There’s a bedazzled cane on the premises and it belongs to Ashanti—who limps into the room gallantly sporting a medical boot. The Grammy winner fractured her foot a couple of months back, but only recently went to the doctor to be properly diagnosed. She unknowingly possessed the hairline fracture during the filming of the heavily choreographed video, “I Got It,” this past January. Truth is, there was a lot to do and the singer’s head is in the game right now. The game being: work, the business behind her work, and that of her fifth studio album, her first in six years, Braveheart.
Ashanti is self-assured now, speaking exclusively with HipHopDX about the business behind her art. Her confidence isn’t outlandish—she’s a record breaker with hefty commercial success. Her self-titled debut sold 503,000 units the first week of its release, she had three singles simultaneously on the Top 10 of the Billboard charts, and has gone on to sell 13 million records worldwide. The stats aren’t anything to scoff at.
Good business is diversifying, and Ashanti has done just that by getting into film and TV with roles in John Tucker Must Die, Resident Evil Extinction, and Army Wives. Later this year, she’ll be part of the music team behind the Tupac Shakur biopic, to be directed by John Singleton. In Ashanti, they’ve recruited a songwriter.
Twelve years removed from her debut, the Long Island native is now an independent artist and the head of her own record label, Written Entertainment. It’s hard to look at Ashanti and not recall her beginnings on the scene, giggly and bright-eyed. While she still maintains her memorable laugh, you can feel that the years in the industry have shaped and polished her to be serious, but still light—specifically when she talks about past experiences in her career. At this point she’s a pro.
How Being Vulnerable Worked To Ashanti’s Benefit On “Braveheart”
HipHopDX: Things are coming full circle for you getting the gig to score for a Tupac biopic. So what’s your first memory of Hip Hop?
Ashanti: My first memory of Hip Hop would have to be my very first vinyl album, which was Run DMC. “Who’s house? Say what? Runs house?” I was fortunate enough to have two radios. I had a… Was that the Yamaha? The silver stereo with the big speakers on my dresser. And I had a purple Panasonic boom box. So I was able to record from my vinyl record onto a cassette tape, bring my cassette tape with me in my purple boom box on the block, and I was providing the music for the block in my purple boom box. That’s my first memory of Hip Hop.
DX: You steered clear of features for Braveheart. Was there a reason for that?
Ashanti: I wanted the album to be as organic as possible. And I feel like at that point, in that moment in my life, writing the album… I was writing from real life experiences. Everything that I was going through—whether it was my personal life or my career—felt like that was the most organic outlet, just to write about what was really going on. So from the first song to the last song, I tied up the story. It all made sense. So it’s one thing to be able to record a lot of hot records. But it’s another thing to be able to make an album that you can listen to from top to bottom that kind of tells a story. For me, again, it was just about being vulnerable, being brave and allowing the fans and the people to see a side that I haven’t shown yet.
DX: What was recording “Scars” like? It seems like it was rough to record.
Ashanti: It was emotional. I recorded it in [Los Angeles]. L.T. Hutton produced it. When you’re recording and you listen to yourself, you hear the playback and you wrote the record. You know what you were feeling, and it’s just a constant reminder when you hear it playing back. But it was great because the reaction was amazing, and it felt like...it was funny. I did another interview, and they were asking me, “So did you write 16 bars on this?” I’m like, “That’s kind of like my 16!”
DX: What exactly happened? You’ve alluded to “relationship problems.” What was it specifically?
Ashanti: When you go through things with people you go through highs and lows, ups and downs. Sometimes you get to a point where you’re in a relationship with whomever, and you feel like you’ve been scarred. When you love someone hard, you hate hard. You know, things are frustrating and it’s hard to deal with. I feel like a lot of people go through being scarred in relationships. I feel like public people—other artists—have gone through being scarred. I think Rihanna was scarred. I think a lot of people have just gone through situations. For me, as a writer, the most therapeutic thing to do is to get it out on paper, put it into a record, and allow other people to relate to it.
Ashanti Details Her Involvement In The Upcoming Tupac Shakur Biopic
DX: How’d you get enlisted to score on the Tupac biopic?
Ashanti: L.T. Hutton—who is the producer of “I Got It” and “Scars”—he’s one of the CEOs over at Morgan Creek, and he’s a producer on the film. So it only made sense. We’re family, and that’s like my big brother. It just made perfect sense for us to collab on this project, so I’m super excited.
DX: How are you exactly approaching the project? Scoring? Coming up with new music?
