on board. Ja Rule makes an appearance on "Turn It Up," the most energetic club track, and doesn't destroy it. He also seems to be having a good time -- a rare occurrence in 2004. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Braveheart Play

A little over four years in the making, Braveheart is Ashanti's first album for an independent -- technically her own Written Entertainment, distributed by eOne. This, her fifth album, went through a series of delays and revised track lists, including at least one with "The Woman You Love," a charting single the singer performed on national television back in early 2012. It didn't make the final cut. Perhaps the setbacks only fortified Ashanti's embattled warrior approach to her first album since 2008's The Declaration, which was her first non-platinum release and her last work with Irv Gotti. Braveheart begins with a theatrical monologue in which she declares, among other things, "Every uphill battle and every betrayal -- the fight in me remains." After that, the album settles into her finest assortment of distressed ballads with piano and strings, playful trunk rattlers, and window-fogging slow jams, with a list of guest appearances -- one including Rick Ross, French Montana, and Jeremih -- befitting a high-priority major-label artist. Nothing jumps out quite as much as earlier hits "Foolish," "Rock wit U (Awww Baby)," or "Only U," but the material, produced by a mostly new set of Ashanti collaborators (including Sharif Slater, Mansur Zafr, and Detail), is remarkably consistent and satisfying. Although it took longer to complete than Ashanti, Chapter II, and Concrete Rose combined, Braveheart doesn't sound like it. More importantly, The Declaration's lack of success -- relative to those previous albums -- doesn't seem to have changed Ashanti's direction one bit. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

Collectables by Ashanti Play

Looking even less legit than the illegit-looking compilation of early recordings released in 2004, Collectables by Ashanti is an official compilation from The Inc released to coincide with the 2005 holiday shopping season. A succinct disc at ten tracks and 40 minutes, it throws together remixes and a handful of new recordings, including the ruggedly sweet "Still on It" (featuring Paul Wall and Method Man), the drama-free "I Love You," and the Chink Santana-produced "Show You" -- which is like a lukewarm scramble of some of her biggest singles. Nothing here will appeal to casual fans, but those who have bought each proper Ashanti album on-sight will be happy to obtain the remixes of "Rain on Me" (with Ja Rule, Charli Baltimore, and Hussein Fatal), "Only U" (with Ja Rule, Caddillac Tah, Merce, and Black Child), "Still Down" (with Caddillac Tah), and "Focus" (with Free). ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi

The 7 Series Play

An intriguing broadside by a major label intent on counteracting musical piracy, Island's 7 Series Sampler pruned down the running time (and retail price) of platinum records like Ja Rule's Pain Is Love and Cam'ron's Come Home With Me in hopes of luring in listeners who often download the music for free. The 7 Series Sampler on Ashanti offers seven of the best tracks from her 2002 self-titled debut, including four hit singles: "Foolish," "Happy," "Baby," and "Dreams." Since the original was a bit longwinded to begin with, this one's a good choice for those who don't mind the brief running time and lack of complete material. Young, pretty, sexy, stylish, and hip, Ashanti is everything a modern, post-hip-hop soul crooner should be. She looks the part, trucks with hitmakers -- at the time her eponymous debut was released, she was featured on a hit single by Fat Joe -- and even approximates Alicia Keys' visuals on the back cover. She can sing, but she's not showy; she never hyperventilates, she croons. Her first album sounds modern, with fairly fresh beats and lightly insistent hooks, and is just naughty enough to warrant a parental advisory sticker (though if you're just listening to this record, it's nigh on impossible to figure out where the objectionable lines are.) So why doesn't Ashanti play as greater than the sum of its parts? Largely because it lacks distinctive material, either in terms of the actual songs or the production -- and when that's combined with a singer who is good, yet not distinctive herself, the entire production sounds as if it's treading water or providing nifty aural wallpaper. It's not bad by any means, and it has its moments, but it all becomes a blur. A pleasing blur, one that shows promise, but a blur all the same. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Icon Play

Icon covers Ashanti's first four proper studio albums: Ashanti (2002), Chapter II (2003), Concrete Rose (2004), and The Declaration (2008). The first three of those releases went platinum, pushed by the number one Hot 100 single "Foolish" and additional Top Ten hits "Happy," "Rock wit U (Awww Baby)," and "Rain on Me," as well as the number 13 "Only U." All five of those singles are included on Icon, a concise anthology filled out with less popular singles ("The What That I Love You") and standout album cuts ("Focus"). Ideally, this would be around 16 tracks in length and go a little deeper with less-recognized highlights, but this is a fine, straightforward overview from one of the most popular pop artists of the 2000s. ~ Andy Kellman, Rovi
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