Ashanti Shequoiya Douglas (born October 13, 1980) is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, actress, dancer, model, and fashion designer who rose to fame in the early 2000s.
Ashanti is most famous for her eponymous Grammy Award-winning debut album Ashanti which featured the hit song "Foolish", and sold a record-breaking 503,000 copies (gold) in its first week of release in the U.S. in April 2002. In the same week, she became the first female performer to simultaneously hold the top two places on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart with "Foolish", and "What's Luv" (with Fat Joe). She broke records again by having three Top Ten songs (Foolish, What's Luv, and Always on Time (with Ja Rule)) on the Billboard Hot 100 charts in the same week, being the first female to accomplish this feat and being second only to The Beatles. Ashanti also wrote and sang background on the song "Ain't It Funny" (Murder Remix) sung by Jennifer Lopez which was also in the top 10 charts at the same time as "Foolish", "Always on Time" (with Ja Rule), and "What's Luv" (with Fat Joe). In 2002, she was acclaimed as the "Princess of Hip Hop and R&B." By 2007 Ashanti had sold more than 7 million albums in the U.S., and more than 12 million albums worldwide.
Ashanti cites Mary J. Blige, Ella Fitzgerald, Yolanda Adams, the Clark Sisters and Blue Magic as her musical influences. She is currently working on her fourth studio album entitled The Declaration, which is due out in February of 2008. Ashanti appeared in the Sci-Fi horror thriller Resident Evil: Extinction as a fire-powered Florence Nightingale named Nurse Betty.
Ashanti was born in Glen Cove, New York. She inherited a love of music from her mother Tina, a former dance teacher, and her father, Thomas, a former singer. Her mother named her after the former Empire of Ashanti in Ghana; in this nation, the women had power and influence, and Ashanti's mother wanted her daughter to follow that model. Her grandfather, James, was a civil-rights activist who associated with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the 1960s. Growing up, Ashanti took dance lessons and joined the church choir. Ashanti went to Bernice Johnson Cultural Arts Center where she studied different dance styles including tap, jazz, ballet, African, modern, and hip hop. She danced with the Senior Pro Ensemble at Carnegie Hall, the Apollo Theater, Brooklyn Academy of Music, Avery Fisher Hall, and the Black Spectrum Theater. She also performed at the 1994 Caribbean Awards and dancing with Judith Jamison of the Alvin Ailey Dance Company. With actress and choreographer Debbie Allen at the helm, Ashanti also performed in the Disney television film Polly alongside stars Keshia Knight Pulliam and Phylicia Rashad. Ashanti displayed a knack for singing when she was six by singing in a gospel choir but her mother discovered her full singing potential when she overheard Ashanti singing Mary J. Blige's "Reminisce" to herself at age twelve. By the time she hit puberty, her mom was sending out demo tapes of her daughter's vocal and dancing talents. The family couldn't afford to go to a studio and record a formal demo so when labels called, Ashanti would have to sing and dance in front of the record company executives. Her love of music continued to rise as she attended high school and began to write songs. As a teenager, she performed in a local talent show and at the Soul Cafe, China Club, Madison Square Garden, Caroline's Comedy Club and Greek Fest 2000. In her first major singing performance, Ashanti blew the Apollo Theater audience away with her rendition of Yolanda Adams's "More than a Melody." She also appeared in a number of big-name music videos, in addition to other dance work.
When Ashanti was fourteen, there was a bidding war going on for her by Jive Records, EMI and Bad Boy Records. Initially, she went to Bad Boy Records and sang one of Mary J. Blige's songs in front of P.Diddy and Biggie Smalls. After being impressed by her singing ability, Diddy then challenged her character. He pulled out a bottle and told her it was his new fragrance, which he loved. After one sniff, Ashanti exclaimed, "Oh pew, it stinks. I hate it!" Diddy just started laughing stating it was just a test to judge her character. In the end, due to a bad contract, Ashanti didn't sign with Diddy. This ultimately 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, cheerleading, and running on her school's track team. She was an honor student in English and belonged to the English club where she began writing poetry. She was also in the Drama club and performed in a few plays. She was a star athlete, playing baseball, soccer, and badminton, however, her skills in the 100- and 200-meter dash as well as the triple jump, her specialty reaching as far as 35 feet, earned her athletic scholarships to Princeton & Hampton University and got her scouted by the Olympic committee. Instead, 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.