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After making a name for herself guesting on tracks by Ja Rule and Fat Joe, Ashanti Douglas burst straight out of the Murder Inc. camp and to the to of the charts with "Foolish." The song, notable for its guest-spot-from-beyond by the Notorious B.I.G., hit the top of the Hot 100 and R&B singles chart, and drove Ashanti's self-tilted debut to the top of the charts upon its release. In fact, Ashanti was so hot that she became the first artist since the Beatles to have three singles simultaneously in the top 10, after "Foolish" followed her duet with Ja Rule, "Always On Time," and her pairing with Fat Joe, "What's Luv?," into the upper reaches of the Hot 100. Ashanti wasn't exactly an overnight sensation. She had a number of false starts on her road to success. At age 14 she landed a deal with Jive Records that went nowhere. She had a similar experience three years later with Noontime/Epic. Finally, things started to go her way toward the end of her teen years when she met Irv Gotti through a friend of a friend of her co-manager. Gotti was initially hesitant to showcase an R&B artist, but gave the budding singer a guest shot on Big Pun's "How We Roll," the first in a series of pairings with hip-hop artists, which gave Ashanti credibility in the urban music world.

Subsequent hit singles from Ashanti, "Baby" and "Happy," further cemented her stardom, as did several high-profile nominations and awards. Although she failed to win best new artist, her debut album was named best contemporary R&B album at the Grammys in 2003. Similar triumphs followed at the Soul Train Awards and the NAACP Awards.

With the release of Chapter II in July 2003, Ashanti set out to prove that her earlier success was no fluke.

Ashanti stayed focused through scandal

R&B star Ashanti feared controversy surrounding her record company Murder Inc would jeopardise her career.

R&B star Ashanti feared controversy surrounding her record company Murder Inc would jeopardise her career.

The singer has so far managed to avoid a series of scandals, including allegations of money laundering and a federal investigation into the label and all its associates.

Ashanti says: "I just wished for the best and hoped everything would turn out positive. It's a lot of negativity, but unfortunately sometimes that comes along with the territory.

"But you know, we are just trying to make hot records and have some fun in music and do what we love."

Nelly And Ashanti Busted

Rapper Nelly and singer Ashanti have been downplaying their relationship in the past months, with each party providing the politically correct answer that they've only been on a few dates when questioned about the relationship. Unfortunately for the pair, their cover has been blown, as photographs of the two enjoying a walk on the beach in Anguilla have surfaced online and in magazines.

A spokesman for the photographer who took the pictures told Allhiphop.com, "The pictures were taken on January 5, 2005 on an island called Anguilla. They were on vacation. They noticed the photographer after a while, because one of the pics shows Nelly looking directly into the camera."

Nelly and Ashanti have been linked to each other since last summer. Actor Samuel L. Jackson also incriminated the duo during promotional interviews for his latest movie, Coach Carter, which also stars Ashanti. Jackson told reporters that Ashanti seldom ate the food provided by the catering staff on set because Nelly would visit regularly and bring organic food.


Ashanti Would Work With Beyonce

Ashanti is interested in getting in the studio with Beyonce to squash rumours of their rivalry.
Ashanti has also said that she would also like to work with Mary J Blige. She is reported sating: "when you get two women making hot music, comparisons are going to be made and talks of feuds begin".

“I admire what Beyonces does and don’t have a problem with her. I’m not opposed to working with her.
I’ve talked about making a record with other strong females. I’d love to do something with Mary”.

Ashanti: I'm Not Competing With Beyonce


R&B singer ASHANTI has slammed reports she is competing with BEYONCE KNOWLES, following her new role as a model for HERBAL ESSENCES shampoo.

The ROCK WIT U hitmaker, 24, is hurt by reports she is endorsing hair care firm Herbal Essences to compete with DESTINY'S CHILD beauty Knowles, who has advertised L'OREAL products for several years.

Ashanti explains, "I don't want to do what everyone else is doing, and I don't compare myself to anyone else.
"I think there's room for all of us. I've been blessed with success on both my albums, and, naturally, I want to top what we did last time.

"I think when (my third album CONCRETE ROSE) drops, that will happen, but I don't look to what anyone else is doing to judge myself."

Samuel L Jackson Slams Ashanti


SAMUEL L JACKSON was annoyed with his COACH CARTER co-star ASHANTI's constant entourage because she was never alone.

The PULP FICTION star, who has often been critical of hip-hop artists in movies, was impressed with the singer's acting talents but he still had problems with her on-set demands.

He jokes, "I don't have a bodyguard and I don't have people that drive me around all the time. I don't have record producers coming by to see me constantly.
"She had all kinds of people around her. I guess it takes a lot to stay that cute." And Jackson has hinted that Ashanti's "friendship" with rapper NELLY is much closer to a love match.

