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Ashanti Shequoiya Douglas (born October 13 1980) is an American singer-songwriter, record producer, actress, dancer, model, and fashion designer who rose to fame in the early 2000s.

Ashanti is most famous for her eponymous Grammy Award-winning debut album Ashanti which featured the hit song "Foolish", and sold 504,693 copies in its first week of release in the U.S. in April 2002. In the same week, she became the first female performer to simultaneously hold the top two places on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with "Foolish", and "What's Luv" (with Fat Joe). She broke records again by having three Top Ten songs Foolish, What's Luv, and Always on Time, with Ja Rule, on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the same week, being the first female to accomplish this feat and being second only to The Beatles.[1] Ashanti also wrote and sang background on the song "Ain't It Funny" (Murder Remix) sung by Jennifer Lopez which was also in the top 10 charts at the same time as "Foolish", "Always on Time" (with Ja Rule), and "What's Luv" (with Fat Joe).[2] In 2002, she was acclaimed as the "Princess of Hip Hop and R&B."[3] and by 2007, Ashanti had sold more than 8 million albums in the U.S., and more than 15 million records worldwide.[4]

Ashanti cites Mary J. Blige, Ella Fitzgerald, Yolanda Adams, the Clark Sisters and Blue Magic as her musical influences.[5][6]She is currently working on her fourth studio album entitled The Declaration, which is due out the first quarter of 2008. Ashanti premiered the video for her new single "The Way That I Love You" on MTV's TRL and BET's 106 & Park on February 27, 2008.

Biography

Early life

Ashanti was born in Glen Cove, New York. She has inherited a love for music from her mother, Tina Douglas, a former dance teacher, and her father, Ken-Kaide Thomas Douglas, a former singer. She has a younger sister named Shia. Her mother named her after the former Empire of Ashanti in Ghana; in this nation, the women had power and influence, and Ashanti's mother wanted her daughter to follow that model. Her grandfather, James, was a civil-rights activist who associated with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 1960s.[7] Growing up, Ashanti took dance lessons and joined the church choir. Ashanti went to Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center where she studied different dance styles including tap, jazz, ballet, African, modern, and hip hop. She danced with the Senior Pro Ensemble at Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Avery Fisher Hall, and the Black Spectrum Theater. She also performed at the 1994 Caribbean Awards and dancing with Judith Jamison of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. With actress and choreographer Debbie Allen at the helm, Ashanti also performed in the Disney television film Polly alongside stars Keshia Knight Pulliam and Phylicia Rashad. Ashanti displayed a knack for singing when she was six by singing in a gospel choir but her mother discovered her full singing potential when she overheard Ashanti singing Mary J. Blige's "Reminisce" to herself at age twelve.[8] By the time she hit puberty, her mom was sending out demo tapes of her daughter's vocal and dancing talents. The family couldn't afford to go to a studio and record a formal demo so when labels called, Ashanti would have to sing and dance in front of the record company executives. Her love of music continued to rise as she attended high school and began to write songs. As a teenager, she performed in a local talent show and at the Soul Cafe, China Club, Madison Square Garden, Caroline's Comedy Club and Greek Fest 2000.[9] In her first major singing performance, Ashanti blew the Apollo Theater audience away with her rendition of Yolanda Adams's "More than a Melody." She also appeared in a number of big-name music videos, in addition to other dance work.

Early career

When Ashanti was fourteen, she was discovered by P. Diddy Bad Boy Records. Initially, she went to Bad Boy Records and sang one of Mary J. Blige's songs in front of P.Diddy and Biggie Smalls. After being impressed by her singing ability, Diddy then challenged her character. He pulled out a bottle and told her it was his new fragrance, which he loved. After one sniff, Ashanti exclaimed, "Oh pew, it stinks. I hate it!" Diddy just started laughing stating it was just a test to judge her character. In the end, due to a bad contract, Ashanti didn't sign with Diddy. This ultimately led to a record deal with Jive Records in 1994. Unfortunately, this relationship soured when Jive tried to make the soulful singing teen into a run-of-the-mill pop star.[10]

Ashanti regrouped by throwing herself into schoolwork, cheerleading, and running on her school's track team. She was an honor student in English and belonged to the English club where she began writing poetry. She was also in the Drama club and performed in a few plays. She was a star athlete, playing baseball, soccer, and badminton,[11] however, her skills in the 100- and 200-meter dash as well as the triple jump, her specialty reaching as far as 35 feet,[12] earned her athletic scholarships to Princeton & Hampton University and got her scouted by the Olympic committee. Instead, she put college pursuits aside when Epic Records came calling with a contract in 1998. However, the label's management changes quickly left Ashanti out in the cold. Undaunted, she continued to croon at local New York clubs and began hanging out at the Murder Inc. recording studio, hoping for another big break.[13]

Irv Gotti and Murder Inc.

