Ashanti Reflects On Her Record-Breaking Debut Album
Fifteen years ago, Murda Inc. gifted a most precious offering to the worlds of hip-hop and R&B in the form of Ashanti’s self titled debut album. Whether it’s “Foolish” that still strikes a chord in your heart, or “Unfoolish” that embodies your taste for rap and blues, the singer’s countless hits were built to stand the test of time. Recorded mostly at Murda Inc.’s Crackhouse studios, the record-breaking album set the sweet-talking Long Islander apart from the rest. Her self titled album broke records as the biggest selling debut album from a female artist in its first week of sales.
Under the guidance of Murda Inc.’s head honcho Irv Gotti, coupled with the musical support of the then chart topping rapper Ja Rule, Ashanti’s self-titled classic debuted at No. 1 on the US Billboard 200 and the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart with an outstanding 503,000 units sold during its opening week. Along with the initial success, the soulful songbird garnered triple platinum status with her first project and three Grammy nominations for Best New Artist, Best Contemporary R&B Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, atop two additional nominations in the same year for Best Rap/Sung Collaboration. Ashanti did not simply enter the scene, she kicked down the doors and conquered it.
Ashanti is gearing up to release more music this year, promising features from Ty Dolla $ign and production by DJ Mustard, and many more on her forthcoming 6th solo album. After creating her own label, Written Entertainment, her Braveheart album shot up the Billboard charts.
After she dished on her new project with VIBE, Ashanti discussed her most cherished memories surrounding her beloved debut album.
VIBE: We’re approaching the 15-year anniversary of your first album Ashanti.
Ashanti: Oh sh*t, we are! That’s crazy we are almost about to be in April. That’s nuts.
How’d you initially meet Biggie and what was your experience like working with him?
You know what’s so funny. I met Big when I went to audition for Puff when I was like 13 or 14 and we were in the midst of looking for a record deal. Big happened to be at the label that day and I just lucked out. It wasn’t anything that was planned. I got my autograph from him, my 8×10. He was like ‘What’s your name shorty.’ That was my little interaction with Big and I was like 13 years old, so I was like oh my gosh this is crazy. By the time I was able to have his verse on the record, he was gone. That was definitely a blessing to be able to have all of that come together. I am very very fortunate. I know that there is a difference between a hit record and a classic record, and I’m just real grateful I got a classic, a couple of them.
Were songs like “Foolish” inspired by some real-life experience?
Absolutely. Everything that I write definitely comes from a real place, a very sincere place. If I’m going through it or have gone through it or someone close to me is going through it or has gone through it, I’ll write about it. Everything that I’ve ever written has been real, and it all comes from some place sincere. It’s weird when I wrote “Foolish,” I was kinda dealing with my ex, he was from Queens, and it was weird because at that point I really hadn’t experienced horrible things. I was fortunate enough to not go through terrible, ridiculously horrible relationship stuff. At the time that I was writing it, I didn’t know it was gonna strike a chord that deep with women. Even with my sister, however old she was when it came out, she identified with it more as an adult.
When the album came out, Murda Inc. was on top of music. Did you feel any pressure to live up to that kind of success?
Initially, no. Coming in to Murder Inc. I was a big fan of Ja, I knew it was a great place to be and I didn’t understand the magnitude or maybe I was just naive [laughs]. I really didn’t have a lot of that pressure. I would just come in abd write. I know me being a female amongst all of the guys at the time, they were always like ‘well is she really writing this stuff,’ and they used to make me battle for the beat—like whoever wrote the best verse would get the track kinda thing. In the beginning as far as the success is concerned, it was more of ‘this is cool.’ I didn’t really understand the magnitude of it until hit like ‘Oh, this is on a whole different level.” It hit me afterwards I would say.
What is your most memorable moment from making that album?
That’s hard, there are so many memorable moments. There are too many! I remember being at the Crackhouse studio which is what we called the studio on Mercer down in SoHo. This is when everyone was gearing up for the “Foolish” video because I think the white label had been released and it was going crazy, so we had to shoot a video. I just remember me, my mom, my stylist, and a whole lot of dudes at the Crackhouse. Guys were rolling dice, smoking. There was a lot of stuff going on, and I just remember Irv and Ja were there. We were putting together the concept, and they were watching Goodfellas, and Irv was just like ‘Nah this is gonna be crazy, we gotta make it like this and Gutter you can be the guy.’ Tt was like all the energy for creating the video for “Foolish” flooded in at once. Everybody was there and everybody was hype. I just remember being very naive, I didn’t know this was gonna be something to define my career you know. I’m just a girl from Long Island with a ponytail and pink Juicy sweatsuit on. It’s crazy because my mom has all of this footage. That was one of the moments I remember specifically about making that album.
How did you think you were going to be perceived with your debut album? Was it what you were going for?
It definitely was what I was going for, I just didn’t know it. I didn’t know that it was gonna happen in such a big way. At that time I didn’t know the difference between top 40, rhythmic, and urban. I just knew that we went in and made a record that I love and it exploded across every format. Nowadays sometimes people go into the studio saying ‘no I have to make a top 40 song’, or ‘no this has to be a rhythmic record.’ At the time we just did what we loved and thank God it went across the board. Nobody really knew.
Would you change anything about the record?
Absolutely not. And trust me I hear the little mistakes because I know what it is and what it was supposed to be. I wouldn’t change not one thing about the album because throughout my mistakes and my passion and all of my genuine feelings thatI put into it, it was all real. It was all made for that time, and it touched a lot of people, and I am fortunate enough to have made history with that album—still holding a Guinness World Record. It’s a really humbling thing,and I feel super blessed.