Ashanti Returns with ‘BraveHeart’ Following Nelly Breakup, Talks Children, Stalkers & Twerking
Following her breakup with Nelly last year, Ashanti is now flexing her muscles as a CEO, preparing to drop her fifth album, ‘BraveHeart,’ on her own label, Written Entertainment. Five years have passed since her previous effort, ‘The Declaration,’ in 2008. ‘BraveHeart’ will be her first album since her release from Murder Inc. in 2009.
The Grammy Award winner has also been demonstrating her acting prowess, starring in the Lifetime TV series ‘Army Wives’ this season, with the finale featuring her single ‘Never Should Have.’ Many people believe the song about a broken romance was inspired by her failed relationship with Nelly, and Ashanti hints that the lyrics are directed at him without actually confirming it. “You never should have loved me / You never should have touched me / You never should have / Never should have told me you loved me and you would never leave me,” she sings on the effort.
Nelly and Ashanti were together for five years, although she never publicly admitted they were a couple. She says they are still “great friends” and she interviewed him in April when she hosted the ‘Fuse News’ TV program, which she executive produced.
When asked if ‘Never Should Have’ was motivated by her relationship with Nelly, Ashanti replies, “I’ll just say it’s a very real record that’s inspired by a real experience and it came from a real place,” she shares. “A lot of people have been in a situation where they’ve been betrayed or lied to or taken advantage of. Everyone has been through betrayal. It speaks volumes. It is a universal message. Everyone has been in a situation where they felt betrayed and wish you had not been put in that situation. You can feel it. This record strikes a chord. I felt it was important to be vulnerable and show I am human and that I have feelings.”
The title of ‘BraveHeart’ was inspired by one of her favorite movies, the 1995 film of the same name that won the Academy Award for Best Picture starring Mel Gibson. He plays a 13th century Scottish warrior leading the Scots against the British.
“The title ‘BraveHeart’ is self-explanatory,” she says. “You have to be brave and have to have a heart in various aspects of life including relationships and your career. You have to be brave just to survive. I love the movie ‘Braveheart.’ The battle between the British and the Scots. The British had armor and horses and swords and shields and the Scots had handmade weapons, rags and rocks. But their passion was deniable and unstoppable.”
She relates the war between the more powerful British and the undermanned Scots to running her own music label. “It’s a metaphor for the music industry and the major labels and the independent labels like mine,” Ashanti comments. “I’ve been on major labels and now I am on my own. The challenge of having my own label is balancing being a CEO and an artist. As an artist I love to create and spend hours in the studio and come up with ideas. As a CEO I have to contain that because I have to write the check.
“As an artist I would love to be recording 20 or 24 hours a day but as the CEO I get the invoice and I have to pay for everything. I have to find that happy medium. As a CEO I have a lot more responsibility but the return is amazing.”
Ashanti enjoys the freedom of being her own boss and turned down multi-million dollar contracts from seven major labels because they were demanding extremely high percentages of her earnings.
However, running her own label has its drawback and she has faced several legal obstacles clearing music and guest appearances by stars from different labels, which has delayed the LP’s release. ‘BraveHeart’ was initially scheduled to drop in 2012, and now its been pushed back to November 2013. Ashanti has recorded songs with R. Kelly, Dr. Dre, Game, Lil Wayne, Busta Rhymes and Keyshia Cole.
“We face obstacles in life and trying to overcome them,” Ashanti says in explaining the five-year gap since ‘The Declaration.’ “It has been about survival, which has made me stronger. So you can’t put a time table on music in this situation. Things happen for a reason ,but the main thing is releasing quality music.”
She also realizes the music business is not the same since she enjoyed extraordinary success early in her career. “Everyone wants to win but the game has changed,” she explains. “You have to be innovative. You have to create amazing music. You have to push the boundaries. You can’t be scared. In the past you could have a huge album and sell a lot of records. Now you can have a number one on Billboard and only sell 20,000 records. My last CD was in 2008, so I have to satisfy my old fans and capture new fans as well.”
One new fan is Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray, who’s known for his great speed, but Ashanti shocked him by beating him in an impromptu race in July at the ESPN studios in Bristol, Conn. “That was hilarious,” she remembers. “We were passing each other in the hallway. We talked and I had just raced my sister in the hallway so I instigated the race with him. I said, ‘I’ll bet I can beat you.’ I had a dress on but I had taken off my shoes. I called him out in front of everyone there. I said, ‘Are you scared to lose to a woman?’ So we did it. I cheated a little but I won.”
Murray was a surprise witness to the speed Ashanti displayed as a track star in high school in Glen Cove, N.Y. She was offered a track scholarship to Hampton University, but turned it down to pursue her singing career.