It was when she was noticed by Murder Inc. mastermind Irv Gotti that Ashanti began to blossom. Gotti noted her dancing and acting abilities in addition to her vocal skills. Ashanti initially asked him just to produce a few demo songs for her to record so she could say she had some hot tracks by the big time producer but Gotti had a different idea. He asked her to pen hooks for his rap artists and to perform with them in duets, Ashanti providing the melodic response to their streetwise call. Ashanti was first featured as a background vocalist on rapper Big Pun's song "How We Roll". In the same year, Ashanti was featured on fellow labelmate Cadillac Tah's singles "Pov City Anthem" and "Just Like a Thug". She also appeared on the 2001 The Fast and the Furious soundtrack as a featured artist on Vita's 2001 hip hop remake of Madonna's "Justify My Love" and on the solo track "When a Man Does Wrong". She appeared as a background vocalist on "I'm Real" (Murder remix), a collaboration by labelmate Ja Rule and Jennifer Lopez (she also appeared in the music video for "Aint It Funny" (Murder remix), the second duet between Lopez and Rule, for which she wrote and also sang background vocals on), and was featured on Fat Joe's "What's Luv?" and Ja Rule's "Always on Time". "What's Luv?" and "Always on Time" were released simultaneously and became two of the biggest hit songs of 2002. Ashanti became the first female to occupy the top two positions on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart when "Always on Time" and "What's Luv?" were number one and number two respectively.

Debut album: Ashanti

File:Foolish Ashanti.jpg

Following the success of her collaborations with Ja Rule and Fat Joe, Ashanti released her debut single, "Foolish", which contained a sample of the 1983 song "Stay With Me" by DeBarge (also utilized by The Notorious B.I.G. in his 1995 hit "One More Chance"). This is her biggest song to date, spending 10 weeks atop of the billboard hot 100. She became the second artist (after The Beatles) to have their first three chart entries in the top ten of the Hot 100 simultaneously. Ashanti's self-titled debut album, Ashanti, was released on Irv Gotti's Murder Inc. record label in April 12, 2002. It debuted at number-one on the U.S. Billboard 200 albums chart, and stayed there for 3 weeks, selling over 504,000 thousand in its first week (the most successful first week debut sales for any female R&B artist).[14] The album has been certified 3x platinum in the U.S and platinum (360,000 copies) in the UK. The album has sold over 7 million copies worldwide. Ashanti wrote all 12 songs on the album, most written on the spot in the studio.

Ashanti's follow-up singles, "Happy" and "Baby", were not as successful as her debut single but did peak in the top ten and top twenty in the U.S. respectively. During the summer of 2002, Ashanti appeared on Ja Rule's "Down 4 U" with labelmates, female rappers Vita and Charli Baltimore. The song appeared on a Murder Inc. compilation titled Irv Gotti Presents The Inc. Ashanti's debut album earned her many awards including eight Billboard Music Awards, two American Music Awards, and a Grammy Award.

However, the most prestigious award she won in 2002 was also the most controversial. When it was announced that Ashanti would receive the Soul Train Aretha Franklin Award for "Entertainer of the Year", a high school student took offense and started an on-line petition against her. He explained to The Seattle Times that she was too new to deserve the award and "she lacks stage presence in the majority of her performances." Nearly 30,000 people agreed with him, signing the petition.[15] Many pointed out that established artists such as Mary J. Blige and Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliott or critically-acclaimed singers like Alicia Keys and India.Arie were more deserving of an award that carries the name of a musical legend. Despite the petition, the Soul Train committee and Don Cornelius stuck by their decision and Ashanti. Ashanti was applauded by her musical peers as she entered the Pasadena Civic Auditorium to accept her award and she was supported onstage by legendary singer Patti LaBelle who stated "she's a baby and we have to support our babies."[16][17]

In September 2002, Ashanti and her sister Kenashia appeared on the first DisneyMania CD, which was released under Walt Disney Records. The album featured contemporary Disney classics. Ashanti & her sister sang "Colors of the Wind" from the Disney movie Pocahontas. The album was considered a commercial success, achieving platinum certification in February 2003.