He says, "Let's just say I ate more craft service because Nelly wasn't bringing food to me everyday.

Ashanti's Mom The Morality Police


ASHANTI's mother and manager TINA DOUGLAS is so overprotective, the R&B beauty's friends have likened her to a police officer.

UNFOOLISH singer Ashanti admits she's used to her mother's antics, but she's been left highly embarrassed on a number of occasions.

She says, "My friends called her Five-O - that's the street term for police!
Everyone knew my mom was overprotective - she used to do crazy things! "She'd show up at parties I went to. One time I was dancing with this guy, and I'm like getting my groove on, and here she comes! I look up, and she's got my clothes on... so she was kind of fitting in, and I was like, 'Oh my God!' And everybody was like, 'That's Five-O! Ashanti's mom is here!'

"I remember I had this one boyfriend. I was 15 and he was like 16, and he had just got a car, and she would not let me ride with him in that car because she didn't think he could drive.

"So she got in the car with him and just said, 'Drive! I wanna see how he can drive'.

"And I was so embarrassed. I was standing in front of my door like, 'Oh no she didn't just get in the car with him and leave.' I was scared at what she was saying to him - it was so crazy!"

Ashanti lands lead role in Muppets movie

R'n'B beauty Ashanti has landed the lead role in the new Muppets movie.

The sexy singer will play aspiring starlet Dorothy Gale in a modern day take on 'The Wizard of Oz'.

Dorothy - originally played by screen legend Judy Garland in the 1925 movie - spends her days working in her aunt's Kansas diner and dreaming of becoming a famous singer, until a tornado hits her trailer and transports her to the magical land of Oz.

Jim Henson's famous puppets will take on the roles of Dorothy's loveable companions, with Kermit the Frog playing the Scarecrow, big-nosed Gonzo as the Tin Man and Fozzie Bear as the Cowardly Lion.
According to movie bible the Hollywood Reporter, 'Chicago' star Queen Latifah is currently in negotiations to play Dorothy's Auntie Em, while Miss Piggy will play the Wicked Witch of the West.

The film will also feature a cameo appearance from cult 'Kill Bill' director Quentin Tarantino - who will be shown jokingly giving Kermit tips on how to direct a fight scene between Ashanti and Miss Piggy.

This is the latest classic story parodied by The Muppets - the puppets have previously starred in their own versions of 'A Christmas Carol' and 'Treasure Island'.

Ashanti: One on One

Q: So tell us about the new single...
Ashanti: The new single 'Rock Wit U'. It has hot, hot summer vibes. It has a lot of warmth and it's kinda happy. It's basically talking about rocking with someone, whether you wanna chill or rock with somobody. Or if you wanna get a little bit closer.

Q: You've had an amazing year. Did you ever think you would become this successful?
Ashanti: Never, not in a million years did I think it would come this soon. Although it took a long time to make record deals, when it finally did happen I just didn't expect it to happen so quick.

Q: Do you rememeber what you were doing two years ago?
Ashanti: I had just moved back to New York from Atlanta from my prior record deal and I was making an album with various producers.

Q: What are the up and downs of fame, the disadvantages and advantages for you?
Ashanti: Just doing something that you love and people appreciating it. When people come up to me and say they really, really, love the music that's always a wonderful feeling. And the downs, I guess are the travelling, the incredibly long hours, no sleep, you're away from your family - it gets hard.

Q: Your mother is very involved with your career, very supportive. Can you tell us more about that?
Ashanti: Well, my mum is my manager. We have a great relationship, very unique. I don't have to worry about my mother stealing from me. She definitely gets the job done, she has a strong arm.

Q: Is she strict with you then?
Ashanti: I'm not bad so she doesn't have to get crazy with me.

Q: You've been described as the Princess of R&B - how would you describe yourself?
Ashanti: I would describe myself as creatively different with the music. In the Murder Inc. family I'm the only R&B artist in a Hip Hop orientated label, so we always try and come up with something different than your average R&B. We try to be a little bit edgy and urban and keep it universal.

Q: You always seem to have an entourage of people protecting you. What's it like on a day to day basis always having all those people around you?
Ashanti: It's a good feeling to know that there are people who genuinely care about your well being. It's hard out there sometimes, going to the airport and travelling and it's hectic, so it feels good to have a nice entourage of people.

Q: Do you ever think, 'I need my space'?
Ashanti : Oh yeah. When I'm sleepy, oh my gosh, I don't wanna see anyone!

