Rewind back to 2001. Hip Hop and R&B collaborations were at an all time peak in popularity. Murder Inc was the record label spearheading a major part of this movement with their star act Ja Rule. It made sense to expand, and sign a female R&B singer. Paring an established Ja Rule with an up and coming 21 year old Ashanti on “Always On Time” was perfect for the music climate. The duet eventually hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The song continued to elevate Ja Rule’s popularity, and jumpstarted the career of Murder Inc’s own Princess of Hip Hop and R&B, Ashanti.
Amped and ready for the solo scene, Ashanti dropped her debut single, “Foolish,” in January of 2002. The song took listeners back to the 80s thanks to a DeBarge sample, with an added Hip Hop flare due to The Notorious B.I.G.’s use of the melody in the mid 90s. Paired with Ashanti’s vocal the song shot to number 1 on the Hot 100 and stayed there for ten consecutive weeks!
The following month Ashanti was featured on Fat Joe’s “What’s Luv?” single which became another Top 10 hit for her, only to be stalled at number two by her own single “Foolish”. The two hit singles along with “Always On Time,” allowed Ashanti became the first artist since the 1970s to have three singles in the Hot 100 simultaneously. During summer that year, her Murder Inc collaboration “Down 4 U” (with Ja Rule, Vita, and Charli Baltimore) also managed to become a massive hit and even peak in the Top 10.
Following the album’s first week of release, another record was won by Murder Inc’s very own Princess. Ashanti’s album sold a whopping 503,000 copies, easily debuting atop the Billboard 200. This made Ashanti earn the Guinness World Record title for the Fastest Selling Debut for a female artist!
Subsequent singles from the monumental album “Happy,” and “Baby” managed to become staples on popular video countdowns such as 106 & Park and radio as well becoming Top 20 hits and helping the album sell over 3.6 million copies in her native, the United States.
Ashanti and Murder Inc had a winning formula. Branding Ashanti as an artist who could fit the sweet and personable role when needed, but also roll with the tough guys and fit in as well. Pairing this with the fact “Hip Hop and R&B” a a collaborative genre was exploding, only allowed for Ashanti to corner in on the market and win repeatedly! A genius plan by label head Irv Gotti who timed the exploitation of Ashanti precisely and perfectly.
Right place, right time, right exposure, Ashanti’s relatable debut album connected with its target audience. Teens and 20 somethings ate it up. To date many fans still regard her debut LP as her best body of work and their personal favorite.
Ashanti’s self titled debut album solidified her as a force to be reckoned with. In a vast field of young contemporary R&B/Pop vocalists who had there fair share of time as a “hook girl,” Ashanti proved herself. She could hold down a hook with the best but that she could also sell a song, and album, all by herself.
15 years after the release of her debut album Ashanti continues her reign. She tours the world, writes her own music, and now releases music on the independent circuit; her own label, Written Entertainment. The groundwork and blueprint Ashanti left would be a path any new artist should love to have.
Even a decade and half later, this Grammy Award winning album by Ashanti will certainly be one we keep on running back to, for years to come!
Listen to Ashanti’s debut album: