Ashanti Talks New Single & NFL's 'Take a Knee' Protests: 'I'm Praying That Things Change Very Soon'

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
Ashanti at the London West Hollywood Hotel Screening Room on April 28, 2016 in West Hollywood, Calif.

And yes, she’s seen the “Take A Knee” tweets her performance inspired.

“If it ain’t about the money, say less,” Ashanti advises on the hook of her fresh single “Say Less” — a west coast RnBass jaunt produced by DJ Mustard and featuring Ty Dolla $ign

That’s exactly the mood she felt when catching up with Billboard Style on a Thursday night in her Los Angeles condo. A pioneer of contemporary R&B, Ashanti is not only focusing on more new music slated to be released next year, but also her additional business endeavors. The iconic singer had a packed schedule well after 8 PM, including the unveiling of a featured Ciroc French Vanilla billboard on Sunset Boulevard, a studio session, a meeting, and a fitting for a photo shoot. Not to mention, she’s preparing to go on a select-cities tour with frequent collaborator Ja Rule for the next three months. 

In the past year, Ashanti’s been busy strengthening new and old relationships with the heatmakers and entrepreneurs of the music industry. Enjoying the chance to vibe out with Ty Dolla $ign for their “Say Less” recording session, the two continued to work on more tracks, with Nigerian singer WizKid joining them at one point. “I’ve been working on some incredible records,” says the veteran. “I’m excited for 2018!” Expect to hear new songs featuring Swae Lee of Rae Sremmurd and Tory Lanez, with production from Metro Boomin’ and A1, for her first album since 2014’s Braveheart

Fifteen years after her multi-platinum, self-titled solo debut and almost ten since her last Murder Inc. release, The Declaration, Ashanti still manages to stay afloat in today’s music wave. “When you’re listening to the radio (you’re rhythmic, Top 40, Pop) there’s not a lot of room for R&B. I think that it’s about finding that happy medium and having some merit in what you’re saying and creating a bop.” She attributes hanging around different demographics to find out what everyone enjoys — mainly her A&R Slow Bucks and his fiancée and Ashanti’s sister, Shia. Now, the singer is independent with her own label Written Entertainment; she also owns all her masters. 

Aside from the music, Ashanti’s social circles continue to expand. Her role as a celebrity spokesmodel for Diddy’s latest French Vanilla flavor for Ciroc (inspired by his “Unforgettable” bro French Montana) happened by pure chance. “It’s so organic how it happened,” the singer reveals. While attending a party in Vegas, the New York mogul requested “I need you in my commercial” to the surprise of Ashanti. She accepted the role which finds her emerging from a pool wearing a Swarovski crystal bikini on her smoking bod. It became a no-brainer to be a part of the Ciroc brand for Ashanti: “What I love is it embodies what I’m promoting and what I stand for as far as being a woman in control, being able to control my image and being a boss.”

Ironically, the attendance at her billboard unveiling would mean skipping out on another boss-moves appearance. The premiere of Stuck — a new film Ashanti both stars in and executive produces — happened to be the same night at the LA Film Festival. Although she would be attending “in spirit,” the entertainer plugged the premise of the film about five varying characters of different cultural backgrounds stuck on an NYC subway in the dead of summer. “You just see that though we come a long way, we really do have a far way to go,” explains the icon. “This movie was filmed two years ago and it’s so crazy how the message is prominent now.” 

Speaking of prominent messages: Ashanti became the subject of viral hilarity during the rising tensions of the NFL’s "Take a Knee" protests amongst professional players at the start of this season. Back in 2014, the singer performed her Braveheart single “I Got It” on “The Queen Latifah Show.” At the end of the set, she lightly sits on the stage and starts scooting off snapping her fingers as the music fades. Twitter users who supported taking a knee instead of standing during the national anthem at the start of games, referred to that moment — both for jokes sake and sincerity. When asked if she’s seen the tweets, Ashanti busted out laughing, “I saw that. I was crying! Oh my gosh! It had me dying!” 

She closed with these final thoughts on the state of today’s political affairs: “And trust me that [video] was a lot of people’s sentiment. I feel like we’re in a very unfortunate position right now and I’ll leave it at that. It’s actually sad. I’m praying that things change very soon.”