Q: What's it like to be you on a day to day basis?
Ashanti : You wanna trade?! [giggles]

Q: What's your average day like?
Ashanti: While I'm here in London I'm obviously promoting the album, so the days are jam-packed with work. I'll start out with 'phoners and I'll probably go to the gym by 6am. Hair and make up for two hours, then 'phoners - at least 12 interviews, then I'll go to two or three radio stations, sing live then I'll come back and do 'phoners while I'm in the car on the way back to the hotel, then I'll come to TOTP and whatever other programmes are on. It's a lot of work but it's well worth it. I'm not really complaining because the love and support in the UK is really important and I really appreciate it. It's definitely worth it.

Q: You've describe your life as being 24/7. Is it difficult to maintain a relationship with all this going on?
Ashanti: Definitely. There's no time for a boyfriend. I'm always travelling.

Q: One of your biggest hits was with Ja Rule. Have you got any plans to work with him again or anyone else?
Ashanti: I'm definitely going to work with Ja again. Murder Inc. is like a big family unit and it's more like big brother and little sister as opposed to label mates, or co-workers, so we'll definitely work together again.

Q: Have you got anything left on your wish list in terms of anyone you want to work with who you haven't done already?
Ashanti: Something with Mary J Blige or Missy Elliot, definitely Stevie Wonder.

Q: Would you like to pair up with Eminem?
Taryn: No.

Q: What do you think of him?
Ashanti : [changes subject] My album is in stores, June 30th [roars with laughter]. Let's move off the Eminem topic.

Q: You've moved into films now and done Buffy. What's next?
Ashanti: I've released a book of poetry in the States. I've had a couple of Hollywood meetings about movies, so I might want to get into that lane. I might want to release another book too.

Q: And finally, what does TOTP mean to you?
Ashanti: TOTP is big. It's universal, and able to touch so many areas. It's great to come and perform and have a great crowd. TOTP is big (gives the thumbs up).


Ashanti's boss faces drug money charge

The head of the record label behind US stars Ja Rule and Ashanti has been charged with laundering $1m (£530,000) for an alleged murderous drug gang.
Irving "Gotti" Lorenzo, who launched the Murder Inc label in 1997, faces 20 years in jail for alleged links to drug dealer Kenneth "Supreme" McGriff.

Authorities say Mr McGriff delivered drug money to Murder Inc, now known as The Inc, and got cheques in return.

Prosecutors said none of the artists signed to the label were involved.

"This investigation focused on drug dealing, murder and money laundering," prosecutor Roslynn Mauskopf said.

"It is not an investigation of the rap industry. Ja Rule, Ashanti and none of the other artists affiliated with Murder Inc are implicated in any way in this case."

Mr Lorenzo made his name producing songs for Jay-Z, DMX and Ja Rule and was given his own label by parent company Def Jam.

Murder Inc had huge success with releases by Ja Rule and Ashanti but attracted controversy when it was raided by the FBI in January 2003.

Mr Lorenzo's brother Christopher and six others also face money laundering charges.

Ms Mauskopf described Mr McGriff, who is currently in prison for gun offences, as the "powerful leader" of a "violent drug operation".

He spent seven years in jail in the 1990s for drug conspiracy and now faces three murder charges.

Defence lawyer Gerald Lefcourt said the Gotti brothers had been unfairly targeted.

"I think it's a perfectly legitimate operation," he said. "Ultimately, I expect Irv and Chris to be vindicated."


Ashanti Hopes To Inspire With Film Debut

R+B star Ashanti hopes her new film Coach Carter will inspire parents and their teenage children to improve their communication skills.

The singer plays young Kyra opposite Samuel L. Jackson in the basketball movie and believes the film brings up many issues the audience will be able to relate to.

Ashanti explains, "I think people need to understand that. It's life. The movie has a lot of powerful messages."

"The biggest one is that teenagers deal with the same problems that adults do. Hopefully it will inspire teens to talk to their parents and parents to talk to their teens.


Ashanti: An Unstoppable Force

Ashanti was born on October 13, 1980, in Glen Cove, New York. She inherited a zest for music from her mother, a former dance teacher, and her father, a former singer. Growing up, she took dance lessons and joined the church choir; by the time she hit puberty, her mom was sending out demo tapes of her daughter's vocal talents, which led to a record deal with Jive Records in 1994. Unfortunately, this relationship soured when Jive tried to make the soulful singing teen into a run-of-the-mill pop star.

Ashanti regrouped by throwing herself into schoolwork and running on her school's track team, which earned her an athletic scholarship to Princeton. But she put college pursuits aside when Epic Records came calling with a contract in 1998. However, the label's management changes quickly left Ashanti out in the cold. Undaunted, she continued to croon at local New York clubs and began hanging out at the Murder Inc. recording studio, hoping for another big break. Her fortitude paid off, and Ashanti was asked to sing backup on Ja Rule's "Always on Time" and Fat Joe's "What's Luv." Then, with the release of her own single "Foolish," Ashanti officially arrived — even making history as the first artist since the Beatles to sing on three chart-topping hits simultaneously. Her self-titled album debut earned a Grammy Award and rave reviews, and her sophomore album, "Chapter II," also achieved chart-busting success.

