Credit: Courtesy of Universal Motown Records
Ashanti speaks her mindat least through her music. Since her unforgettable, four-times platinum 2002 self-titled debut, which spawned her chart-topping hit "Foolish" and its sampled melody resurrected the 1994 classic "One More Chance" by the late Notorious B.I.G., the Princess of Hip-Hop Soul has secured her tiara by giving voice to the young and brokenhearted.
Before the accolades (two American Music awards, eight Billboard Awards and a Grammy), the first lady of the once powerhouse label Murder Inc. (now known as The Inc.) earned loyalists the old fashion way: singing boldly and honestly about the peaks and valleys of love. Never straying too far from her lyrical formula, the sultry girl-next-door who has graced the big screen in blockbusters such as Resident Evil: Extinction, continues her blueprint for no-holds barred lyrics with her fourth release The Declaration. Essence.com chatted with the singer to discuss her virtual-pay back for scorned lovers, her relationship with Nelly and why she's no longer a spoiled brat.
Essence.com: Welcome back! It’s been a minute since the summer had an Ashanti jam. So what can we expect from your new album The Declaration?
Ashanti: It’s been about four years since the last album and with this project I did everything myself so I learned a lot. I think people are going to walk away and go, Wow, this is solid. It’s also versatile because I put some songs on there that people would never expect me to do.
Essence.com: So with all these new experiences, are you a new and improved Ashanti or the same girl who sang 'Baby'?
Ashanti: Honestly, it’s a little of both. Some of those same old habits I still have, but I've definitely grown and learned so much, musically, vocally and lyrically and you can hear that growth with this album.
Essence.com: The first single “The Way That I Love You,” is the ultimate female anthem. You've even taken it to the next level with a virtual pay-back for the female scorned called Gotchagrams where users can send slasher messages to ex-boyfriends. We love it! Now, is this a message to any potential guys or trifling exes not to play with you emotions?
Ashanti: 100 percent! I want people to feel me the passion of getting your heart broken whether you're a guy or a female. We all get hurt at some point. This is something to put those type of dudes on blast like "Listen, don’t be out there doing that."
Essence.com: Before there was an Ashanti Gotchagram, what was your choice of release therapy after a bad or failed relationship?
Ashanti: Well, I really don’t promote violence. But sometimes you get pushed to that point and you get so frustrated you want to hit something or scream or whatever it is that you do to get through.
Essence.com: Now it has also been said maybe the song is autobiographical and addresses what transpired between you and Nelly. Any truth to that?
Ashanti: I’m talking about a whole bunch of guys, anyone who has ever broken a heart. I wrote that song last summer and the final product was something I thought everyone could relate to. As far as the rumors and it being all personal the answer is no.
Essence.com: So what else on this album has you excited?
Ashanti: I love the song I did with Robin Thicke called "Things You Make Me Do." It’s such a sexy record.
Essence.com: Nice! Now speaking of Robin Thicke, are you open to interracial dating?
Ashanti: (Laughs) That is so funny. I had a Puerto Rican boyfriend in high school so as long as they are cute.
Essence.com: (Laughs) We hear you. And for women today, it’s hard enough dating so I can only imagine how difficult it is when you're in the spotlight. What is your secret to a successful relationship that is constantly under public scrutiny such as you and Nelly were?
Ashanti: You know, me and Nelly are really good friends. He has an album coming out, I gotta album coming out. That’s how it is.
Essence.com: Ok. So what has been one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned since entering the music industry that you didn’t know beforehand?
Ashanti: You can’t take anything personal. It’s a business at the end of the day. You can’t trust anyone. You have to differentiate. People look at you as a commodity as opposed to a person. It’s a very cut-throat, dog-eat-dog industry.
Essence.com: Yeah, now I hear that maturity you are talking about.
Ashanti: (Laughs) Definitely. I’ve also learned that you have to hurt in order to grow. It makes you such a stronger person. I was what they call very spoiled and used to getting things my way all the time. I learned and accepted the fact that growing up is so crucial and essential in life. You have to accept that things are not going to go your way and the challenge is dealing with that. Know what I mean?
Essence.com: Indeed. So what has been one of your biggest hurts that has helped you grow into this new self?
Ashanti: As far as music is concerned, the politics. Sometimes the phone doesn’t ring as much and you think certain people are a certain way and you find out they’re not.
Essence.com: Uhh hmm, I see you are being vague . . .
Ashanti: (Laughs) But you get the point
Essence.com: (Laughs) Alright. Since you’ve been gone the market has become even more saturated with young R&B singers. How do you hold on to your tiara as the princess?
Ashanti: There is always room for good music. I commend anyone who makes it because this industry is so fickle and crazy, and so cutthroat. I have my own lane. I write my own records and I definitely set myself apart from many other female artists.
Essence.com: When you first came out we could always expect a summer jam with you and Ja Rule. How is your relationship now?
Ashanti: I think Ja has been busy working on his album. I’ve definitely been busy finishing up and getting ready to put mine out. We all collectively have to get on the grind to get it back poppin'. It’s been such a long time. I haven’t really spoken to him lately but everyone is working and focused.
Essence.com: Ok. Well, are you looking to act more?
Ashanti: Definitely. I’ve been out in L.A. working on a few projects so I have my fingers crossed. I don’t want to talk about it too much. The ink is still wet, so we wanna wait until it’s all solidified.
Essence.com: Sure. Since you have had so much success in your life at an early age [her first album earned a spot in the Guinness book of world records for selling the most albums by any female artist in the Sound Scan record’s history], do you ever find yourself trying to compete with your past accomplishments?
Ashanti: I’m so blessed, thankful and content that I’ve been fortunate enough to have the success that I’ve had. But I’m still a competitor at heart. You always want to do better. The Declaration is my best yet. It’s about a sense of empowerment, freedom and growth. I’m declaring that I’m here and I’m happy!
PHOTOS: Check out pictures of Ashanti with her favorite celebrities »
Listen to the first single "The Way That I Love You" from Ashanti's new album The Declaration.
What's your favorite Ashanti song? How have you dealt with heartbreak? Share your thoughts below.
PHOTOS: Live from Ashanti's star-studded NYC performance »
PHOTOS: Check out Mariah Carey's picture diary »
PHOTOS: See pictures of newlyweds Beyoncé and Jay-Z »