Ashanti — the Ja Rule-proclaimed Princess of Hip-Hop and R&B — hasn’t released an album’s worth of new material since 2008’s The Declaration. But that streak has come to an end with Braveheart, a 13-track collection of tunes that returns the Long Islander to the genre-pureed sound she reigned over in the early-to-mid aughts.
“Braveheart,” the single, is a mix of themes, with Ashanti singing lyrics of empowerment, surviving, pursuing her passions, etc., while also appreciating the man who sticks by her side when she stumbles in those pursuits. The highlight here is the “braveheart” chants that close the intro and bleed into the title track. Vocally, this is the most crisp song on this compilation and also one of the most diverse for her range, which is a welcome surprise.
But “Scars” scores the award for the best song on Braveheart. The moody mid-tempo groove finds the Princess possibly at her most vindictive. “And I’mma make sure I’m drop-dead gorgeous every time he sees me/ So he want it more, more,” she sings vengefully, directing her rage at an ex. Yet after daggers are thrown, Ashanti ponders more than preaches in the spoken word portion of the track — praising the scars as symbols of healing and strength.
On the other side of the coin, two “ride-or-die chick” anthems get sprinkled throughout the track list. One of them, “Nowhere,” won’t be winning any awards from feminists. In the cut, Ashanti talks about fixing her man a plate after he’s been running the streets. Guess that fits the “what we got ain’t perfect, but it’s worth it” message? Sigh. “Runaway,” not much different sonically from “Nowhere,” finds her unable to get away from yet another hurt-causing relationship.
Remember Rihanna’s strip club-ready “Birthday Cake”? If you haven’t scrubbed that from your memory, that bounce and the repetitious chants in the chorus of “Count” should be familiar and help start the party. When things need to get sexy, though, the French Montana-assisted “Early In the Morning” and “Love Games,” which features Jeremih, will do, but “3 Words” — with melodies reminiscent of The Declaration’s “Things You Make Me Do,” which included duet partner Robin Thicke — does a better job fitting the bill.
Setting the template for Rihanna,
SoulBounce’s favorite whipping post Ashanti was arguably a singles artist in the early days of her career. Casual listeners and even hard-core fans were (are?) better acquainted with the names of her song titles than those of her albums. For better or worse, Braveheart somewhat fits into that same formula, with too many of the tracks — such as “Never Should Have” and “She Can’t” —blending together and lacking some sort of hook. They probably would have been run into the ground were it 2003 and that familiarity is great for the die-hards. But the sometimes indiscernible hip-hop/R&B hybrid singles found on Braveheart wouldn’t be missed if some of the out-of-the-box ideas Ashanti she explored on The Declaration would have been more prevalent on this effort.