Grammy Award-winning, multi-platinum singer Ashanti is making a comeback in the music world with her long-awaited album Braveheart, set to release Tuesday, March 4, 2014.
Ashanti, who has been trailblazing the film and TV world with a role in Lifetime’s “Army Wives” and most recently the film Christmas in the City, got her big break in the early 2000’s when she was noticed by hip-hop/R&B record producer Irv Gotti, who was also the founder of former label Murder Inc. (now just The Inc).
Her self-entitled debut album in 2002 landed on the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Top 200 chart, garnering her several Grammy nods and a win for Best Contemporary R&B Album in 2003.
However, even with all of the success Ashanti soon found herself facing multiple obstacles, including Murder Inc. collapsing and a public feud with 50 Cent’s G-Unit that left her dealing with the negative effects.
In a recent phone interview with Campus Circle, the singer/songwriter shares her thoughts on the new album, offers some sound advice for young people and explains how Braveheart is representative of everything she has been going through over the years.
How would you describe your new album in three words?
Free, organic, sincere and vulnerable. I used four (laughs).
How involved were you in the songwriting process for Braveheart?
I wrote every record aside of maybe one or two cold writes, but I absolutely wrote every single record that was on the album.
Can you describe your songwriting process for us? Do you have a set formula? Do you have to be in a certain environment?
For me, it’s just very organic. I go into how I feel. I like to go into the studio. I like to listen to the music – I like to listen to the music loud first. Sometimes I write in my car. Sometimes if I wake up in the middle of the night and I have an idea or a dream about something, I’ll write. If I hear a melody, I’ll record it on my phone. It varies for me. One thing I will say, though: I have to have my feet up when I’m writing. I just noticed that like two years ago. I like to kind of be in a position where I can put both of my feet up; I write better like that.
What’s your favorite song off of the new album and why?
Oh, that’s a very tough question! My favorite song off of Braveheart…There are so many! If I had to pick three songs that tell a complete story, I would go with “Nowhere,” “Scars” and “First Real Love,” because you go from happy to sad to loyalty. That is kind of what my experience has been going into this new album.
On the intro of the album, you get personal and talk about your hunger and how it’s igniting a passion inside of you. You also mention betrayal and experiencing an uphill battle. Can you talk more about where those feelings came from and how this intro sets up the rest of Braveheart?
Honestly, it came from everything that I’ve gone through, obviously more so in the past year or two. From 2008 to this very moment, those are the struggles, the betrayals that I’m talking about. Everything came from a real, sincere place. And I think people can tell in my voice and just the way that the intro, the album sounds -- it’s just dramatic. It just feels like…you have to continue to be brave. You have to continue that hunger and that passion and here’s why, you know what I mean? So, that kind of sets the tone for the album and that’s kind of why I like the intro as well, because it all ties in.
For me, it’s a blessing to have an album that tells a complete story but [also] the records are hot. It’s not just a bunch of great records. It’s actually telling a story that people can actually understand and relate to.
So for the last couple of years, I (and your fans) have been following your acting career with John Tucker Must Die, “Army Wives,” etc. Is acting something you want to continue doing or is your focus mainly on music right now?
I definitely want to continue acting right now. “Army Wives” was amazing. I just did a movie with Lifetime, a Christmas movie [Christmas in the City] that aired in December. So, obviously I want to stay in film and television, and going behind the scenes into some executive production as well.
You put college aside to pursue your music dreams. Looking back, how do you feel about that decision and what would you recommend to young people in a similar situation who are deciding whether to go to college or take a different route?
It’s really important to always have something to fall back on. I think it’s important to have some kind of foundation. I don’t ever want to deter anyone from not getting their education, because knowledge is 100 percent power. The smarter you are, the farther you’ll go.
But I think it’s important to follow your passion as well. It’s just really, really important to have something to fall back on because trust and believe, there are a lot of broke artists (laughs). So, don’t be fooled!
And again, if you have that passion and that desire and that hunger that’s undeniable, go after your dreams as well. I went to college for a few semesters. I learned…but this was made to happen for me. So, if you have a fire inside, I think it’s really important to pay attention to it, but do it in the smartest way possible. Take into consideration this economy – oh my god, it’s completely different from what it was back when I came out 12 years ago.
Braveheart is set to release Tuesday, March 4, 2014.