Ashanti Reflected On The Importance Of "Rain On Me" And How Her Sister's Horrific Experience With Domestic Violence Made Her Look At The Song Differently

    "Looking back on the things that I've endured, even some of the recent stuff, I just feel like I'm happy that I'm as strong of a person as I am."

    Despite being in the industry for over two decades, racking up numerous awards, creating her first children's book, earning a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and cofounding a Web3 company, Ashanti is nowhere near ready to slow down! 

    In the middle of rerecording her chart-topping, triple-platinum-selling debut album with her independent label, touring, and promoting her new holiday film, A New Diva's Christmas Carol, Ashanti sat down with me to take a look back at her inspiring career, obstacles she's faced along the way, and reflect on how she wants to be remembered.

    This year marks the 20th anniversary of your debut, iconic album Ashanti. You’re currently in the process of rerecording the album and regaining ownership of your masters. Can you tell us what that process has been like so far, and have you encountered any challenges along the way?

    It's been hard, because of the way my schedule is set up right now. I would love to carve out a good two weeks to really get in and get it done, but I've kind of been all over. Like, I recorded "Foolish" in Canada, I recorded "Happy" in LA, and I think I recorded "Baby" in New York, so yeah, I've really been all over the place. 

    But [as far as recording the songs themselves] it definitely has not been hard. The memories come back like, "Oh my gosh, I can't believe it. It feels so surreal to be recutting these records!" It's a different vibe. It's a different understanding now, you know, just going in as a new artist, you never know what's gonna happen. It's a really cool feeling. The one thing I will say, though, is I have to remember not to do my show ad-libs on the records. I'm like, "Wait, that's what I do in the show, I have to keep it to the original."

    With 20+ years in this industry, what’s one of the biggest lessons you’ve learned about yourself throughout the years?

    I really feel like I'm a very strong person. We've all had obstacles, we've all had to overcome things, and it's about how you stand up after you've been knocked down. I think I've always been super positive and I think a lot of it has to do with me having an amazing family, an amazing background, and support. Looking back on the things that I've endured, even some of the recent stuff, I just feel like I'm happy that I'm as strong of a person as I am.

    That actually brings me to my next question. When it comes to your name in the news, you’re typically linked with something positive, but recently fans were given a look at some of the darker experiences you’ve dealt with in the industry, from Irv Gotti’s spiteful allegations to the producer who tried to coerce you into taking a shower with him. Was there ever a time where you felt like taking a break or walking away from music because of the things that happened behind closed doors?

    There definitely were times that I felt like, "Okay, this is getting a little bit crazy." It got to a point where things were very scary, just going from being an artist signed to a major label to being completely independent, and not knowing what was behind that door. The industry was moving and evolving into social media and all about visuals and blogs, and it was very scary. We didn't know what was gonna happen. One of those dark times was being on a record label that was federally indicted. I did Broadway during that. There were definitely some times that were dark, and you have your peaks and your valleys. But we're here now, having this conversation, so we made it through!

    You mentioned Broadway and I think some people might not realize how much of a multifaceted artist you truly are, and that includes your songwriting abilities. What’s one song fans might not know you passed on and ultimately went to another artist? Or a song that you helped write for another artist?

    I think a lot of people already know I wrote "Ain't It Funny" for J.Lo, which was her biggest record until Pitbull came and broke my record. I wrote some stuff for Christina Milian, I wrote some stuff for Toni Braxton...I can't think of anything else at the moment.

    Did you pass on any records that ultimately became a big hit?

    Oh, yeah, you know what song I passed on that ultimately went to someone else? [Ashanti begins to sing the chorus to "Gangsta Lovin'" by Eve ft. Alicia Keys].


    Yeah, Murder Inc. produced that. I don't know what I was thinking. I think I was just like, "I don't feel like driving to the city today [to record it]." I'm mad about it [laughs].

    Wow, I never knew that! Another one of your talents is acting. You’re starring in VH1’s new holiday film, A New Diva’s Christmas Carol. Can you tell us about your character and what attracted you to the role?

    I play Aphrodite, and Aphrodite is this awesome R&B singer. Her whole image is about love, singing about love, and being in love. But it takes an unfortunate turn and she becomes very cold and very hardened because of her upbringing, things that she's experienced in her family, and past heartbreak. It kind of makes her callous. She turns mean and very Scrooge-esque. The three sister spirits come in and try to guide her back into the light...back to love. They show her past, her present, and her future — what it could be and what it should be, versus the decisions she's been making. 

    I think a lot of people are going to be able to relate to the message about evolving and being in a dark place. Sometimes you may need help being guided in the right direction toward positive energy, you know? So, it was a really, really cool experience. And again, I think because of how us as people are dealing with mental issues now due to the pandemic, a lot of people are going to be able to relate to this. And it's around the holidays, so I think it's perfect!