Ashanti's global appeal became very apparent, as FHM credited her as the "Sexiest Woman in Music" in 2002. In 2003, Ja Rule and Ashanti collaborated on another hit song, "Mesmerize." Its music video was a parody of a scene from the film Grease.

Ashanti won a Grammy in 2003 for Best Contemporary R&B Album.

Chapter II

File:Rwuashanti.jpg

On July 1, 2003, Ashanti released her second album Chapter II. It debuted at number-one on the Billboard 200 with first week sales of 326,000 copies in the U.S.-she dethroned Beyonce's debut album Dangerously In Love which had sold 316,000 copies the previous week. The album remained at number one for two weeks and according to Billboard magazine, the album has been certified Platinum (1.5 million copies sold) in the U.S. and Platinum (300,000) in the UK. Chapter II's first single, "Rock wit U (Awww Baby)", became a hit, peaking at number-two on the Billboard Hot 100. Its steamy video, which showed Ashanti in a bikini frolicking on a beach and riding an elephant named Bubbles, was nominated for two 2003 MTV Video Music Awards. A remix of the song contained interpolations of Michael Jackson's "Rock with You".

The second single, "Rain on Me," reached the #7 spot of the Hot 100. In the "Rain on Me" mini-movie music video directed by Hype Williams and co-starring Larenz Tate, Ashanti portrays a troubled young woman in an abusive relationship. Ashanti's powerful song and lyrics combined with William's visuals to impart the power and horror of the cycle of domestic violence. Ashanti partnered with LidRock to distribute this mini-movie using LidRock's unique platform. This promotion, in conjunction with heavy rotation on MTV, BET, and other music video programs, has brought this film and her cause to the attention of millions of fans. It has also helped to raise money for the cause with proceeds from the $5 mini-disc going toward helping to stop domestic violence. She received a Lifetime Channel Achievement Award for her message speaking out against domestic violence.[18]

The album has sold over 3 million copies worldwide. Ashanti was scheduled to join Mariah Carey on her "Charmbracelet" US tour but due to schedule issues she was the opening act for R.Kelly's five-date tour in summer 2003 instead.

In May 2003, Ashanti appeared on VH1 Divas and performed her single "Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)." She also participated in duets with Stevie Wonder (who later gave her the nickname Little Libra) performing "Do I Do," and the Isley Brothers performing "That Lady".

Chapter II was nominated for a 2004 Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Album. From that album both "Rock Wit U(Awww Baby)" and "Rain On Me" were nominated for Grammy Awards: Best R&B Song and Best Vocal Performance by a Female Artist, respectively.

Ashanti's Christmas

In November 2003, Douglas' Christmas album, Ashanti's Christmas was released. The album contained almost an equal amount of original songs to Christmas standards. In late 2003, Ashanti released a Christmas melody video for the album. It sold just around 100,000 copies in the U.S.

Concrete Rose

In 2004, Ashanti was invited back to perform at VH1's Divas 2004. She appeared on stage with Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight, Jessica Simpson, and others. She performed Diana Ross' smash hit "I'm Coming Out", and she performed a soulful rendition of Chaka Khan's funk driven hit "Ain't Nobody."

Later that year Ashanti collaborated on the song "Southside," with male R&B newcomer and labelmate Lloyd, was released as his debut single and was a moderate hit. "Wonderful" with Ja Rule and R.Kelly peaked at number five in the U.S and at number one in the U.K. "Jimmy Choo" with rapper Shyne was another modest hit reaching number 55 on the billboard Hot R&B songs chart.

Alongside artist such as Wyclef Jean, Mary J. Blige, Eve, Brandy, Fabolous, Jadakiss, Missy Elliott, and many others, Ashanti participated in a cover of the classic "Wake Up Everybody" in support of ACT, the left-leaning political action committee.

File:Ashanti - Only You 007 0001.jpg

On December 14, 2004, Ashanti released her third studio album, Concrete Rose, from which the title took on Tupac Shakur's pseudonym "The Rose That Grew From Concrete". The album debuted at number seven in the U.S with first week sales of 254,000 copies. The first single, "Only U," reached thirteen on the Billboard Hot 100 charts and became her biggest hit in the United Kingdom, peaking at number two. Exactly one month after its release, the album was certified Platinum and the single "Only U" was certified Gold in March 2005. In Mid March, Ashanti released her second and final single from the album entitled "Don't Let Them". Although Ashanti was praised by critics for improved vocals on this solid ballad, she didn't garner much fan support after Def Jam refused to pay for the video due to Irv Gotti's legal troubles during his money laundering trial. Despite the album being certified Platinum, it did relatively disappointing compared to her last two studio efforts. The singer used her own money to deliver the second video to her fans, with Gotti acting as director. The single was only released in the U.S., where it failed to chart, and the UK, reaching the Number 38 in the first week, but soon disappeared off the U.K. charts. The album has shipped two million copies worldwide.

