Ashanti in February 2012
|Ashanti Shequoiya Douglas|
October 13, 1980|
Glen Cove, Long Island, New York, U.S.
Ashanti Shequoiya Douglas (born October 13, 1980), known professionally as Ashanti, is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, dancer and actress. She was first discovered as a teenager and later signed to Murder Inc. Records in 2001. That year, she was featured on Fat Joe's "What's Luv?" and Ja Rule's "Always on Time", both of which became two of the biggest hit songs of 2002; Ashanti became the first female artist to occupy the top two positions on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart simultaneously when "Always on Time" and "What's Luv?" were at numbers one and two, respectively.
In 2002, Ashanti released her eponymous debut album, which sold over 505,000 copies throughout the U.S. in its first week of release. The album earned her many awards, including eight Billboard Music Awards, two American Music Awards, and a Grammy Award in 2003 for Best Contemporary R&B Album. The album has since been certified triple platinum in the United States and sold six million copies worldwide. The lead single for the album, "Foolish", was a critical and commercial success; it reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. With "Foolish", she became the second artist (after The Beatles) to have their first three chart entries in the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100 simultaneously. Ashanti wrote and sang background on Jennifer Lopez's "Ain't It Funny (Murder Remix)", which also reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100.
In 2003, Ashanti released her second album, Chapter II, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, with first-week sales of 326,000 copies in the U.S. The album went platinum, selling over 1.5 million copies in U.S. since its release. The album's singles, "Rock wit U (Awww Baby)" and "Rain On Me", were both commercial successes, peaking at number two and number seven on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, respectively. Chapter II was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Album, and "Rock wit U (Awww Baby)" and "Rain on Me" were each nominated in the categories of Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance. In November 2003, Ashanti released a Christmas album titled Ashanti's Christmas, which was a modest commercial success.
In 2004, Ashanti released her third studio album, Concrete Rose, the title of which took on Tupac Shakur's pseudonym "The Rose That Grew from Concrete". The album debuted at number seven in the U.S., with first-week sales of 254,000 copies, and eventually became her third platinum certified album. The first single, "Only U", reached number thirteen on the Billboard Hot 100 and became her biggest hit in the United Kingdom, peaking at number two. A second single, the ballad "Don't Let Them", garnered little chart success after Def Jam refused to fund a music video due to Irv Gotti's legal troubles during his money laundering trial. Her subsequent albums, including The Declaration (2008) and Braveheart (2014), the latter of which was released independently, were less successful.Throughout her career, Ashanti has sold over 15 million records worldwide.
Aside from music, Ashanti has also acted in various productions. In 2005, she made her feature film debut in Coach Carter alongside Samuel L. Jackson, as well as starring as Dorothy Gale in the made-for-television film The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, which pulled in nearly 8 million viewers when it premiered. She has since appeared in the films John Tucker Must Die (2006) and Resident Evil: Extinction (2007).
Ashanti Shequoiya Douglas was born on October 13, 1980, in Glen Cove, New York. Her mother, Tina Douglas, is a former dance teacher, and her father, Ken-Kaide Thomas Douglas, is a former singer. Her mother named her after the Ashanti Empire in Ghana; in this nation, women had power and influence, and Tina wanted Ashanti to follow that model. Her grandfather, James, was a civil rights activist who associated with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s.
Ashanti's mother discovered her full singing potential when she overheard Ashanti singing Mary J. Blige's "Reminisce" at age 12. While attending high school, she began to write songs. As a teenager, she performed in a local talent show and at several small festivals. She got her first taste of acting as a child extra in Spike Lee's Malcolm X (1992) and in Ted Demme's Who's the Man?. She also had a couple of minor appearances in music videos, such as KRS-One's "MC's Act Like They Don't Know" as well as 8-Off's "Ghetto Girl".
Ashanti struggled to find success as a singer after being courted by several record labels, including Bad Boy and Jive. Despite this, she continued to perform in and around New York and began hanging out at the Murder Inc. recording studio, hoping for a big break.
Ashanti was first noticed by Irv Gotti because of her vocal skills. He asked her to pen hooks for his rap artists and to perform with them in duets. Ashanti provided the melodic response to their call. Ashanti was first featured as a background vocalist on rapper Big Pun's song "How We Roll". In the same year, Ashanti was featured on fellow labelmate Cadillac Tah's singles "Pov City Anthem" and "Just Like a Thug". She also appeared on the 2001 The Fast and the Furious soundtrack as a featured artist on Vita's 2001 hip hop remake of Madonna's "Justify My Love" and on the solo track "When a Man Does Wrong". She was featured on Fat Joe's "What's Luv?" and Ja Rule's "Always on Time". "What's Luv?" and "Always on Time" were released simultaneously and became two of the biggest hit songs of 2002. Ashanti became the first female to occupy the top two positions on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart simultaneously when "Always on Time" and "What's Luv?" were at numbers one and two, respectively.
