Ashanti’s ‘BraveHeart’: Album Review

Christina Lee | March 4, 2014 5:30 am
Can Ashanti bet on herself? This question hangs over the R&B singer’s fifth album BraveHeart (out today, ) as she attempts to escape her past. She has yet to match the meteoric success of her 2002 self-titled debut — first-week sales of 503,000 copies, the biggest launch ever for a solo female artist — when she played a mafia princess, as imagined by her Murder Inc. label boss Irv Gotti. A winning tactic was to sing gently of heartache while borrowing soul samples, if not lyrics, from New York hip hop icons like Notorious B.I.G. (“Foolish”) and Jay Z (“Rain on Me”), choices that boosted her presence like bodyguards at her side. As shallow as this premise was, Ashanti hasn’t sounded as convincing since then.

BraveHeart is her first album released through the singer’s own label, Written Entertainment, and also the first without Gotti’s direction. It arrives after a few years of false starts; Ashanti recorded 60 songs, released several singles and dressed as a modern-day Aunty Entity only to scrap the look entirely. Along the way, she made an important discovery: “I’m not a great decision maker.” This confession underscores an unfortunate point: BraveHeart sounds as if Ashanti spent her time looking at what everyone else was doing, rather than looking inward.

The 33-year-old often sounds unsure of herself here as she tries to update her sound. She nearly disappears into “Count,” a strip club anthem that lifts the numbing repetition of Rihanna‘s “Cake.” She plagiarizes from Future‘s alien-transmission balladry, twice: Rapper French Montana coos with her in the spare “Early in the Morning,” as if he took copious notes from the Atlanta rapper’s gargling delivery in Rihanna’s “Loveeeeeee Song.” R&B singer Jeremih joins her for “Love Games,” a soulless carbon copy of Ciara duet (and highlight) “Where You Go.” As if that wasn’t offensive enough, Ashanti gasps and moans through her come-hithers as if faking an orgasm.

She’s more convincing when she sings of heartache, though not by much. In the stuttering torch song “3 Words,” she sings, “I love, I hate,” as if lazily picking through a field’s worth of flowers before she decides. She concludes the otherwise fine “Scars” with a stiff, puzzling spoken word of how she’s healing, a Cliff’s Notes assertion that only detracts from her delightfully vindictive lyrics (“And I’ma make sure I’m drop dead gorgeous / every time he see me, so he wants it more”). Although Ashanti promised that BraveHeart elaborates on her on-again, off-again relationship with rapper Nelly, she sings of indecision and does allude to infidelity, while otherwise singing of vague troubles, still guarded all the while.

In album context, BraveHeart‘s singles make for rare occasions where Ashanti proves she can handle making her own decisions. With “Never Should Have,” Ashanti assured that, for all the flack she’s gotten for having a softer voice (more than 20,000 people signed a petition protesting her win at the 2002 Lady of Soul Awards), she can belt through a stadium pop anthem with ease. In the Rick Ross-featuring “I Got It,” Ashanti’s voice darts and lands on a worthy assertion —  “I just like to celebrate my accolades — as if to say, “Who’s to stop me from taking over again, under my own terms?” Otherwise, BraveHeart doesn’t sound as if Ashanti’s in charge.

Idolator Score: 2/5

Christina Lee

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