Ashanti - Braveheart

Ashanti
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In the nearly six years since Ashanti's last CD, The Declaration, things in the game done changed: the label she called home for nearly a decade, Murder Inc/The Inc., released her from her recording contract.  Instead of jumping back into the music biz, however, Ms. Douglas spent time in front of the cameras, cultivating acting credits in a variety of roles (Coach Carter, Law & Order: SVU, Resident Evil Extinction, Army Wives and a theatrical production of The Wiz) and lending her time and talents to a number of worthy causes. Ashanti's leisurely approach to recording a follow-up to Declaration may have lulled people into thinking that she was out of the arena, but the "Princess of R&B" was simply taking inventory, cleaning house setting up shop with her own label (Written Entertainment), a new distribution partnership (eOne Music) and new collaborators for her fifth studio CD, BraveHeart. 

In the nearly six years since Ashanti's last CD, The Declaration, things in the game done changed: the label she called home for nearly a decade, Murder Inc/The Inc., released her from her recording contract.  Instead of jumping back into the music biz, however, Ms. Douglas spent time in front of the cameras, cultivating acting credits in a variety of roles (Coach Carter, Law & Order: SVU, Resident Evil Extinction, Army Wives and a theatrical production of The Wiz) and lending her time and talents to a number of worthy causes. Ashanti's leisurely approach to recording a follow-up to Declaration may have lulled people into thinking that she was out of the arena, but the "Princess of R&B" was simply taking inventory, cleaning house setting up shop with her own label (Written Entertainment), a new distribution partnership (eOne Music) and new collaborators for her fifth studio CD, BraveHeart. 

In a recent interview with Billboard, the 33-year-old singer and songwriter revealed that the songs, ranging in age from a couple of years to a couple of months,  come from a 'vulnerable and sincere place,' but what you hear is a woman determined to stake her claim as a capable and confident woman both personally and professionally. The thirteen tracks, boasting of established and evolving producers (Rico Love, LT Hutton, Mansur) and her expected lyrical input throughout, kick off with a dramatic flourish as Ashanti acknowledges the haters, but promises to persevere: “A lot of people counted me out and that feeds my hunger and ignites my passion to continue my journey: I will continue to thrive, continue to prosper, I will continue to be brave. I am Braveheart.”

And some songs do succeed in giving listeners that edge and attitude, since Ashanti is no longer the awe-filled ingénue and expects her grown-woman needs and desires met. One of the most club-friendly jams, for example, "Count," challenges a so-called big baller to drop the dollars like he means it or step lively:  "Aw Baby go bigger, Baby keep it jumpin'," purrs the Princess, "pop a coupla more and you get access to this lovin." "Scars" is a throwback to The Murder Inc. Era in style and delivery, a hyper up tempo groove declaring that her ex will never see her looking less than flawless although her heart and soul are flecked with their relationship's battle wounds. "Words" is slinky and synth-riding love letter to her boo, while "Never Should Have" sound like 'buyer's remorse' strewn over a staccato beat: "You never should've loved me, you never should've touched me/...you never should've told me you loved me and you would never leave me."

So it's puzzling and highly ironic that, given Ashanti's sauciness and self-assurance in conveying the bulk of her material (including her present single with Rick Ross, "I Got It"), she plays the back and comes across as an interloper in the remaining pair-ups: "Early In The Morning" (featuring French Montana) and "Love Games" (with Jeremih) are insipid and OD on the Auto Tune---what was the point?!? Ms. Douglas' lilting and lightweight soprano gets drowned out and is relegated to function as a sound effect in comparison. Even her most devoted fans will find those tracks nails-on-a-chalkboard-irritating and an unwise waste of space. 

BraveHeart, despite its lofty title, doesn't veer far away from what fans expect from The Princess and as a result, won't lose any of her devoted subjects. Ashanti is wise enough to not make apologies for being secure on that bejeweled perch, so perhaps the true courage Ms. Douglas displays is by realizing that in times of constant musical battles and one-upsmanship, preserving one's established borders still counts as a worthwhile victory to claim. Recommended. 

By Melody Charles

 
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