Following the success of her collaborations with Ja Rule and Fat Joe, Ashanti released her debut single, "Foolish", which contains a sample of the 1983 song "Stay with Me" by DeBarge (also utilized by The Notorious B.I.G. in his 1995 single "One More Chance", and by Big L in "MVP"). This is her biggest success to date, spending ten weeks atop the Billboard Hot 100. She became the second artist (after The Beatles) to have their first three chart entries in the top ten of the Hot 100 simultaneously. Ashanti's self-titled debut album, Ashanti, was released on Irv Gotti's Murder Inc. record label in April 2002. It debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 albums chart. The album has been certified triple platinum in the United States and sold six million copies worldwide. Ashanti wrote the album's twelve tracks, most of which were written on the spot in the studio. Ashanti's follow-up singles, "Happy" and "Baby", were not as successful as her debut single but peaked inside the top ten and top twenty in the U.S., respectively. Ashanti's debut album earned her many awards, including eight Billboard Music Awards, two American Music Awards, and a Grammy Award in 2003 for Best Contemporary R&B Album. Ashanti was the first artist to win Best Contemporary R&B Album before the category was last awarded in 2011. She was nominated as Best New Artist and "Foolish" was nominated in the Best Female R&B Vocal Performance category. She also received a Comet Award and two Soul Train Music Awards that same year.
Ashanti became the subject of controversy when it was announced that she would receive the Soul Train Aretha Franklin Award for "Entertainer of the Year", a high school student took offense and started an on-line petition against her, explaining to The Seattle Times that she was too new to deserve the award. Nearly 30,000 people agreed with him, signing the petition. Many said that established artists such as Mary J. Blige and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott or critically acclaimed singers like Alicia Keys and India.Arie were more deserving of an award that carries the name of a musical legend. Despite the petition, the Soul Train committee and Don Cornelius stuck by their decision and Ashanti. Ashanti was applauded by her musical peers as she entered the Pasadena Civic Auditorium to accept her award and she was supported onstage by Patti LaBelle, who stated "she's a baby and we have to support our babies."
In July 2003, Ashanti released her second album, Chapter II, which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, with first-week sales of 326,000 copies in the U.S. The album went platinum, selling over 1.5 million copies in the U.S.Chapter II's first single, "Rock wit U (Awww Baby)", became a hit, peaking at number two on the Billboard Hot 100. Its video, which showed Ashanti in a bikini frolicking on a beach and riding an elephant, was nominated for two 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. A remix of the song contains interpolations of Michael Jackson's "Rock with You". The second single, "Rain on Me", reached the number-seven spot on the Hot 100 and number two on the Hot 100 R&B Songs chart. Chapter II was nominated for a 2004 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary R&B Album, and "Rock wit U (Awww Baby)" and "Rain on Me" were nominated in the categories of Best R&B Song and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, respectively. In the "Rain on Me" mini-movie music video--directed by Hype Williams and co-starring Larenz Tate--Ashanti portrays a troubled young woman in an abusive relationship. She received a Lifetime Channel Achievement Award for her message speaking out against domestic violence. That same year, she began dating rapper Nelly.
In November 2003, Ashanti released a Christmas album titled Ashanti's Christmas. It contained 10 Christmas songs and was a modest commercial success and sold just around 100,000 units in the U.S. The album peaked at #160 in the Billboard Charts.
Before Concrete Rose was released, Ashanti did some major promotion for her single "Only U", when she premiered it at the 2004 Vibe Music Awards. She featured on "Wonderful"--with Ja Rule and R. Kelly--that year, which peaked at number five in the U.S. and at number one in the UK. In December 2004, Ashanti released her third studio album, Concrete Rose, the title of which took on Tupac Shakur's pseudonym "The Rose That Grew from Concrete". The album debuted at number seven in the U.S., with first-week sales of 254,000 copies, and eventually became her third platinum certified album. The first single, "Only U", reached number thirteen on the Billboard Hot 100 and became her biggest hit in the United Kingdom, peaking at number two. A second single, the ballad "Don't Let Them", garnered little chart success after Def Jam refused to fund a music video due to Irv Gotti's legal troubles during his money laundering trial. The single was released only in the U.S., where it failed to chart, and the UK, where it reached the lower end of the top forty. After the release of Concrete Rose, Ashanti released the DVD Ashanti: The Making of a Star, which was available only for a limited time. The deluxe DVD includes exclusive photo and video shoot footage, music from the albums Ashanti, Chapter II and Concrete Rose, special concert footage, unreleased childhood school performances and behind-the-scenes interviews with family, friends, and fans.
In 2005, Ashanti focused more on her acting career, making her feature film acting debut in the film Coach Carter alongside Samuel L. Jackson, as well as starring as Dorothy Gale in the made-for-television film The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, which pulled in nearly 8 million viewers when it premiered. In Coach Carter, she played a pregnant teenager named Kyra who has to decide whether or not to abort her unborn child. The movie opened at number-one at the U.S. box office, eventually grossing $67 million domestically. Later in 2005, Ashanti was invited to Oprah Winfrey's Legends Ball, which honored some of the most influential and legendary African American women of the twentieth century in the fields of art, entertainment, and civil rights. In December 2005, Ashanti released a remix album of Concrete Rose titled Collectables by Ashanti. The album was an opportunity for her to fulfill her contract with Def Jam (and have the option of working with another label), and did not fare well on the charts.
