The 2000’s did not lack female representation. There were Divas, Queens and Vixens. After the devastating loss of Aaliyah, what we lacked was a Princess — and there you were, waiting in the balance for your turn to show and prove. You swooped right in like light wind with a twirl and a two-step and claimed the title Princess of hip hop and R&B.
It was fitting. You posed questions like, “What’s Love?” and “Ain’t It Funny?” on Fat Joe’s track and Jennifer Lopez’s Billboard chart-topper and helped Ja Rule articulate a love that is “Always On Time,” but nothing prepared us for the coming of Ashanti, your eponymous debut album. We were quickly put on notice: Ashanti is here.
That infectious laugh and cocky confidence gave way to the soundtrack of my teen years, and “Baby, baby, baby,” I was not ready for anyone to sing to my naïveté around love and heartaches. You understood how love made us do foolish things. We went back, time and time again. Knowing that our R&B princess was not immune to relationship shenanigans comforted us. So, we sought solace in the community you created.
Baby, why you hurt me, leave me and desert me?/ Boy, I gave you all my heart and all you did was tear it up/ Looking out my window, knowing that I should go/ Even when I pack my bags, this something always holds me back
Your beauty was front and center in those days but decidedly, it wasn’t over the top. You didn’t shove sexuality down our throats. You gave us young women much more. Your sex appeal was on full display, but was subtle and sensual. You celebrated your around-the-way-quality and made us feel seen. You popped your collar to your own beats, snapped your head to the baselines and punctuated pain and pleasure that we couldn’t quite convey. You performed a narrative many of us were all too familiar with, sang on behalf of Black girls who were coming of age, teenagers who wrote in diaries, young women daring to love and women who were familiar with it all. You were our R&B and hip hop homegirl.
Your presence as the First Lady of Murder Inc. among your label mates and counterparts Irv Gotti, Ja Rule, MIC Geronimo, Lloyd, Ty Murder and Black Child showed us that we could hold on to femininity in male-dominated spaces.
Your pen game remained sick and kept us in our feelings. While “Foolish” spoke of our folly and “Baby,” off the same album, spoke of our addiction:
I got this jones forming in my bones (From a man)/ Who indeed took over my soul (Understand)/ I couldn’t breathe if he ever said (He would leave)/
Chapter ll was a revelatory album to the young woman who was once me. You sang my torment on “Rain On Me,” and sang that pain right along with you. Me in a fitted top and jeans on my mama’s front steps—you in a flowing canary dress with gold cuffs in the video. Those words were my reality: I don’t want to live/I don’t want to breathe.
I watched the video religiously, as you prayed, “lord won’t you take this pain from me.”
The lyrics embedded themselves in my psyche as a young woman, insecure and broken, desperate for a way out of pain. It became a mantra I clung to, as I clung to life. Evoking such visceral reactions is not an easy feat but your gift of storytelling made the connection to you feel real.
Your reign seemed interminable. It was no surprise when accolades fell at your feet. If anyone deserves flowers it was you.
It was difficult watching your musical world shift. As Murder Inc fought a public war that left you open and vulnerable, you held your head high, remained calm and stately. When you bowed out, your presence left a hole. Very few could speak to us with such pure, intimacy and simplicity.
You did not wither away, instead you used the dark as a respite. Grasping “Freedom“ from what had become a gilded cage:
So I’m gonna close my eyes/ And I’m gonna live my life/ Despite what you think, I’ma be free/ ‘Cause I’ma be me/ So I’m gonna close my eyes/ And I’m gonna live my life/ Despite what you think, I’ma be free/ ‘Cause I’ma be me/
You are all you ever needed to be. You are always enough.
Checkout the Hello Beautiful Ashanti cover story below:
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