Ashanti is quickly becoming one of R&B's biggest new stars. With three songs -- Ja Rule's "Always on Time," Fat Joe's "What's Luv?," and her own "Foolish" -- already charting in the top-10 on The

Ashanti is quickly becoming one of R&B's biggest new stars. With three songs -- Ja Rule's "Always on Time," Fat Joe's "What's Luv?," and her own "Foolish" -- already charting in the top-10 on The Billboard Hot 100, the diminutive 19-year-old laid a firm foundation for her eponymous April 2 Murder Inc. debut.

Previously signed to Jive and Noontime/Epic, Ashanti (whose last name is Douglas) got her big break when she was introduced to Murder Inc. CEO Irv Gotti through AJM Records principal and Gotti friend Mario Baeza. "I used to go to Mario's studio to record," says the singer/songwriter. "Originally, we were just going to Murder Inc. to get tracks for the album."

"I wasn't even thinking about R&B when I met her," Gotti recalls. "I sent her to JoJo Brim [Def Jam/Def Soul director of A&R]. I told her to start working with him, and then after he had things rolling, I would jump in after I finished Ja's album."

Gotti changed his mind after hearing what Ashanti was capable of. "Whenever I needed some singing on a hook, I'd call her," he says. "Or I'd tell her to write something, and she kept acing these tests. She had flow, bounce, and content. There's no other artist that you can say has this much hip-hop urgency but yet is R&B."

Despite her hectic tour schedule with Ja Rule, the songtress found time to pen all 17 tracks for the set. It was Gotti who suggested using DeBarge's "Stay With Me" -- made popular again by the Notorious B.I.G. on his 1995 "One More Chance" remix -- as the musical bed for "Foolish." The track's historic background proved a bit daunting.

"I didn't want to redo a Biggie classic," Ashanti says. "But I took his idea and ran with it."

Gotti decided to take the Notorious B.I.G. association to the next level with the "Foolish" remix "Unfoolish/No More." "When ["Foolish"] exploded the way it did, I had every rapper asking me to be on the remix," he says. "But instead, I figured how crazy it would be if B.I.G. were on it. So I called Puff [Sean Combs], who agreed and offered me a verse from '#!*@ You Tonight,' because he thought the tempos were similar. He made the DAT for me at Daddy's House [studio] that day.

"The remix was completed in five minutes," he continues. "Then I called Ashanti, because women were complaining about how the male lead gets to come back at the end of the video. With the remix, I wanted something to uplift women. So in this version, the woman is leaving the dude."

As for influences, Ashanti cites her father, Ken-kaide Douglas; the late Kenny Green of R&B trio Intro; and Mary J. Blige. "She brought hip-hop and R&B together," Ashanti says of Blige. "When I felt that I wanted to do this, I knew I didn't want to sing slow songs, and I can't rhyme. When I heard what she was doing, it inspired me."





Excerpted from the April 6, 2002, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com members section.

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