After completing a poetry book and releasing a Christmas album, Ashanti is working on an upcoming film project. And despite her nonstop success, she says she is just getting started on making her mark in this world.

Ashanti: Always There When You Ball

In "Coach Carter," Ashanti plays Kyra, the girlfriend of a basketball player whose hoop dreams are seemingly jeopardized by a coach who wants to prove to his team that there's more to life than sports. MTV caught up with the singer recently to find out what it was like to make the switchover to movies and to ask her whether audiences are going to think "Carter" is a slam-dunk.

MTV: What made you pick "Coach Carter" for your first feature film?

Ashanti: When I got the script, it was just really, really easy for me to relate to. It had meaning. It had depth. As a debut, I didn't want a big starring role, you know, to have to hold an entire film on my shoulders. So I think this was a really great step.
MTV: Was it hard work?

Ashanti: Not really, not really. I had fun. It was more fun than work.

MTV: What was it that attracted you to the character?

Ashanti: Well, there wasn't a lot of female presence in the movie. You know, it's a basketball movie. And I think that it kind of stood out a little bit because we had a relationship, and it kind of showed that teenagers deal with the same problems that adults deal with. And just having the female part of it was really good for me.

MTV: Do you like sports movies?

Ashanti: Kinda sorta.

MTV: What were some that you liked?

Ashanti: "Remember the Titans." Uh, "White Men Can't Jump." Those are really, really good sports movies.

MTV: Do you find sports movies to be inspirational at all?

Ashanti: I think they send really deep messages, and sports are universal. You know, to me, this movie holds weight. To me, it puts me in the mind of "Lean on Me" — if you remember that movie — with basketball. So it's important that it holds weight.

MTV: Do you think it's fair to say sports movies are the male equivalent to chick flicks?

Ashanti: I guess so, you know, because if the guy wants to see a movie, the girl's gonna be like, "OK, I'll go with you, just to go."
MTV: What makes "Coach Carter" a great sports movie?

Ashanti: It shows the struggle. It shows how you can be easily distracted. It just shows the power in being a team, you know, and having a coach that genuinely cares. So it definitely has power points.

MTV: What other kinds of things does this move have to offer audiences?

Ashanti: There are so many scenes where it's a lot of drama. There's a little bit of death. The drama that I have with my boyfriend, Kenyon, um, I don't wanna blow up the whole movie ... but it's a lot. Like, there's tears. There's a lot of drama.

MTV: What do you think the message of the movie is?

Ashanti: The message that I got from it [is] it's really, really important to show your skills in school the same way you can show your skills with the ball. And never stop trying hard. Try to be good at multiple things, because you never know what's gonna happen.

[Warning: Skip the next question to avoid a possible spoiler.]

MTV: It's not one of those sports movies where it ends with a huge championship victory.

Ashanti: At the end of the movie — again, I don't know if I'm letting the cat out of the bag — but they don't win. And I think what makes it more special is that everyone claps for them and it's almost like a victory anyway because the families are there. The girlfriends [are too,] and we're hugging 'em, and I think that's more important. You know?

MTV: How do you think the message gets across without being too corny?

Ashanti: The level of drama that's dealt with, they're all real-life situations, you know? And I think it's so important for your normal, average people to be able to relate to that. You know, someone will say, "I went through that" and "I went through such and such." You know what I mean? And I think that's so important with people.

MTV: So what are your plans after this?

Ashanti: I definitely want to get into more films. I actually shot another film called "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz" and I play Dorothy. Something really, really different for me. Um, but it was a lot of fun. A lot of fun.

MTV: Do you feel like you'll do a lot of roles like this one?

Ashanti: Um, I do. I wanna do roles that have, you know, the meat and potatoes. I don't wanna do the little shindig. I want to have something with relevance. I want a challenge.

MTV: So, you didn't chose the role because you just thought it'd be easy ...

Ashanti: Again, I don't want to make it seem like la-di-la-di-la, because it wasn't, but I guess because I enjoyed myself I don't wanna call it, like, work, work, work, work, work, you know? It was just a good feeling to get a good response after reading my lines and getting into the character and acting it out. And having people say, "Oh, it's not just 'cuz she's Ashanti the singer, she really has talent," that's what's important to me. You know, I didn't look glammed out. I went back to just being natural, natural, natural. I looked like a 17-year-old, and I wanted people to see Ashanti Douglas, not Ashanti the singer.

MTV: Have you listened to the soundtrack at all?

