Maxwell and Ashanti will receive special honors at the 2021 Soul Train Awards, scheduled to air on BET Sunday, Nov. 28 at 8 p.m. ET/PT. The neo-soul pioneer and early-aughts icon will receive the Legend Award and Lady of Soul Award respectively. In separate conversations with VIBE, both singers addressed their excitement and partial disbelief with the exact same affirmation, nearly word for word: “This is [really] happening.”
Gratitude is an integral part of greatness. And in the spirit of the recent holiday, Maxwell and Ashanti indeed have lots to be thankful for this year. As Billboard reported earlier this month. Maxwell recently struck a multi-album partnership between his Musze imprint and BMG—the label that in October purchased the rights to Tina Turner’s name, image, and likeness in a blockbuster deal.
Meanwhile, Ashanti announced in September plans to re-record and independently release her eponymous debut after obtaining ownership of the album’s masters. The “Foolish” singer revealed she plans to drop the re-recorded project in April 2022, around the time she’ll be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Read excerpts from our conversations with Maxwell and Ashanti below, as they reflect on these milestones as well their upcoming Soul Train honors.-Introduction by Austin Williams. Interview conducted by Mya Abraham
VIBE: With your new BMG partnership, how does it feel at this point to be considered a businessman as well as a veteran artist?
Maxwell: For me, I think of Sam Cooke. I think of what Sam Cooke wanted to do. I watched that incredible documentary about him, the Two Deaths of Sam Cooke. So, for me to be able to have this experience, an experience that he was always trying to push forward in the time that he graced the planet and gave us so much beauty in music and art… I feel like I am being given an opportunity to set a standard and be an example for future entrepreneurs in music. I’m grateful for that, for sure.
Would you say you’re relieved in having more control and equity in your future works?
I feel relieved about it, but I’ve never looked at it from a financial standpoint. I’ve always just looked at it from an opportunity standpoint. My prime directive is to bring as much opportunity to others through this venture as I was given through music… literally my life is because of the people who listen to me.
What does it mean for you to now receive the Legend Award at the Soul Train Awards?
I can’t believe this. I literally sit here going, “This is really happening.” I don’t even know. I hope I’m in my body. You know what I’m talking about? I feel like I’m going to be watching this from outside of myself. But at the same time, I feel like as I receive this award, and I’ll always say this, I’m receiving [it] for the peer group that was a movement that I was associated with.
Erykah Badu, obviously D’Angelo, Musiq Soulchild, Jill Scott, Alicia Keys. It’s a musician thing. It’s a soul thing. It’s creating outside of the box, creating outside of the lines. Sophistication, vulnerability in music, emotional maturity—showing a side to Black people that is more nuanced. So, I’m just grateful for that. I get to receive this award because of the time that I came from. And to see that time reflected in the very current day with people like H.E.R. You know what I mean? That’s the thing, it’s bigger than me. Being Black and the experience of blackness and the experience of that honor is greater than us. And having this opportunity with the partnership with BMG, and of course receiving this award is me saying to any young up-and-coming person, “Hey, you can do this.”
What can you tell fans about your forthcoming album, as it’s the conclusion to the blackSUMMERnight trilogy?
I will tell them that I hope that they make so much love. If they’re about trying to have babies, make them. I am so tired of hate. I see it every day. We experience it digitally every single moment of the day. It’s almost to the point where it’s like, ugh! Enough! So, my goal is to bring that love. To bring that universal love, to bring that Black love, that Brown love, that Latin love, that Caribbean love, that African love. Love. L-O-V-E-E-E-E. That’s what I want people to do. We have been through so much. People have lost a lot of people. We are polarized in so many different ways. I’m not here to get into the who’s right and who’s wrong part. People know where I stand and how I do what I do, but this new album is about celebrating love. So, get the chocolate out, get the wine, get the champagne, whatever you got to get, flowers, roses, petals. Write her name out and you know.
At the 2002 Lady of Soul Awards, you won the R&B/Soul New Artist of the Year and Aretha Franklin Entertainer of the Year awards. How does it feel now to receive the Lady of the Soul Award?
Ashanti: It’s like a full circle moment. I think God’s timing is amazing. The fact that it’s the 50th anniversary for Soul Train and it’s close to 20 years for me is like a surreal moment. So, I’m very excited.
What are some of your favorite Soul Train memories?
I would have to say the first time I was on, just being super excited. I was just reminded that one of my first times was with Ja [Rule], which was amazing. But I remember my first time by myself— I was so excited to meet Shemar Moore [laughs]. It was super cool. I had so much fun and it was just like, wow. Soul Train is just such a staple in my family. So, to be able to be on the show and be a part of such an iconic moment is huge for me.
With you re-recording your debut album, what’s the greatest pleasure you’ve experienced throughout that process?
I just got like an outpouring of love and support. I did an interview with Angie Martinez the other day with my sister, Shia, and I talked about it. And just to see the response and how people were like, “We’re going to support all of Ashanti’s new re-recorded records”… It felt really, really, really amazing. I’m very excited about it.
I was just reminded of your song “Dreams” from your very first album. And now all this has happened for you. In terms of manifestation, how does your life imitate your art?
I love that word, that manifestation word. I’m operating on kind of like a high vibration now and I think things are coming full circle. I think God’s timing is like, you can’t plan that. I think it’s unparalleled. So, to be living in this and understanding where it comes from to where I am now is kind of surreal, you know? I’m just super grateful. I’m still a little shocked. Like, “Oh my gosh, this is happening.” I said to somebody the other day, “I feel like God is sprinkling little dust on me.” Like golden dust or something because it’s been an amazing, amazing moment.