Also, for a limited time after the release of Concrete Rose, Ashanti released the DVD Ashanti: The Making Of A Star. This deluxe DVD includes exclusive photo and video shoot footage, music from her multi-platinum albums Ashanti, Chapter II plus Concrete Rose, special concert footage, unreleased childhood school performances and behind-the-scenes interviews with family, friends, and fans. The DVD was also repackaged along with Coach Carter.

Later on that year, Ashanti was invited to Oprah Winfreys Legends Ball which honored some of the most influential and legendary African-American women of the 20th century in the fields of art, entertainment, and civil rights. This recognition was proof that the singer was on her way to being a future "legend" along with such "youngins" as Alicia Keys, Janet Jackson, Halle Berry, Mariah Carey, Brandy and Naomi Campbell, to name a few, who were also invited to the three day celebration.

Collectables by Ashanti

On December 6, 2005, Ashanti released a remix album of Concrete Rose titled Collectables by Ashanti. The album features six remixes of previously released tracks and four newly recorded songs, including the single "Still on It", which featured rappers Paul Wall and Method Man. The album, was only an opportunity for her to fulfill her contract with Def Jam (and have the option of working with another label), and didn't fare well on the charts.

The Declaration

Ashanti's fourth studio album was confirmed in an interview with Billboard Magazine as being entitled The Declaration. In April 2007, Irv Gotti appeared in an interview with DJ FunkMaster Flex and addressed the fact that Ashanti had ventured out and acquired producers and collaborations primarily outside The Inc. for the first time by saying, "she's having her little Janet Jackson "Control" moment. Every artist has their moment when they feel they need to take over their own music`and this is hers." Ashanti says her new album represents her sense of freedom at this stage in her career. "I'm steering my own ship and taking the lead on everything. You can definitely hear the growth; I'm working with producers I've never worked with before." Those producers include Polow Da Don, Babyface, Pharrell Williams, Dr. Dre, Swizz Beatz, Jermaine Dupri, Mario Winans, Calvo Da Gr8, Stargate, Shy Carter, Wyldcard, Eric Hudson, Danjahandz, Jim Beanz, 7 Aurelius, Chris & Drop, Kanye West, Ryan Tedder, Ron "Neff-U" Feemstar and L. T. Hutton.[19] [20]She has also collaborated with fellow singers Robin Thicke, Babyface & Ne-Yo as well as rappers Nelly & Snoop Dogg. Throughout 2007, three buzz tracks leaked onto the internet: "You Can't Deny It", featuring Jim Jones in January, "Switch" featuring Nelly in July, and "Hey Baby (After The Club)" featuring Mario Winans in August. A feature with longtime collaborator and producer 7 Aurelius titled "My Number Babe", which is scheduled to be on the producers' debut CD entitled Channel 7, leaked in January of 2007.

On January 14 2008, the first single "The Way That I Love You," produced by L.T. Hutton, leaked onto the internet.[citation needed] The video for the single was shot in the beginning of February and leaked onto the internet February 13.[citation needed] Ashanti's upcoming album, The Declaration, is due June 3, 2008.[21]

Acting career

Ashanti got her first taste of acting as a child extra in the Spike Lee directed movies Malcolm X and Who's Da Man. She also started as a dancer in the Disney TV film Polly.[22]

File:Coachcarterashanti.jpg

After success with her music career, Ashanti starred in Bollywood film Bride and Prejudice, in which she sang "My Lips are Waiting" and "Touch My Body'. Ashanti's appearance in the film was meant as homage to a tradition in Bollywood films where a celebrity would make a cameo appearance to sing a song that has no direct involvement in the plot. The rest of the characters do not interact with the celebrity but are seen in the crowd enjoying the show.