In 2006, she starred in the teen comedy John Tucker Must Die, which opened and peaked at number three at the U.S. box office (competing with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Miami Vice) and grossed $68,818,076 worldwide. In 2007, she played a supporting role in the action film Resident Evil: Extinction (2007).
Her fourth studio album, The Declaration, was released on June 3, 2008 and sold 86,000 units its first week of release, the lowest first-week sales for any of Ashanti's studio albums. The first single was to be "The Way That I Love You", which was released to radio and digital outlets in January 2008, was referred to as the "first single" in press material and media reports. It reached number two on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart and number thirty-seven on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Ashanti's first song to reach the top forty since "Only U" in 2004. "Body On Me" was recorded not only for Ashanti's The Declaration, but also for Nelly's fifth studio album Brass Knuckles; it was a modest commercial success, reaching number 42 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. In May 2009, Irv Gotti announced that he was officially releasing Ashanti from The Inc. Records, stating that "the relationship has run its course." On September 24, 2009, Ashanti announced her fifth studio album would be released from her new label, Written Entertainment.
Ashanti headlined the cast of The Wiz in the New York City Center Encores! Summer Stars staging from June 12 to July 5, 2009. Ashanti's role as Dorothy received mixed reviews from critics as most praised her vocals but was less pleased with her acting ability, though Entertainment Weekly praised her performance. Though the first night was sold out, some of the other shows were unable to match its success.
After a four-year hiatus, Ashanti released the song "Never Too Far Away", which was featured in Morgan Creek's film Dream House starring Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz with Naomi Watts. The lead single from her fifth studio album, "The Woman You Love" featuring American rapper Busta Rhymes, was released online on December 15, 2011. Ashanti teamed up with Meek Mill and French Montana for the second single "No One Greater", which was produced by 7 Aurelius, Irv Gotti and Chink Santana. In April 2013, she released another single called "Never Should Have", which later won "Best Independent R&B/Soul Performance" at the 2013 Soul Train Awards. A music video for the track was also released.
In November 2012, it was reported that she had landed her first series regular role in the seventh season of Army Wives in which she played Latasha Montclair. The series was cancelled on September 24, 2013. In the fall of 2013, she appeared in a guest spot on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit alongside Clay Aiken and Taylor Hicks. She starred in the Lifetime film Christmas in the City which premiered on December 7, 2013.
In August 2013, Ashanti announced her plans to work with Ja Rule again, who'd been released from prison in July of that year after a six-year sentence stemming from a gun charge. On January 8, 2014, she revealed the official cover art and release date for Braveheart, her fifth album, which was released on March 4, 2014. In January 2014, Ashanti shot the video for the official first single from Braveheart titled "I Got It" featuring Rick Ross. The video was shot in Miami, Florida and was directed by Eif Rivera. In July, Ashanti announced that the second official single from BraveHeart would be "Early in the Morning" featuring French Montana. Upon release, the album garnered favorable reviews, with music critics describing Braveheart's sound as an "evolution of R&B" and praising the themes of empowerment, but criticizing the romantic clichés and lack of interesting moments on the album. On the charts, Braveheart opened at number ten on the U.S. Billboard 200, becoming Ashanti's fifth consecutive top-ten album, as well as her first Independent Albums chart topper. It also debuted in the top-thirty of the UK R&B Albums Chart and top-forty of the UK Indie Albums Chart.
In 2015, she announced that she has been working on new music for her sixth album, with an unknown release date. Ashanti also teamed with Michelle Obama and her Let's Move campaign to spread awareness of drinking water with her new video and song "Let's Go". In 2016, she appeared on The Hamilton Mixtape, singing "Helpless", in which Eliza is introduced to Hamilton, whose part was rapped by Ja Rule.
In June 2018, it was confirmed by Ashanti that both she and Ja Rule will be working on a collaborative album.
Ashanti has a lyric soprano voice type. Critics have referred to her voice as "pretty" and her soprano as "sultry" and "sweet but slight". Jason Birchmeier of AllMusic noted her reputation for using her "swooning voice" in duets with Big Pun, Fat Joe, and Ja Rule. As a young girl Ashanti was influenced by Ella Fitzgerald, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Prince, and Tupac Shakur, but she cites Mary J. Blige as the main reason she wanted to pursue a singing career.
After Blige, Ashanti cites Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Prince, Madonna, Tupac Shakur, Ella Fitzgerald, Smokey Robinson, Donna Summer, and Blue Magic as further musical influences.
In September 2009, Ashanti, along with other artists including Mariah Carey, Beyoncé, and Mary J. Blige sang "Just Stand Up!" as a fundraiser for the "Stand Up to Cancer" television special, which aired simultaneously on ABC, NBC and CBS, and helped raise $100 million for cancer research.
Ashanti met rapper Nelly at a press conference for the 2003 Grammy Awards on January 1, 2003; they subsequently entered into a relationship. They ended their nine-year relationship in December 2012.