Ashanti - The Declaration

Posted June 2, 2008
Tags: Ashanti,

There was a time when Ashanti was arguably the biggest female artist in the game. She was...

The Declaration Album Review

There was a time when Ashanti was arguably the biggest female artist in the game. She was r&b’s reigning princess, and people across America simultaneously turned up their radios just to listen to her whisper “baby, baby, baby” over and over again. And then, something mysterious happened. Despite two previous platinum albums, sales of her 2004 release Concrete Rose were disappointing at best. Maybe it was Irv Gotti’s legal troubles, maybe it was the quickly shifting landscape of the recording industry, whatever the reason, Ashanti has undeniably disappeared from the spotlight over the last four years. As unthinkable as this would have been in 2001, I just asked my 12-year-old niece who Ashanti was, and she responded “who?”

In fact, Ashanti’s popularity has faded so drastically that from now on I’m referring to any superstar artist who inexplicably loses their elite status as “pulling an Ashanti.” Ja Rule? Ironically, he pulled an Ashanti. Nelly? Also ironicly, he's certainly on his way to pulling an Ashanti. It’s important to remember that “pulling an Ashanti” is a very rare thing, and must meet two essential conditions. One, the artist had to be a true superstar, this is not a one-hit wonder situation. Two, the loss in status isn’t really the artists’ fault. For the most part they’re making exactly the same music they were when they were huge, if anything it’s the fans that have changed. If this were a break-up, America would sit them down and say, “It’s not you, it’s me. I just need something different in my life right now.”

Of course it’s never too late to reclaim your spot on top (except for Ja Rule, it’s too late for him). All you have to do is recruit some super-producers outside of the Murder Inc. collective, title your album The Declaration, and hope America can learn to love your golden voice again. The Declaration follows a very formula for Ashanti; her music was almost always about one thing, men, and not much has changed over the last four years, but it may just be enough to make her musically relevant again.

Ashanti’s man-related songs break down into two easily identifiable categories. Category one could most accurately be described as “you bastard, you cheated on me.” Just take The Way That I Love You, a piano-driven track that cascades from sweet harmonies to a pounding chorus; it’s the sound of a love gone wrong. Vocally Ashanti hasn’t lost a thing, she’s still capable of delivering pitch-perfect melodies, but her honey-dripped voice isn’t strong enough to make The Way That I Love You truly captivating. Keyshia Cole would have killed this track (and her man), but Ashanti just kind of smacks him around a bit. So Over You takes a more celebratory approach, switching into an up-tempo beat courtesy of Darkchild. Maybe it’s the nearly constant synth-blasts, maybe it’s Ashanti’s breathy harmonies and “boy I swear this time I’m done” lyrics, but I feel like this would have been a hit in 2002. As far as 2008 goes? I have my doubts.

The second category of Ashanti song is the “boy our love will last forever” jam, the complete opposite of the “you bastard” ballad, and over the course of The Declaration the presence of these two extremes can feel disorienting. Just take Good Good, a bouncing Jermaine Dupri-assisted track that sounds like it was originally made for Mariah. It’s a heavily styled pop song that’s destined for radio play, but listening to Ashanti softly croon “I don’t know what them other girls be doin, cryin over their man cause they always losin,” literally minutes after listening to her cry over her man is almost schizophrenic. Similarly Ashanti tries to recapture the old magic with Body On Me, a track that hides its sexually charged lyrics under brightly shining Akon production and a fittingly forgettable Nelly guest appearance. Body On Me has all the elements of a hit, but somehow it doesn’t connect, and in that way the song perfectly encapsulates the latest version of Ashanti. She’s still beautiful, talented and intelligent, there’s no reason why she shouldn’t be as popular as she was in 2002, yet some hidden thing is holding back The Declaration from being a truly memorable album. Perhaps it’s simply the weight of the past – in which case there’s nothing left to do but sit back and wait for the next artist to “pull an Ashanti.” Who do you have your money on?

DJBooth Rating - 3 Spins

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Posted June 2, 2008
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