NEW YORK (AP) _ Ashanti was one of music's hottest stars, with two multiplatinum albums and a Grammy under her belt, until her third disc, 2004's "Concrete Rose," landed like a brick on the music charts.
The album came out while the head of her music label, The Inc.'s Irv Gotti, was under investigation by the federal government (he was later charged with money laundering but acquitted of the charges). Ashanti blames the cloud surrounding the label for creating a climate that made it difficult for "Concrete Rose" to bloom.
Ashanti spent the next four years away from the music scene, but she wasn't completely out of the spotlight: She appeared in movies and was often seen on the arm of her beau, rapper Nelly.
This month, however, marks Ashanti's musical return _ and she's doing it with "The Declaration." The CD already has a hit on its hands with the dramatic woman-scorned ballad "The Way That I Love You."
In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Ashanti talked about her yearslong absence from the charts, how heartbreak informs her music and why she has no hard feelings against Gotti, who was acquitted.
AP: You say your first single, "The Way That I Love You" was inspired by the television show, "Snapped" (which is about women who are pushed to their breaking points).
Ashanti: I was watching it and feeling the passion in the lyrics of the record. I was like, "Oh my gosh. This is perfect for a woman who has snapped." I wanted to do something to inspire the video and blow it out. We wanted to do something more cinematic as opposed to a regular music video since I have been gone for four years since my last album. It just made perfect sense to make that marriage between the record and the visual.
AP: Is heartache the best source of inspiration?
Ashanti: Definitely. As I said, it is almost like a double-edged sword. You take your pros and cons with it. Me as a writer, any experience is good because it allows people to relate to you. When you write about stuff that is sincere and it really happens to you that is what kind of gets people like, "Wow, she is writing about my situation right now."
AP: You have been away for a while. Were you worried about recapturing your fan base?
Ashanti: I don't think that I went through thinking there is not going to be room. I think it is really important, me as a person and me as an artist that you have to bring your own flavor to the table. Being that I write all my own records, that is my niche. I am never going to have a problem writing. I think that separates me from a lot of the females that are out. It is all about trying something different. Being that it has been four years it was really important to try something out of the box just to see. You have to keep the people interested and intrigued.
AP: A few blogs recently made fun of you, commenting on your weight. How do you deal with the criticism in this Internet/tabloid age?
Ashanti: Again, it is one of those things that is a double-edged sword. If there is something great and it is positive it is all good and with the click of a button, millions of people could know about it and chime in and give you your praises. On the other hand it could be something that is horrible and detrimental and someone could be exploiting you with a rumor or a lie or whatever they do with your picture. It comes with the territory. You have to take the good with the bad.
AP: Did Nelly help you with this album?
Ashanti: He definitely helped. He is a very passionate person when it comes to being in the studio. He likes to have fun, but he is so passionate about what he does and making things perfect and trying it. Just putting everything out there. Musically we come from very, very different places. I actually did learn a lot from him just about trying different things and being wiling to do something different.
AP: Why did you decide to take total control of your record this time around?
Ashanti: I would say, if you are on a ship with people and someone picks you up and throws you out of the ship with people, you are either going to sink, or you are going to swim. I decided to swim. That sums up what happened.
AP: What is your relationship with Irv Gotti?
Ashanti: The situation is what it is. I am working on my project. Ja is working on his project. Lloyd is working on his project. I think it has been such a long time that everyone is working on their individuality. The trial took a toll on everyone personally and everyone's careers. This time around it is like focusing on the individual self, the projects and getting that music back out. No beef. I am really in a happier space right now. I have grown up so much and learned so much.
AP: Did you appreciate the break or were you yearning to be back on the music scene?
Ashanti: At times I looked at it like maybe this is a good thing. I got a chance to do "John Tucker Must Die." I got a chance to do "Resident Evil." At times I looked at it as I just want to get into the studio. I have this melody and idea and I think this would be hot. Again, you have to take the good with the bad. It is not like I decided to stop. Everything was yanked from me. When people say, "Did you appreciate it and you had your four-year break?" It wasn't really like that. It was more of (taken away). Now what?
AP: At a time when a lot of people are exploring and discovering their independence, you seem to be doing the opposite. Your mother is you manager. Is it difficult being 27 and having your mother always around?
Ashanti: My family, we are different. It is very close-knit. I can say things in front of my dad and my mom and I don't feel uncomfortable. There are certain things that I won't say. You have to live your life. I happen to have an amazing relationship with both of my parents so it is cool and I am comfortable. Do I tell them every single thing? No.
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