Photo: Recording Academy
Watch: Ashanti Talks "Getting Back To R&B Roots" On New EP | Up Close & Personal
The GRAMMY-winning songstress also talks about going independent, staying humble, her Y2K "Foolish" era and more
GRAMMY-winning R&B songstress Ashanti was just 21 when she released her debut, No. 1 hit single "Foolish" in 2002, and she's been unforgettable ever since. The sultry, can't-help-but-sing-along bop served as the lead single for her powerful self-titled debut studio album, which earned the emerging star a GRAMMY for Best Contemporary R&B Album at the 45th GRAMMY Awards.
Fast forward to 2014, when Ashanti released her fifth studio album, Braveheart, her first release on her own label, Written Entertainment, which she launched in 2011. Now, 18 years since she first rocked our worlds with her fire feature on Ja Rule's "Always On Time," Ashanti is still ready to serve up more.
For the latest episode of the Recording Academy's Up Close & Personal video series, we sat down with the stylish New Yorker to learn more about her next project, what that first rush of success felt like for her, going independent and more. You can watch a portion of the conversation above and read the full interview below. You can also visit on our YouTube page for a longer version of the video, as well as for other recent episodes.
So you recently dropped "Pretty Little Thing" featuring Afro B, along with the music video with so many fierce looks. Can you tell us a bit about that song and maybe your favorite look from the video?
Thank you! My new single, "Pretty Little Thing," that I did with Afro B was such an awesome experience. I shot the video in the Keys in Miami and it was so cool because the reason that I did the song was I just dropped a collab swimsuit line with PrettyLittleThing, and it just made so much sense. You know, how music goes with fashion, and I said, "Hey, we need a new record. Let's put it in the campaign." So we shot a video, we shot a commercial and the synergy was just amazing. It all came out so organic and the vibe of the song matched the line. It's Afrobeats and the vibe of the swimsuit line is very exotic and global, and very island-y. Everything had an amazing synergy, so I was really excited.
One of my favorite looks from the video; [pauses] there was a really cute looks! I like my look with the horse and the braids and the one with the zebra/snake print chaps. My sister actually designed the collection, and we had the bathing suit and we were sitting on Jeeps with the same print.
Earlier in the summer you released another upbeat jam, "The Road," with Machel Montano. Where was that video shot? Was it as fun as it looked?
It was one of the most amazing experiences I've ever had. I actually went out to do Machel Monday and Carnival in Trinidad, which was my first time, and it was life-changing. I had so much fun, I don't think I've ever partied like that in all my years. [Laughs.] It was an amazing, amazing experience and I just found a new found respect for soca music.
I had a show in Trinidad a few years ago and we did a remix to one of the biggest [soca] records, which was one of Machel's, "Like Ah Boss." We went back and forth on Instagram and he's like, "Much respect. Thank you for showing so much love. We need to do something together." Fast forward, that turned into a FaceTime call and then a studio session. And then we recorded this awesome record and then we performed it for Carnival and Machel Monday. We actually shot the video with Director X in Trinidad while Carnival was going on. So those were real moments, that wasn't scripted. The beach part, yes, but the stuff on the road was all organic. It was really cool.
I know a lot of your fans are hoping this new music points to a new album. Can you tell us anything about what's happening on your next project?
I'm very excited to be releasing more music. I think just for me, I'm at a point where I want to try different things. I love Afrobeats, I love reggae music, I love soca music. And as an artist, you want to fulfill your creative energy, you know? But I'm definitely getting back to my R&B roots. [Laughs.]
I'm very, very excited about the new EP, I'm working on it with Metro Boomin. We have some amazing records I'm very, very excited about it. Some amazing other producers and some writers and I'm just really excited about the new sound. You know, there are a couple of things that I'm talking about that I've never talked about before. And some people are going to be like, "Oh my gosh, did she say that?" I'm excited about it.
Recently there's also been some talk about a The Inc. Reunion tour maybe happening in the future. Would that be something that like you'd want to be a part of?
I know that there's been some talks about it. I'm not really sure what's going on right now, but we'll see. [Laughs.]
In 2011, you started Written Entertainment and went independent, which is super cool. I'm curious what that transition meant to you?
