Ashanti drops 'Braveheart,' Glen Cove native's first album in six years

Ashanti attends the New York premiere of Ashanti attends the New York premiere of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" on Nov. 14, 2013 at Alice Tully Hall in Manhattan. Photo Credit: Getty Images / Bryan Bedder

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Ashanti leans back in her chair like a boss and smiles.

"The great thing is I don't ever need to sell another record," she says, in the middle of a Chelsea recording studio. "I'll be fine."

After all, the Glen Cove native has plenty of other things going on in her life, from her acting career to a variety of business ventures, including her own record label, Written Entertainment. And the Grammy winner is still in the Guinness Book of World Records for the first-week sales of her debut album, "Ashanti," in 2002, as well as the only artist, aside from The Beatles, to have her first three singles in the Top 10 simultaneously on the Billboard charts.

Foolish, she is not.

So when Ashanti decides it's time to finally release a new album, it's because she has something to say, not because it's simply time for a record. Her "Braveheart" (Written Entertainment/eOne) album, which hits stores on Tuesday, is her first since 2008's "The Declaration" and the first that she is putting out on her own.

"I just can't wait for people to hear it," she says.

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TAKE CONTROL, LADIES

For Ashanti, "Braveheart" is more than an album. It's a movement. She hopes the album will encourage others, especially young women, to take control of their lives and get out of unhappy situations so that they can eventually find true happiness. It's a journey that she is going through and that plays out through the album's 13 tracks.

Is she talking about her on-again, off-again relationship with Nelly? Maybe. Is she talking about the collapse of her old label Murder Inc.? Could be.

"I've never been the type of person to tell all," she says. But she does recognize that today's music fans, in the age of Rihanna's Instagrams and Lady Gaga's tweets, want to feel closer to their favorite musicians.

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"They want a reason to connect if they're going to buy your records," Ashanti says. "They wanna know why."

"Braveheart," for the most part, is pretty self-explanatory.

For example, the classic soul ballad "Nowhere" comes straight out of her life. "I've been in that predicament where I've been at him, but I still fixed him a plate when he came home," she says, after playing the song.

The poignant "Scars" is also personal. "It's a deep record," she explains. "It came from a very real place. I had to let myself to be vulnerable and real."

 

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FEATURING RICK ROSS

There are signs that Ashanti's new material has already started to catch on. Her current single, "I Got It," featuring Rick Ross, landed a high-profile spot on BET and on VEVO when its video debuted last month. The next single, "First Real Love," featuring Beenie Man, is already getting buzz, and that's even before anyone has heard the soon-to-be strip-club anthem "Count." The album's first single, "Never Should Have," a massive pop song in the Katy Perry mold, won last year's Soul Train Award for best independent R&B/Soul performance.

That word "independent" is a very important one to Ashanti these days. She recognizes that if she was on a major label again, many of the "Braveheart" songs would have a much bigger presence on the radio. "It helps to have that engine behind you," she says.

However, the economics of the music industry these days don't make much sense to her. When she was on a major label, when she sold an album for $9, she got about 45 cents. When she sells an album for $9 on her own label, she gets about $5.

"It's still hard," she says. "But I would have been hands-on regardless. If you do it on your own, you can get the same result. There's something about being in control of your own destiny. I put my heart and soul in to this. It's coming straight from my heart, and people get to hear it verbatim."

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So far, she's been thrilled by the results. When fans who preordered "Braveheart" on iTunes got to hear snippets of the songs and started tweeting about how much they loved it, Ashanti said she was overwhelmed.

"I was telling everyone, 'Yo, they like it!' " Ashanti says. "Then my sister says, 'Duh. Of course they do.' "

Her sister Shia Douglas, who just launched her clothing line Presidential Dymes, says she is proud of what Ashanti has accomplished with the album. "My sister works very, very hard," Douglas says. "She wears so many hats. It's a lot for one person."

But right now, Ashanti wouldn't have it any other way. She is working on a new video for "First Real Love" in Jamaica, as well as working on music for the upcoming Tupac Shakur movie set to be written and directed by John Singleton, due out next year.

"I'm going to enjoy the moment," she says, of the album's release. "But there's so much more for me to do."

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Ashanti's projects

Though "Braveheart" is Ashanti's first album in six years, she hasn't been taking it easy. She's been building up other areas in her career. Here's a look at how she's been spending her time:

ACTING She has balanced acting and music for years, but recently TV has become a major focus. She was one of the stars of "Army Wives" on Lifetime, which she followed with the movie "Christmas in the City" for the network.

BEAUTY PRODUCTS She launched her own fragrance line, Precious Jewel, which is available at Wal-Mart, and has done campaigns for Herbal Essences, including one that featured her song "Only U," becoming the first African-American to represent the shampoo line nationally.

BUSINESS Ashanti plans to sign other artists to her label Written Entertainment, once she is sure "Braveheart" is on its way. She sees Written as a full-fledged label, not one that will just handle her music.

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