Ashanti: Not yet, not yet. We were supposed to have a lot to do with it, but with my album, it kind of conflicted a little bit.

MTV: How do you think Samuel Jackson did?

Ashanti: Sam Jackson — again, I hate to keep referring to "Lean on Me," but it just puts me into [thinking about the character] Joe Clark with "Lean on Me." And he was really, really powerful in getting across [the message that] "You guys have to be able to have your skills to go to school and have that knowledge, because if this basketball thing doesn't work out, you don't wanna be left on the streets. You don't wanna be left without any choices to make." And he was very adamant. He was very strong by locking the gym doors, you know, wearing the suits and dressing up and being presentable. He got that across, and he didn't play. He wasn't taking any myth. No shorts.

Ashanti: Concrete Rose


The Inc's Princess of R&B returns this winter with her brand new single, taken from her forthcoming, third album, “Concrete Rose”.

"Only U", released on 24TH January, showcases Ashanti's honey smooth vocals at their best tinged with her trademark Inc edge. Written by Ashanti and once again produced by The Inc CEO Irv Gotti, “Only U” is a new sound of sleazy R&B where Ashanti mixes her silky voice with a distinctive, hypnotic, electronic beat.

In just a few years, Murder Inc’s Princess has gone from guest vocalist to world-wide, record breaking, award winning, superstar. The sky is her limit. Not content with smashing records with her debut self-titled album, Ashanti has gone on to reap in the awards at the music industry’s biggest ceremonies, star in America’s No.1 TV show, write her own book of poetry, become the face of Herbal Essences and land several roles in major Hollywood movies.

''Only U'' the debut single from the “Concrete Rose” was performed for the first time ever in public for the MTV “Shakedown” dancing competition series. The show runs through October and November and in the final programme Ashanti performs 2 songs from her album as well as being on the panel of judges who decide on the final winner. That person will win the chance to appear in one of Ashanti’s videos.

The video for “Only U will be shot in Vancouver and Mexico City by the legendary Hype Williams over 4 days, Hype has described the concept for the video to be like one he has never done before – Ashanti will be seen in over 30 different looks in it.

Ashanti is currently on the film set of an ABC production until the end of October in which she is playing ‘Dorothy’ in “The Muppets & The Wiz” also starring Queen Latifah. She is also featured in the movie “Coach Carter” with Samuel L Jackson out later this year and has a cameo role in the new Miramax movie “Bride and Prejudice”.

Ashanti currently features on Shyne’s “Jimmy Choo” and Ja Rule’s UK No.1 smash, also featuring R Kelly, “Wonderful”. She will be on the cover of Vibe, Seventeen and YM later this year.


Music comes first for Ashanti

R&B singer Ashanti makes her acting debut next month alongside Samuel L. Jackson in "Coach Carter," but told the Associated Press that music will always be her first love. "I did a couple of school plays in high school, and my drama teacher would always give me kudos and said that I should pursue it," she said. "[But] it was kind of something where I said, 'Later on, if the opportunities present itself, I'd wanna try it.'"

Ashanti Is Dating Nelly


Hip-hop star NELLY has finally confirmed reports he is dating R&B singer ASHANTI, after over a year together.

The HOT IN HERRE hitmaker, 30, began his secret relationship with the 24-year-old FOOLISH beauty in November 2003.

SAMUEL L JACKSON told reporters earlier the rapper had been a regular visitor to the set of his forthcoming film COACH CARTER, bringing organic vegetarian meals to Ashanti, who also stars in the movie.
Nelly reluctantly admits he is romancing Ashanti, saying, "She's single and I am single. Have we dated? Yes. We enjoy each other's company and we're cool."

Ashanti to turn author

R+b beauty Ashanti is plotting a new career away from music - as an author.

The sexy singer wants to follow in Madonna's footsteps and transform her story ideas into novels, having already made an impact on the publishing world with her collection of poetry.

She says, "I was thinking, do I want to do something for the children, or do I want to do something like Ashanti: Behind The Scenes?

"It could be everything from going to the radio station, all the interviews - the hard parts people don't see. My skirt ripping onstage before I have to go out, my shoes coming off, just little things that happen which people don't realise.

"All the hard work, the preparation, the ups and downs behind the scenes."

Ashanti keeps flourishing amid the flames

In 2002, while her labelmate and frequent collaborator Ja Rule was floundering due to a bitter battle with 50 Cent, the R&B songstress released her blockbuster sophomore album.

Now, preparing to release her third album, "Concrete Rose," there are heaps of problems at her high-profile record label, The Inc. Both the label and its founder, Irv Gotti, are facing a criminal investigation, and there have been arrests in connection with the probe.