    I love that! What attracted you to the role? Was it the script? The cast attached to the project?

    I think it was a bit of both. Big super shoutout and much love to the amazing Vivica, Robin, Eva and Mel B! You could feel the chemistry on screen. And obviously, with Idris Elba being a part of it — his people reached out several, several times, but there was a lot going on. I kind of had to carve out time, because I was actually doing shows every weekend at the time. So when everyone else had off, I was still working to make it happen, you know? But yeah, it's been good.


    What was one of your favorite moments with Vivica A. Fox and the cast on set?

    There were so many cool moments! We were in the office and Vivica, who plays Bastia, started crying real tears. I was like, "Oh, wow!" The whole room was very emotional after that. She did an amazing job. Obviously, that was on screen, but off camera we had some really cool moments too. I caught us all singing a cappella — [Ashanti begins to sing Soul II Soul's "Back to Life," the song the cast sang together behind the scenes].

    That's funny you brought that up, because I spoke to Vivica recently, and one of her favorite moments was hearing you sing live. You blew her away!

    Oh, you know what's so funny? I remember that day! They came in and their call times were always later than mine, so they got to sleep. But they came in and Vivica was like, "Oh no, you can sing!"

    What has been one of your proudest moments in your career?

    There have definitely been a lot of proud moments. I would say one of the first that comes to mind is when I released "Rain on Me." It was the record about domestic violence. We weren't really talking about that back then, especially on a platform like the one I had. It earned a Grammy nomination and all these really cool accolades, but I think what made it really special for me was the fan letters I'd receive. I was getting letters saying, "Oh my gosh, this song helped me leave this relationship. I feel strong enough and confident, thank you so much for doing this." Or, "I feel safe now. I feel strong enough to leave. That record helped save my life." For me, that's one of the highest compliments and things that you could do for someone without even knowing them. So yeah, that has always stood out for me. 

    That's really powerful, especially with your sister, Kenashia Douglas, having the strength to publicly come out and tell her story of domestic violence.

    She was like maybe 12 when that song came out. And it's so crazy how the record hits completely different now. Even posting the video and visually seeing what I portrayed in the video. Then for my sister actually go through that, it was a very bittersweet thing. I'm proud of her for getting through it and being in a space now where we can really just talk about it and help other women. But again, it goes back to me putting out a record like that in that time and it standing the test of time now.

    That's beautiful and I'm sure that song has helped more people than you know.

    Earlier you mentioned accolades. The music industry measures success with accolades and you’ve earned countless in your career, from Grammy and Billboard Awards to selling multi-platinum albums. But I want to know how you personally measure success. What does success look like to you?

    I think success is when you're able to touch people, when you're able to help people without knowing them. A song could brighten up someone's whole day or someone's whole mood. If you lose a loved one, there are certain records that remind you of that person. I think music is just so universal that it transcends through languages. I remember the first time I performed in Japan, I would be like, "Put your hands up." Nobody would put their hands up. "Wave 'em from side-to-side!" Nobody would do it, and it's because they didn't understand. But then "Foolish" comes on and they're up partying and singing the words without knowing the language. It's incredible!

    Being able to transcend and move people, and do a good job at doing it [makes me feels successful], as well as having people love you for your talent and what you were able to create for them.

    How do you want to be remembered most when it comes to you as a person and your career?

    When I'm gone, people are going to be like, "That artist that used to have that big laugh." I think that's definitely going to be a part of the conversation. I think people are gonna remember me as a really positive, authentic person — someone that laughs a lot, smiled a lot, wrote great records, and was super humble. I'm going to continue to work and try to break my own records. From being in the Guinness Book of World Records and getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, these are amazing accomplishments. 

    I'm super humbled and super grateful. I also feel like I'm gonna keep going, you know? So, I think people will just remember me as a female artist that worked extremely hard.

    Lastly, what's your idea of a perfect day?

    We're going to be on an island and there's going to be some kind of perfectly seasoned grilled food and a virgin daiquiri of some sort, preferably a mango colada. Then there'd be a yacht and jet skis involved. The water would be like bath water and the sand would be like baby powder. I'd have reggae music and Afro-beats playing, and it would be at least 90 degrees. Yeah, that's it. We'd have the option of the pool, the beach, the jacuzzi, or the yacht. A jacuzzi on a yacht. Yeah, any one of those.

    Want more of Ashanti? Be sure to check out her new holiday film, A New Diva's Christmas Carol, on VH1.

    And if you want to watch her in a different way, catch her on tour.