What led me to go independent? I had offers from seven majors at one time and it was really hard to sit, you know, me being Libra, and be like, "Okay, what should I do? Where should I go? I don't know what to do." And at that time the labels were offering 360 deals, and I'm just not a fan of that, that's not my thing. So I made the very bold decision and scary decision to go independent.
And just as an artist, that has had success—I'm very humble—and I've had relationships to be able to make phone calls and, you know, strengthen my partnership with iTunes/Apple and things like that. So I think it's beneficial when you own your masters. It's a digital world, you know, at the touch of a button you can expose your music to millions of people.
So I think just learning to trust myself, learning to be motivated to say, "Hey, your future is in your hands and your destiny," is really important. You have to kind of be in the driver's seat and know what's going on. It's very hard being the executive and the artist.
I feel like at some points I would be in the studio and I'm like, "I want to stay in here all night. You know, I want to record for five days." And the other side of me is like, "Yeah, but who's going to pay that bill?" So you have to be like the exec and the artist and still be creative, you know? So I think it was a really great decision now and I had so many of my peers calling me like, "I should have did that when you did it and I'm doing it now."
And then when you were 21, your first single "Foolish," along with your features with Ja Rule and Fat Joe, were huge hits. What did that initial success feel like for you?
The initial success of "Foolish," "Always On Time" and "What's Love?" was just really weird for me because I didn't know. I would always ask like, "Is this good, guys? Are we doing good?" I really didn't understand it. And it's weird because I'm a humble person, and even back then I was a little naive, you know. We were making history and we were on the top of the charts and everyone around me, all the guys are like, "Yeah!" and I'm like, "Oh, so this is a good thing."
So it feels good to later understand how much it meant and how pivotal it would be in my career, even now. You know, to be there and performing these same records and getting the same exact reaction, you know, years later from younger crowds, you know? So it's really, really, really a blessing and it just goes to show you, like, when you're working hard and you're creating meaningful music, that stands the test of time.
Yes, they still hit hard.
They still rocking, baby! [Grins.]
As you've navigated the music industry, who have been your biggest mentors and role models?
I'm just a huge advocate of women empowerment. Just being a young female in this very male-dominated industry it's just so hard sometimes to garner that same respect. And still respect yourself and go in and be focused on music and not be distracted by other things going on.
My mom has been a huge inspiration to me. It's weird because I grew up watching her in a business suit, with a briefcase, going to work and it was very different from what I'm doing in my career. So I think the path is just being a very powerful, strong woman going into the workforce. And that's kind of the same mentality that I have. I have been inspired by women before me to open up the doors.
That's awesome. What would be your piece of advice for a young person that's trying to get into music and not really sure where to start?
I would say, it's way easier now than it was for me. You know, you can upload yourself on YouTube and end up on "Ellen" or "The Voice" or and all these other shows that are kind of catalysts. I think you have to be very determined, I think you have to be motivated, you have to have a thick skin and you have to have an incredible drive. Not everyone is going to like you. You're definitely going to get rejected before you get accepted, and as long as you're able to maintain your expectations, you should be okay.
Photo: Kevin Mazur/WireImage.com
Pearl Jam Named Record Store Day 2019 Ambassadors
Pearl Jam's Mike McCready says "if you love music," record stores are the place to find it
Record Store Day 2019 will arrive on April 13 and this year's RSD Ambassadors are Pearl Jam. Past ambassadors include Dave Grohl, Metallica, Run The Jewels (Killer Mike and El-P), and 61st GRAMMY Awards winner for Best Rock Song St. Vincent.
McCready was also the 2018 recipient of MusiCares' Stevie Ray Vaughan Award.
The band was formed in 1990 by McCready, Jeff Ament, Stone Gossard, and Eddie Vedder, and they have played with drummer Matt Cameron since 2002. They have had five albums reach No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and four albums reach No. 2.
"Pearl Jam is honored to be Record Store Day's Ambassador for 2019. Independent record stores are hugely important to me," Pearl Jam's Mike McCready said in a statement publicizing the peak-vinyl event. "Support every independent record store that you can. They're really a good part of society. Know if you love music, this is the place to find it."
With a dozen GRAMMY nominations to date, Pearl Jam's sole win so far was at the 38th GRAMMY Awards for "Spin The Black Circle" for Best Hard Rock Performance.
Pearl Jam will be performing on March 3 in Tempe, Ariz. at the Innings festival, on June 15 in Florence, Italy at the Firenze Rocks Festival and at another festival in Barolo, Italy on June 17. On July 6 Pearl Jam will headline London's Wembley Stadium.
