Ashanti has weathered more than a few storms during her 15-year career in music. As a bright-eyed girl from Glen Cove, Long Island, the songstress hooked up with one of the most rugged rap crews in New York City—at the time—to release her self-titled debut album in 2002. With the help of Murda Inc., that same girl grew into a songstress who was down enough to rock with the goons and talented enough to become a multi-platinum selling superstar.
VIBE recently courted Ashanti to catch up on everything she has planned for 2017. After making a cameo on Verizon go90's new streaming show Crashed—where fans are elected by their friends and family to have their idols meet them—the singer/actress has her eyes set on a new album and several film projects.
VIBE: What was your experience like working on the latest Crashed episode?
Ashanti: It was a really cool experience, and it was definitely something new for me. First of all, I had no idea what a busker was, I never heard the word before. When they explained it, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is cool!’ Just to be able to see somebody that has passion and drive to be a singer [was amazing]. It was a really good feeling to do the surprise—the whole thing, the whole concept, was dope. It’s kind of like giving back and learning something at the same time.
How did it feel when your Braveheart album was met with cries of joy from your fans 13 years after your debut album?
It's so humbling, and I’m super grateful. When you put everything in perspective, just how the music industry is today from my first album to right now, I’m just really grateful that I’m able to say, as a black female, having my own record label and having a record go number 1 independently is really dope. I’m really blessed. Going top 10 on regular Billboard chart and having a number 1 independent is worthy of an Instagram post because I know you must have read my Instagram to find that out [laughs].
More and more, we are seeing artists learning to create, promote, and push their music independently. How was it for you during your transition from a major record label to an indy?
When I made the decision, it was kinda like a sink or swim because I was at the point where I wasn't taking a 360 deal. There were offers there. I had 7 offers from major labels. A lot of the up front money was cool but that 360 was a turnoff for me, so it was like either you take that or you do your own thing. I obviously did my own thing, and initially that was very stressful, too.
Lin-Manuel Miranda mentioned he pictured you and Ja Rule when writing "Helpless." How did it feel to get that call for the Hamilton mixtape?
That was an awesome feeling. I have to admit, before me and Ja went to the play, both of us were like, ‘Man what is this, they rhyming in Hamilton. They gonna have the old traditional-clothes one?’ It’s very touchy because that can come off extremely corny, but I was pleasantly surprised and shocked at how amazing and awesome and genius it was.
You have to see the play. Lin is just incredible. When he explained to both of us that he had us specifically in mind when writing this play and this record, it was crazy to know we helped inspire something so huge. He came to the studio and was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love this!’ All the CEOs of Atlantic were all there jumping up and down, excited about the record. We performed it at two or three spots in New York and he was in Paris, so we did a Periscope of him watching the live performance, and he started crying. Then when I was him I started crying, like, 'Oh my gosh, he’s really touched.' It was so cool to see a person be inspired by our music, something that we’ve done. It was kinda like a historic moment for us.
You were at the Obamas' 8-year celebration at the White House, and you worked on the “Let’s Move” and the “Drink Up” campaigns with Michelle. How hard was it for you to see them go?
It was really just like, ‘Is this really over? Is this really coming to an end? Noooo!’ It was sad... it really was. And not to get too political, but it’s really scary now. To see where we were and how far we’ve come and where we are now... It was sad to see them leave. They were very family-oriented. When I went down for the garden harvest event, Michelle saw me and asked how everything was going, and President Obama was there. He came and gave me a hug asked how everything was going, and Michelle was like, ‘Hey Barack, did you see Ashanti?’ and he was like, ‘Yeah I saw Ashanti, we were just talking.' It really felt like a family BBQ-type of thing. I think everyone is grateful for what they have done and what they’ve contributed.
You have a lot of acting experience under your belt. Is that something you want to tap into more this year?
Definitely, there are a couple of projects that I am working on behind the scenes that I am really excited about. I think it’s really important to not put all your eggs in one basket, especially nowadays. You can’t just have one hustle. You have to have 25 and hope 5 of them work.
I have to admit, we are craving new music from Ashanti. Are you working on a new album that we might get this year?
Oh, absolutely. I am so excited about my new music. I have been working with a couple of people. A lot of stuff in L.A. And my single is called “Lose Yourself.” It’s a very different sound for me, and I love it.
It’s urgent, and it was produced by Dre Moon & A1. They’ve done a lot of stuff for Chris Brown and Future. I am just super excited. Me and Ty Dolla $ign have a couple of records, me and Mustard have a couple of records, and I am working with J-Roc. He has done a lot with Timbaland and Justin Timberlake. There’s definitely some L.T. Hutton on the album, too. We’ve been working on some joints, and obviously he’s the man behind the All Eyez On Me movie. When I was over in Europe on tour, I played a snippet for the crowd, and the reaction was just crazy.
Stay tuned for more from Ashanti's exclusive interview VIBE later this week.