In January 2005, she made her feature film acting debut in the film Coach Carter alongside Samuel L. Jackson. She played a pregnant teenager named Kyra who has to decide whether or not to abort her unborn child. The movie opened at number-one at the U.S. box office, eventually grossing $67 million in the U.S. Later in 2005, Ashanti beat out Hilary Duff and Jessica Simpson to star as Dorothy Gale in the made-for-television film The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, which pulled in nearly 8 million viewers.[23]

In 2006, she starred in the teen comedy John Tucker Must Die, which opened and peaked at #3 at the U.S. box office (competing with Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest and Miami Vice) and grossed $68,818,076 worldwide.[24] Ashanti played Heather, the head cheerleader who participates in a vengeful scheme against John Tucker, her unfaithful boyfriend and the school's biggest heartthrob. Ashanti can also be found on Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 7 episode 14: "First Date".

In 2007, Ashanti appeared in the sci-fi horror action Resident Evil: Extinction as a nurse named Betty. The film entered at #1 at the box office grossing $23,678,580 in its opening week. To date the movie has grossed $50,648,679 at the US box office and around $147,713,442 worldwide. This is Ashanti's second #1 movie, the other being Coach Carter.

There are many rumors circulating about Ashanti's upcoming movie roles. One rumor is that she will work with Quentin Tarantino, who had a cameo in The Muppets' Wizard of Oz, to revive the 70's show Get Christie Love as a film. The second rumor is that she is among the tops picks to star as Eartha Kitt in a biopic. In an interview Ashanti stated: "I can't say too much about them because we haven't signed on the dotted line, but there are a lot of interesting irons in the fire," she says. "Hopefully, by the next conversation, we'll be talking about the next two flicks." Ashanti will also be starring in You're Nobody till Somebody Kills You, a forthcoming film being directed by Spike Lee's protege Michael Pinckney.

Other activities

In addition to singing, Ashanti has emerged as a songwriter penning songs for Christina Milian, Ja Rule, Jennifer Lopez, Nas, Toni Braxton, & many more. She released a book of poetry titled Foolish/Unfoolish Reflections on Love in 2002 and a fragrance, "Precious Jewel by Ashanti," in October 2005. In 2005, she signed an exclusive deal with MUDD to promote their brand of jeans titled "Delicious Curves." In early 2006, she released "Ashanti's OPC-3 Beauty Blend," a nutritional supplement. Ashanti also has a clothing Place in Europe for teenage girls titled "Princess." It's sitting on an 12 acre spot of land.

On May 2, 2002 Ashanti received the key to the city of Glen Cove, New York (her hometown), and the day was named Ashanti Day; Ashanti also received a key to the city of Atlantic City, New Jersey (she was crowned princess of hip hop and R&B).[25][26]

Ashanti is set to showcase her style in a book, titled Ashanti Style, which will be published in late 2007. The book, which is being touted as Ashanti's "life and style guide" will offer fans a behind-the-scenes look into her style, both in her personal and professional life. Ashanti Style will be published by Jump at the Sun, an imprint of Disney's Hyperion Books for Children. Another venture Ashanti has enlisted in is her own handbags and pocketbook to be revealed in 2007.[27]

Philanthropy

Ashanti Heart Truth2

Ashanti modeling at a charity fashion show to benefit The Heart Truth, February 2007

In 2003, Ashanti partnered LidRock and the San Francisco-based Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) to raise awareness about the issue of domestic violence during National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and to distribute the "Rain On Me" mini-movie using LidRock’s unique platform. Proceeds from the $5 mini-disc went towards helping to stop domestic violence. Ashanti also recorded a public service announcement that appeared in more than 4,000 film screens and reached millions of people.[28] Ashanti also gives back by raising money for sickle cell research and she is active in helping the Make-A-Wish Foundation stating, "I’ll go and do just about anything for them."[12] In 2005, Ashanti helped by recording public service announcement and raising money for the Southeast Asia tsunami disaster.[29] Later that year she helped raise money for the Hurricane Katrina victims and storm evacuees.[30]

Legal dispute

In July 2005, record producer Genard Parker claimed Ashanti owed him money for records that never were completed or distributed.[31] A New York court heard Parker's claims and ordered her to pay Parker $636,000. But as the court stated no time records were ever produced. Parker is claiming over $2.3 million, while Ashanti's lawyers, say Parker never delivered any records and no records were ever distributed.[32] In late 2005 a judge later rejected most of the award, ruling that there were not sufficient facts to determine the proper amount of damages. The case went to court on September 17, but was dropped in light of each party voluntarily dropping pending lawsuits against each other.

Discography

Studio albums

Other albums

DVDs

Filmography

Films

Television

Awards


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