But none of it has adversely affected Ashanti's popularity or marketability. She currently has a top 10 hit, "Wonderful," with Ja Rule and R. Kelly. Her album's first single, the rock-tinged "Only U," is rising on the charts. She's been tapped by Herbal Essences to be their pitchwoman. And she's segueing into Hollywood with "Coach Carter," due out next month, and a Muppet movie _ about as wholesome as it gets.

Maybe she's managed to dodge the negativity because of her girl-next-door charm and her infectious smile. She showed it frequently during a recent interview as she laughed off criticisms, gossip, and questions about her love life.

Q: When you look back on your first album, how do you think you've grown?

Ashanti: There's definitely been growth, in every aspect _ lyrically, vocally, performances. With the first album, although I had a lot of input, it was always up to Gotti. And with this one, we both have to compromise (laughs). (But) I absolutely trust Gotti. He's obviously been in the game longer, way longer.

Q: You've taken a lot of flak, from your frequent use of the word baby in songs to your voice. What's the worst criticism you've gotten that you think is unfair?

Ashanti: I don't know! (Laughs). What I hear _ and I don't hear a lot anymore _ what I've heard is, "Oh, she can't sing." "Oh, she can't dance." And then I'll hear, "She sings good in the studio, she's a studio singer but she can't do it live." The baby thing _ I think that's kind of new for me. I think I heard it a few months ago, and it made me laugh because it was funny (laughs). 'Cause I do use the word baby a lot, but so what? So, and _ what is your point? That's like the bulk of what I get.

Q: Ja Rule has suffered from a lot of criticism for more than a year, and 50 Cent and his clique even targeted you in his feud with Ja. Were you worried that it would affect your career?
Ashanti: I kind of got pulled into some of the negativity going on. As far as it affecting me, obviously, as a person, I'm like, "What? I'm a girl! I don't have nothing to do with this." But other than that, I'm like, I'm gonna do me. I held it down for my big brothers, and that was that.

Q: Did you wanna jump into the fray, or did you want to keep your head down low?

Ashanti: Well, there were a FEW times, when they kind of had to (say), "Listen, you're not a dude! You can't say that and you can't go and do nothin! You're five feet! Shut up!" Certain things will get under your skin especially when you know that it's wrong, and you know that you have nothing to do with it, and you know you're innocent. So yeah, there were times when I was putting my big coat on, and my Timberlands (laughs). But you've gotta take it with a grain of salt. It's part of the territory, and you can't let other people change who you are as a person.

Q: Has all the drama surrounding The Inc. been a distraction for you?

Ashanti: You can't let it distract you, because if you let every little thing distract you, you're going to deteriorate. You focus on what's important, and what's important is making hit records. That's what's gonna be out there. Just focus on your craft and be creative and come out with new heat.

Q: Are you worried at all about the future of The Inc. or Gotti?

Ashanti: I'll just say I don't want anything negative to happen. The guys are too good, everyone's heart is too good for any negative stuff to happen.

Q: How did you get into acting?

Ashanti: It's something that I wanted to experience just to know if I would like it or not. I did a couple of school plays in high school, and my drama teacher would always give me kudos and said that I should pursue it. It wasn't heavy heavy on my mind when I got into
the industry, like, "I HAVE to do a movie, I HAVE to act." It was kind of something where I said later on, if the opportunities present itself, I'd wanna try it.

Q: Though you've been linked to Nelly, you've always denied that you have a boyfriend at all. People find that hard to believe.

Ashanti: Why? It's too hard right now. I'm never in one place for more than two or three days. There's a lot of stuff going on, and I don't want to be unfair to anyone because I'm not putting any focus into anything else but that album right now.

Q: You have a sister who sings. Is she going to come out with an album?

Ashanti: She is, actually. She's sort of more interested in acting first. She wants to experience that first. A long time ago _ someone was interviewing her _ and she was like, "I wanted to do the music thing, because since I've seen what my sister goes though, I don't want it!"

Ashanti Wants To Share Her Madness

Promoting her latest album, Concrete Rose, and her upcoming movie "Coach Carter" has given Ashanti an idea — to capture all the madness in a book. Maybe.

"I was thinking, do I want to do something towards the children, or do Iwant to do something like 'Ashanti: Behind the Scenes'?" she said.

This of course would be Ashanti's second book, her first being the 2002 collection of poetry "Foolish/ Unfoolish: Reflections on Love" (see "Ashanti To Reflect On Love In New Book"). And being that she's the type who lives to multitask, it could include moments from her life as a singer, as an actress and as an author. "It could be everything from going to the radio station, all the interviews, the hard part that a lot of people don't see," Ashanti said. "My skirt ripping onstage before I have to go out, my shoes coming off, just little things that happen that people don't realize. All the hard work, the preparation, the ups, the downs — a lot of things, behind the scenes."

