Commuting on the subway is a fact of life for most New Yorkers, but what happens when six complete strangers get trapped together on a stalled train? Tensions will inevitably rise, lives will be contemplated and… they will break out in song.
That’s what Stuck, the new musical drama by Michael Berry, opening Friday in select theaters, sets out to explore. In addition to portraying Eve in the film and serving as an executive producer, Ashanti also co-wrote (along with Riley Thomas, Ben Maughan and Tim Young) and performs on one of the movie’s iconic anthems “Make it Better.”
Check out an exclusive clip of the film with Ashanti singing the track below.
Billboard caught up with the R&B star to chat about the project and hear the latest on her upcoming EP, which features an array of exciting collaborations.
What attracted you to Stuck?
The role of Eve. I just think she’s really relatable. A lot of females have gone through very similar situations with having to make huge life decisions and feeling alone in the process, and just being very grounded. It’s funny. After the film, a lot of people came up to me and were like, “oh my gosh. I loved your character! I feel like I know her. I feel like it was me riding the train” and things like that. So I think that was one of the best things. She was really authentic to herself.
The film is about six different people from six different walks of life being stuck on a subway train in New York City in the dead of summer. And the frustration, the racial tension, and all of these stereotypes come flying out as they’re spewing out their frustrations on why they’re stuck on this train. It’s kind of like a mirror to what’s going on in our society. And I think it’s just a really important conversational piece to get people to start being real and facing the reality of what it is. We’ve come a long way, but I just feel like we really have a, a long way to go.
And the film has a musical component to it. How fun was that?
This is what attracted me I think to the film because I’d never done anything like before, just combining — kind of like with my music — it was like combining the marriage between hip-hop and R&B, the marriage between a musical and the film, a musical film. So I’d never done anything like that. Obviously I’ve done films, I’ve done musicals, but to have the two in one was a really cool experience. And I was a little nervous. I didn’t want it to come off corny you know because sometimes it’s possible to intertwine the two when and have it seem a little corny. But I think this was done so well and it was integrated so well that you’re really moved. And another thing that people were saying is that it touched every emotion – you laugh, you cry, you get upset, you’re a little bit confused. So it hits every emotion, which is cool.
Tell us about the inspiration behind “Make it Better.”
It was about Eve making the decision to make it better — just about everything that she’s going through. And I wrote obviously on the record and I feel like it was painting a picture of what she was going through in her life. This film reminds me of a musical version of Crash — everyone has like their situation that happens and then it all ties in together at the end. Six people specifically are stuck. So they’re all going through their issues on the train. And it’s not like other people are around. So the scene happens as Eve is reflecting, sitting on the train.
What do you hope that people take away from the film and hearing this song in it?
I hope that people take away the very important fact that this is a mirror and there are so many things that are going on with politics and the racial issues. I hope that people take away that it really doesn’t take a lot to be kind. You never know what someone is going through and if you smile at someone or you wave at someone or maybe you hold the door for someone, that small gesture can completely change a person’s outlook on you, outlook on life, outlook on their day. Something small like that can make a huge impact.
And we hear that you are currently working on a new EP. What can you tell us?
Yes. Super excited about the music! Me and Metro Boomin’ are doing a project together. We went to the studio on Sunday in LA. I did a Live on my Instagram and we were asking the fans what kind of songs do they want? And it was like a landslide: Ashanti’s R&B, 2019 style. So I’ve worked with a bunch of really cool people. Sean Paul actually pulled up on me that night. We did a record together. Tory Lanez, I’ve been texting him and we’ve got some stuff moving on back and forth – just a bunch of different artists and producers and concepts. Swae Lee and I had done some records together but we’re going back in to do some more stuff. I’ve done some stuff with Wizkid. Oh I’ve been talking to J. White, who just did all of Cardi’s records. He had a dope concept!
Stylistically, how is this music going to be different than past Ashanti releases?
I think music just changes in time, sound, sonically, cadence but still at the same time being true to why people fell in love in the beginning. I think that’s the formula. But this time it definitely sounds like the fans want vintage R&B. Just classic Ashanti R&B. They want R&B as opposed to other genre music of records. So I’m getting back to my roots with a 2019 spice and edge, and sound just sonically. I feel like this EP is going to be very bold. There are things that I’m talking about that I’ve never touched before and I’m excited about it. I’m hoping to have something drop in June and it’s probably going to be around 7 tracks.
Anything else exciting coming up for you this year?
We’re going to be touring. I believe we’re going to Australia. There’s some stuff in Belgium. So I’m doing some stuff overseas. Hopefully new film stuff coming. I know that there’s two projects that are in the works now. And of course, things I can’t tell you about yet (laughs).