The songstress can move on the track, and also on the dance floor as she displayed during the summer on the Bravo TV show ‘Watch What Happens Live.’ She was caught off guard when host Andy Cohen played a video of her twerking with her mother-manager Tina Douglas. Then she was shocked when he demanded that they give him a live twerking lesson.
“Oh my God,” she declares. “I can’t believe that happened. I did not expect that they would play that video from my mother’s birthday party that was on Instagram. Then he asked us to show him how to twerk and I kept saying in disbelief, ‘Are we really going to do this?’ I was wearing a tight dress so if I had known we were going to do that I would have worn shorts [laughs].” Ashanti finally gave in, and along with her mom, demonstrated that they, and not Miley Cyrus, are the queens of twerking.
That was a fun day, but two weeks later it was a very serious situation when 35-year-old David Hurd was charged with stalking Ashanti. “Having a stalker is a weird feeling. It’s a sick twisted form of admiration,” she states. “It is flattering that fans admire you but when it crosses the line it gets delusional and its scary. I have to be more cautious and I do have more security.”
Hurd was jailed in 2010, for sending harassing photos and messages to Ashanti’s mother, and he was arrested again in August 2013, for violating an order of protection. He sent over 100 tweets (many sexually explicit) to Ashanti between September 2012 and July 2013. He was indicted for stalking, criminal contempt and aggravated harassment.
She’s obviously much more cautious appearing in public, but one place she always feels comfortable is the Arabian city of Dubai off the Persian Gulf in the Middle East. The location is known for its wealthy oil barons, which is one of many reasons why she often visits Dubai. “Why do I love Dubai? I love the summer,” she admits. “I am a hot-blooded woman. I love heat and the sun. I love Arabic music and the food and the culture. I love being around royalty and I like being around people with money [laughs].”
But Ashanti is no gold digger. She’s self-sufficient, and she’s a humanitarian involved in several charitable activities including First Lady Michelle Obama’s fitness initiative, the Hip-Hop Public Health Foundation. She is featured on the foundation’s new album, ‘Songs for a Healthier America,’ along with Jordin Sparks, DMC of Run-DMC and Doug E. Fresh.
Eleven years have passed since Ashanti launched her career making history in 2002, by entering the ‘Guinness Book of World Records.’ Her self-titled debut album sold more copies (504,593) than any other female artist. She also became the first female to have three singles simultaneously in the Billboard top 10 (‘Foolish,’ Ja Rule‘s ‘Always On Time’ and Fat Joe‘s ‘What’s Luv’) joining the Beatles as the only artists to accomplish that feat.
‘Foolish’ is currently on the list of the 20 Best-Selling Music Singles of all-time with over eight million copies sold. According to Billboard, Ashanti had the most top 10 singles (16) by a female on the R&B/Hip-Hop charts in the decade from 2000-2009. Her many honors include a Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Album and eight Billboard Music Awards for her debut album. In 2003, she was named the Soul Train Lady of Soul Entertainer of the Year.
However, her success hit a major roadblock in 2005, when her label Murder Inc., was shut down after CEO Irv Gotti was indicted on federal money laundering charges. He was found not guilty and in 2009, he released Ashanti from the label. After a feud, they reunited when Gotti produced ‘No One Greater’ featuring French Montana and Meek Mill for ‘BraveHeart.’ There is also a possibility of another collaboration with her former Murder Inc., label mate Ja Rule, who was released from prison in July 2013, after serving time for gun and drug possession plus tax evasion.
While recording ‘BraveHeart’, Ashanti made her debut as a TV series regular with her starring role as Latasha Montclair on ‘Army Wives.’ “Appearing in ‘Army Wives’ is amazing,” she says. ”It’s an honor to portray real Army wives. I did not know what to expect. Actual Army wives send me messages saying it is the best show and thanking me for portraying them because they get overlooked. The focus is always on their husbands and sometimes they feel left out. They go through emotional situations and face the paranoia of their husbands getting blown up in Afghanistan.”
It was especially gratifying for Ashanti to celebrate Independence Day by performing for troops on July 4, 2013, at a military base at Manas, Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia.
She plans to continue working in front and behind the camera for the Fuse Network and the Lifetime Network. She will also star in the film ‘Christmas in the City,’ being released in December, and she contributed to the soundtrack of the upcoming film ‘Tupac.’ Ashanti is also planning an international concert tour.
Like her character on ‘Army Wives,’ she would love to be married with children. “Yes, I want to,” Ashanti admits. “My parents have been married for 35 years. There is a lot of love in my family. When the time is right and I find the right person, maybe I will have a whole fort full of children.”