Not that working on "Coach Carter" was all that hard, she insisted. Flashing back to high school was an easy first film role, she said, because she can relate to her character, Kyra, the girlfriend of a basketball star who tries to figure out her options when she learns she's pregnant (see "Ashanti 'Brings It' In 'Coach Carter,' Co-Stars Say"). "A lot of my friends actually went through a very similar situation," she said.

Relating to her next character, Dorothy in a Muppets version of "The Wizard of Oz," was also a snap. "I had a lot of fun, a lot of fun," she said of the upcoming made-for-TV movie. "That was a little easier than Kyra. I guess just having that drive to be a singer, Dorothy wanted to get out of Kansas, she wanted to make her life better, so I can definitely relate to that."

Ashanti said her drive to make her life better — and the beginning of her multitasking madness — started when she was at New York's Glen Cove High School, where she did "everything" and was the youngest member of the school's track-and-field team (see "Ashanti's Fleet Feet Almost Kept Her From Being A Star").

"I was in every after-school program," she said, "you know, just in case. You have to have that plan B. And C."

Ashanti's career is blossoming

Take the ruggedness of hip-hop and mix it with smooth R&B flava and you have the music of Ashanti. So says the singer about why she named her third LP Concrete Rose, a hybrid of something hard and something beautiful and delicate.

And like a rose, Ashanti's career is blossoming. She has a supporting role as a pregnant teen in "Coach Carter," which hits theaters on January 14, and next spring she takes the lead in a made-for-TV version of "The Wizard of Oz," in which her co-stars will be none other than the Muppets.

Musically, Ashanti continues to solidify her reputation as one of R&B's main go-to girls. For Concrete Rose, she reached back to producer 7 Aurelius, who produced most of her self-titled debut LP as well as monster Ja Rule smashes like "Always on Time" and "Down 4 U," which she guest-starred on. Shani also stepped it up on her lyrics, coming a little sexier on records like "Love Again." Meanwhile, the 24-year-old deals with real-life backstabbing on the song "Freedom." Luckily, her ride-or-die homies Irv Gotti, Ja Rule, Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy have her back.

Ashanti recently sat down with MTV News to talk about her fake circle of friends, why it took her so long to write the lyrics for her hit "Only U," and how her label, the Inc., is becoming a legend.
MTV: The video for "Only U" is a spectacle. Who came up with the look?

Ashanti: The concept for the video, I have to give it to Hype [Williams, the director]. When he heard the record, we were shooting "Wonderful" in Mexico, and Irv played it for him. He was like, "Oh my God!" He came up with the whole [fashion show idea]. Originally we wanted to do, like, 40 looks, but that would have taken two weeks and we had two days. We shot it in Mexico. The dancing routine was kind of with myself, my choreographer and my mom. We wanted to make something monumental. It's a brand new look for me. A lot of creative thought went into it.

MTV: The song is such a departure from a record like "Foolish." Why go so left with your first single?

Ashanti: We chose "Only U" as the first single because it was something totally different for me. We had recorded maybe four or five songs before we heard "Only U." We went to the studio and reunited with 7. He played the record for us. Me and Irv looked at each other like, "Oh my God." At first it was a little bit intimidating. It's hot, but it sounds very rock and roll — but the beat is just banging. It took me three days to write to that record because I didn't know what to do with it. Like, "How do I make it mine? How do I make this an Ashanti record?" So I put my little lyrics together and my signature catchy melody. It already had the rock and roll element. It already had the hip-hop element. The vocals and the lyrics made it R&B. So it kind of captures all three.

MTV: Did you take that experimental approach throughout the album?

Ashanti: Oh my gosh, this album is so different, and it's such a level up, and I'm totally infatuated with it. I love, love, love, love every record, and the response has been incredible.

MTV: There's a song on there called "Freedom," where you talk about cutting off some of the people who were close to you.

Ashanti: I kinda found out the hard way that these people weren't who I thought they were — they had ulterior motives. I had to make my circle a little bit smaller. And it was hard because I never thought it would be those [people].

MTV: What else are you feeling on the album?

Ashanti: There's another record called "Love Again." It's a sexy record. It talks about how one person can come into your life and take you into a totally different world that you never knew existed. Maybe you wouldn't see yourself doing or saying certain things. There's a record with me and Lloyd called "Take Me Tonight." It's an extremely radio-friendly, signature Murder Inc. record.

MTV: Have you picked the second single yet?

Ashanti: See, it's hard, and it's great when it's a hard position to pick the second single. I think we're leaning towards "Focus." It's up-tempo. It's in the club 100 percent. It's basically about being focused. If you're in a relationship and you're finished with the dude, you kinda get focused. Like, "I'm not worrying about the dude." Subliminally in the bridge I'm [saying], "Don't worry what other people say, keep on the grind, keep it out of your mind." It's about not focusing on who's trying to criticize you.