Find Out Who's Nominated For Best Rap Album | 2020 GRAMMY Awards
Dreamville, Meek Mill, 21 Savage, Tyler, The Creator, and YBN Cordae all earn nominations in the category
The 2020 GRAMMYs are just around the corner, and now the nominations are in for the coveted honor of Best Rap Album. While we'll have to wait until the 62nd GRAMMY Awards air on CBS on Jan. 26 to find out who will win, let's take a look at which albums have been nominated for Best Rap Album.
Revenge of the Dreamers III – Dreamville
Dreamers III, the third installment in the label’s Revenge of the Dreamers compilation series, debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart and achieved gold status this past July. In addition to a Best Rap Album nod, Dreamers III is also nominated for Best Rap Performance next year for album track “Down Bad,” featuring J.I.D, Bas, J. Cole, EARTHGANG, and Young Nudy.
Championships – Meek Mill
In many ways, Championships represents a literal and metaphorical homecoming for Meek Mill. Released in November 2018, Championships is the Philadelphia rapper’s first artist album following a two-year prison sentence he served after violating his parole in 2017. Championships, naturally, sees Meek tackling social justice issues stemming from his prison experience, including criminal justice reform. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, his second chart-topper following 2015’s Dreams Worth More Than Money, and reached platinum status in June 2019. Meek Mill's 2020 Best Rap Album nod marks his first-ever GRAMMY nomination.
i am > i was – 21 Savage
Breakout rapper and four-time GRAMMY nominee 21 Savage dropped i am > i was, his second solo artist album, at the end of 2018. The guest-heavy album, which features contributions from Post Malone, Childish Gambino, J. Cole, and many others, has since charted around the world, topped the Billboard 200 – a first for the artist – in the beginning of 2019, and achieved gold status in the U.S. As well, nine songs out of the album’s 15 original tracks landed on the Hot 100 chart, including multi-platinum lead single “A Lot,” which is also nominated for Best Rap Song next year. 21 Savage’s 2020 Best Rap Album nomination, which follows Record of the Year and Best Rap/Sung Performance nods for his 2017 Post Malone collaboration, "Rockstar,” marks his first solo recognition in the top rap category.
IGOR – Tyler, The Creator
The eccentric Tyler, The Creator kicked off a massive 2019 with his mid-year album, IGOR. Released this past May, IGOR, Tyler’s fifth solo artist album, is his most commercially successful project to date. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, marking his first time topping the coveted chart, while its lead single, "Earfquake,” peaked at No. 13, his highest entry on the Hot 100. Produced in full by Tyler and featuring guest spots from fellow rap and R&B stars Kanye West, Lil Uzi Vert, Solange, and Playboi Carti, among many others, IGOR follows the rapper’s 2017 album, Flower Boy, which received the Best Rap Album nod that same year.
The Lost Boy – YBN Cordae
Emerging rapper YBN Cordae, a member of the breakout YBN rap collective, released his debut album, The Lost Boy, to widespread critical acclaim this past July. The 15-track release is stacked with major collaborations with hip-hop heavyweights, including Anderson .Paak, Pusha T, Meek Mill, and others, plus production work from J. Cole and vocals from Quincy Jones. After peaking at No. 13 on the Billboard 200, The Lost Boy now notches two 2020 GRAMMY nominations: Best Rap Album and Best Rap Song for album track “Bad Idea,” featuring Chance the Rapper.
Photo: Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images
Rosalía Announces First Solo North American Tour
El Mal Querer Tour, named after the Spanish pop star's latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances
Rosalía is set to perform at some of the most popular music festivals around the globe, including Primavera Sound in Spain, Lollapalooza (Argentina and Chile) and Coachella, but the Spanish pop star isn't stopping there when she gets to the States. Now, she has announced her first solo North American Tour with a string of dates that will bring her to select cities in the U.S. and Canada.
El Mal Querer Tour, named after her latest album, will come to Los Angeles on April 17 in between her Coachella performances. Then she'll play San Francisco on April 22, New York on April 30 and close out in Toronto on May 2.
"I’m so happy to announce my first solo North American tour dates," the singer tweeted.