Ashanti: A little bit of everything. There’s going to be scoring involved, and we’re obviously going to come up with more records. We did “Pac’s Life” together with me, ‘Pac and T.I.; it was few years ago. So it just made sense, and I knew about this for a long time. This has been in the works for a very long time, so I always knew it was going to happen. They actually just enlisted John Singleton to direct, so that’s going to be super cool.
DX: Are you doing anything specific to get in the frame of mind to score for a film? Are you listening to Tupac a lot? Are you reading up on him?
Ashanti: Not at this particular moment. My mind is on Braveheart. I know in the back of my mind that we have the movie, and that’ll be released in 2015. So we have a little bit of time, because they haven’t started shooting yet. But I’m sure [there’ll be] a lot of research…a lot of just digging in the crates and doing what feels right for this. Making sure that it’s perfect.
DX: What are your five go-to Tupac tracks?
Ashanti: “Against All Odds,” “Dear Mama,” “Ambitionz Az A Ridah,” “I Get Around,” and “California Love.”
I’m a lyricist. I listen to lyrics, and I appreciate lyrics. I think “Against All Odds” is a positive message. ‘Pac has hidden messages in everything, and some of them aren’t so hidden. Some of them are way deeper than others underneath the surface. Like you get it, but when you really think about it, it gets even deeper.
DX: You’ve talked about walking away from seven record deals. What exactly wasn’t working for you?
Ashanti: The 360 [deals]. Back then, [I’m] getting random texts on my Sidekick from CEOs and label heads about meetings, and they want to listen to music and things like that. At that time, after The Declaration, that’s kind of when the climate started to go downhill music wise, and lower numbers were becoming the norms. First week sales were not looking like that 500,000 that I rocked out with. Those 360 deals were kind of on the forefront of every offer, and I just felt like, from my own integrity, that wasn’t something that I wanted to do. Like, if I built a foundation, I put out X amount of albums, I sold X amount of records, why do you warrant a percentage of what’s already been built? Now, I can understand things to come in the future.
Back then it was kind of new. So they were really strict with it, and I felt like, “Okay, we’re going to try something different.” I’m used to an obstacle and being able to endure. So, I felt that’s what we needed to do.
How Ashanti, Ja Rule & Irv Gotti Reconciled After Murder Inc.
DX: Twelve years later, how can you sum up the prime thing you’ve learned?
Ashanti: Oh, my, gosh. I’ve learned so much. Just behind the scenes—from fiscal year, to budget, to the commodity, to splitting yourself in half. Being an artist and creative but understanding at the end something you’re going to have to sign off on. Things are not always going to go as planned and as you want them to go, but you have to just deal with it. That’s part of being an adult and part of being a businessperson.
Business is shrewd, and no one’s your friend at the end of the day. Trust no one. Everyone has an ulterior motive and an agenda, and you just have to take it for what it is. You’ll find a handful of people that are sincere. But always have your guard up, but not in a way that is disrespectful to people or you’re kind of cold and tainted. Just in a way that you are able to protect yourself. Don’t expect too much from people.
DX: Do you still talk to Irv Gotti?
Ashanti: Yeah, yeah.
DX: Ja Rule and everybody?
Ashanti: Everybody is cool, which is great. It’s a blessing, because there was definitely a time when nobody was messing with each other. I can’t say that. Me and [Ja Rule] were always talking. Wait, I can’t say that either. We went through a space, which was not cool. Me and Irv definitely went through years of where there was not even half of a breath said...or breathed.
DX: How did you patch things up?
Ashanti: For me personally I was always...I was peaceful. There were things that were done and said, and I felt like if you have a problem with me come talk to me. Don’t say something in an interview or on the radio. Come holler at me. You got my number. What’s the problem? So, when that wasn’t happening, I’m just like, “I don’t have a problem. It is what it is.” If I see you, I don’t see you. Whatever. Then it just got to a point after my The Declaration album, like I said, years had gone by. We just didn’t see each other, which was crazy, because we all live here. We were all living different lives, and then one night we saw each other like, “Hey, what up?” There were plenty of nights that we did see each other, and it was just like [nothing].
DX: What brought it on?
Ashanti: Irv reached out, and we talked and it was cool. With me and [Ja Rule], he reached out before he went in [to jail]. We spoke for like three hours on the phone. We yelled at each other. We laughed. It got a little sensitive. We wrote each other while he was in; I wrote him a few letters. So we were all good. I think the thing about it was us being able to communicate with each other. Because going through being indicted by the feds, it’s something very draining, frustrating and hard to deal with. I’ve been guilty by association. I’ve also been one of the most loyal people on planet Earth. I feel like I rode out ‘til the wheels fell off, the car got smoky, the windows shattered, and beyond. So, I’m just glad that everyone is in a space now that we’re cool. Everyone wishes everyone well and success.