MTV: Obviously you've heard the criticism about your label, the last year especially. But "Only U" is just one in a string of hits the Inc. has put out the last several months. Not bad for a label that was supposed to be dead. What are your thoughts about your label's comeback?

Ashanti: I think it's way more legendary when you're incredibly hot, and then you take a fall and come back to being on top. You get more respect and it's more of a historic thing when stuff like that happens. It keeps you motivated and keeps your creative juices flowing. The Inc. definitely has gone through a lot — Ja, Gotti, all of the other stuff, even outside of music. And that has driven us to get back on our grind and smash it. It actually has brought us all closer together.

MTV: We've heard Gotti's and Ja's theories, but why do you think you guys experienced all the hate in the first place?

Ashanti: It's all about when you're hot and there's nowhere else to go. It's almost natural. You have to come down and you have to build yourself back up again. You have to go through that process.

Now Ashanti's fans can get her fix legally

As lawsuits continue to be filed against illegal file-sharers, three major music labels housing artists including Green Day, Jessica Simpson and Ashanti have signed on to supply their music to a legal downloading service.
Warner Music, Sony BMG Music Entertaiment and Universal Music Group (Black Eyed Peas, Eminem, Bon Jovi) have come to licensing agreements with the forthcoming Peer Impact network, the company announced on Wednesday (November 24). The fourth major label, EMI, has yet to sign on.

Peer Impact, scheduled to launch in the first quarter of 2005, will be a peer-to-peer legal digital file-sharing network. The service will also make sure that artists and rights-holders receive compensation for each file shared on the network.

The labels that have signed on to participate will allow Peer Impact's users access to their entire catalogs of music.

"Our goal is to populate Peer Impact with the greatest, and most diverse, collection of digital content anywhere," Greg Kerber, chairman and CEO of Wurld Media, the company developing the network, said in a statement.

"We're excited and proud to gain the cooperation of leading record labels," Kerber added, "and we look forward to concluding even more agreements in the coming weeks."

Nelly's sure been catering to Ashanti

Will Nelly and Ashanti just give it up and admit they're an item?
Ashanti recently scoffed at talk of romance between her and the rapper - it's "just people making up their own sitcom," the R&B chanteuse told Vibe.

But it's the two of them who keep generating new episodes. Lately, Ashanti has been shooting "Coach Carter," her feature-film debut. You'd think that Nelly also had a part in it, judging by the amount of time he's spent on the set.

"Nelly would bring her organic vegetarian meals all the time because she didn't like the commissary food," a spy tells us.

Her co-star Samuel L. Jackson confirmed in an interview, "Let's just say I ate more craft service because Nelly wasn't bringing food to me every day." Sources on the set also say the pair talked endlessly by phone when Nelly was taping Tim McGraw's recent TV special and when he was working with Christina Aguilera on the video for "Tilt Ya Head Back."

So why all the sneakin' around?

Some say it's because Ashanti has also been juggling Irv Gotti, who signed her to his label, The Inc. (formerly Murder Inc.).

"Irv knows about Nelly," says one source. "But Ashanti doesn't want to hurt Irv's feelings." For now, her rep insists, "She's friends with Nelly. She has a professional working relationship with Irv Gotti. That's it."

Ashanti's new album ''Concrete Rose''

R&B star Ashanti will release her third album, "Concrete Rose," Dec. 7 via the Inc./Def Jam. The 7 Aurelius-produced first single "Only U" debuted last week at No. 30 on Billboard's Rhythmic Top 40 chart and is No. 12 on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles tally. Although a track list was not available at deadline, labelmates Ja Rule and Lloyd are confirmed to make guest appearances.

"Concrete Rose" is the follow-up to Ashanti's 2003 album "Chapter II," which debuted at No. 1 on both The Billboard 200 and the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums tally. The set has sold 1.46 million copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
Ashanti eased her way back into the spotlight recently with a guest spot on Ja Rule's single "Wonderful," which is No. 13 on the Hot 100 this week. She also appears with R. Kelly in the accompanying video.

The artist has lined up a host of promotional appearances surrounding "Concrete Rose," including Nov. 14 on the American Music Awards and two days later on "Good Morning America" (both on ABC). A "custom concert," during which fans will be able to choose the set list, will air Nov. 28 on Oxygen.

Beyond music, Ashanti will make her feature film debut alongside Samuel L. Jackson in "Coach Carter," which opens Jan. 14 in U.S. theaters. As previously reported, she will also play Dorothy in an ABC production of "The Muppets' Wizard of Oz," scheduled to run in May.


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