Rosalía won Best Alternative Song and Best Fusion/ Urban Interpretation at the 19th Latin GRAMMY Awards in November and has been praised for bringing flamenco to the limelight with her hip-hop and pop beats. During her acceptance speech she gave a special shout-out to female artists who came before her, including Lauryn Hill and Bjork.
Rosalía has been getting some love herself lately, most notably from Alicia Keys, who gave the Spanish star a shout-out during an acceptance speech, and Madonna, who featured her on her Spotify International Women's Day Playlist.
Tickets for the tour go on sale March 22. For more tour dates, visit Rosalía's website.
Photo: David Crotty/Getty Images
Mariah Carey Tells Fans Fire Music Is Coming With New Album 'Caution'
The sultry R&B/pop superstar has announced she will release her 15th studio album next month – what will she bring us this time around?
Never one to do things quietly, the GRAMMY-winning R&B/pop diva with the angelic voice Mariah Carey came boldly onto the scene in 1990 with her GRAMMY-nominated debut self-titled album. At the 33rd GRAMMY Awards she took home her first two wins: Best New Artist and for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Female for "Vision Of Love," which she performed on the GRAMMY stage. The song was the album's first single and Carey's first No. 1 song. Since taking center stage at the beginning of the '90s the star hasn't looked back, releasing 13 studio albums and plenty of hits over the years. Four years after the release of her last album, she has announced that her next one is a month away. What will she serve up on her 15th LP?
The star recently shared on Twitter that her latest album is called Caution and will be released on Nov. 16, 2018. We first got a hint of a new album on Sept. 13 when she announced an album was in the works and released the lead single, "GTFO." The album's second single, "With You," followed on Oct. 4.
On "GTFO" she confidently asks a soon-to-be-ex lover "How 'bout you get the f* out?" in breathy vocals over a slow, melodic beat by GRAMMY-winning producer Nineteen85. "With You" feels like a classic Carey R&B love song with her angelic vocals backed by snapping and a melodic slow jam groove produced by hip-hop beat maker DJ Mustard, who lets her voice shine on an uncharacteristically mellow track for him. These songs hint that her latest release will give us songs that not only showcase her incredible vocal range and versatility, but also give us both nostalgia-inducing tracks as well as radio-ready hits.
"GTFO" gives us a taste of some of the new flavor that she is bringing to her new album, singing the song's coy lyrics completely in more-understated breathy vocals without belting any big high notes, not even during the chorus. It's a catchy, playful breakup song, as she confidently sings "get the f* out/how 'bout you take your tings and be on your merry way?/Fly off with the wind, bye bye baby/How 'bout you scusami, Mimi'll call you a valet."
The song was co-written and co-produced by Jeff Jefferies aka Nineteen85, who is half of OVO R&B duo dvsn and is responsible for producing some of Drake's biggest hits, including the GRAMMY-winning mega-hit "Hotline Bling." On the Drake's song "Emotionless" from his latest album, Scorpion, he samples Carey's lyrics from remixed classic hit "Emotions." Hopefully Jefferies has some catchy hits up his sleeve for Carey, and maybe even brings in some OVO artist surprises.
Carey has released some great collabs over the years, a majority with R&B and hip-hop artists, including Boyz II Men on heartfelt slow jam "One Sweet Day" from 1995's Daydream and Jay-Z on the upbeat classic belter "Heartbreaker" from 1999's Rainbow. We can only hope that the new album will offer some new, soon-to-be-classic hits with some of our other favorite artists.
Her most recent album, Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse, released in 2014, had more collab tracks than usual for her, which could perhaps point towards some hot features on Caution. The deluxe edition of the 2014 album had six songs with other artists, including rappers Nas, Fabolous, Wale and R. Kelly as well as R&B singers Miguel and Mary J. Blige. The album's lead single, "Beautiful," has Miguel and Carey singing a soulful, feel-good duet, while "Dedicated" features a bounce-y, electronic-infused hip-hop beat with a verse from Nas. Seeing that she worked with big-time hip-hop producers on the new album's lead singles, we can only hope that they not only offered their production genus to more of the tracks, but perhaps brought some of their friends into the studio as well.
Fans only have to wait a month for the full dose of new music from Carey, but until then we will send our prayers to the music gods that the album will feature all of our dream collabs, perhaps some old and new friends, and offer up some new favorite songs, with some to slow dance to and others to belt out in the shower.