Of all the R&B artists to emerge in the aughties, Ashanti is one of the few that is still able to move the needle.
The R&B songbird was part of Irv Gotti's Murder Inc. label during the imprint's glory days. Dubbed the "Princess of R&B," Ashanti's eponymous debut was highly anticipated off the strength of the smash hit, 'Foolish,' as well as various standout guest features.
The collection would go on to become one of the more successful debuts in recent memory, premiering at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 charts and selling over 500,000 copies in its first week. The album also helped earn the songstress three Grammy awards, including Best Contemporary R&B Album.
Ashanti returned in 2003, with her sophomore effort, 'Chapter II,' and dodged the sophomore jinx. But with beef and legal troubles plaguing Murder Inc., the album was somewhat of an afterthought despite releasing quality singles 'Rock Wit U' and 'Rain on Me.'
Despite the turmoil with her label, Ashanti focused on her third offering, 'Concrete Rose,' which was released on Dec. 14, 2004. While the album saw her streak of No. 1 debuts and dominant first-week sales come to an end, the singer delivered another quality body of work to add to her catalog.
The collection finds Ashanti maturing as a person and an artist -- she's more refined than heard on her earlier albums. Devoid of chart-topping singles, what the LP lacks in commercial hype, it fully makes up for with stellar production, great songwriting and solid vocal performances throughout.
This weekend marks 10 years since the album touched our hearts and soul. So we've selected what we feel are the five most worthy selections from 'Concrete Rose.' Did your personal favorite make the cut? Check out our choices below.
Powered by live guitars and drums, 'Focus' is as infectious as anything featured on the album. The song is a musical tour de force. Ashanti is vocally on-point as well, giving the song just the right amount of swagger and spunk required to truly make it a hit out of the park. Pleasing to the sonic palette, 'Focus' is arguably the most complete song on 'Concrete Rose.'
Ashanti concocts a winner with the breezy 'Don't Let Them.' However, the song was not without controversy. Although fans demanded the second single be 'Don't Leave Me Alone,' Def Jam, the singer's parent label, refused to give Ashanti a budget for the second music video. To appease the fans, the singer went out of pocket to film a visual for another fan-favorite, 'Don't Let Them.' Co-written by Ashanti and Irv Gotti, the song samples Raekwon's 'Only Built 4 Cuban Link' classic, 'Heaven or Hell.' Seeking reassurance from her lover that he's around for the long-haul, 'Shanti hits on all cylinders with her feathery vocals and knack for melodic enunciation on full display. Although criminally slept-on, true fans know that it one of the standout tracks on the album.
Released as the first single from 'Concrete Rose,' the rock-tinged 'Only U' is an example of what Ashanti does best -- deliver indelible heatseekers that are a lock for radio airplay. Co-produced by Seven Aurelius and Irv Gotti, from the moment you hear the intro, which samples Club Nouveau's 'Why You Treat Me So Bad,' you already know what you're about to experience is something sonically epic. Featuring guitar riffs, claps, and booming drums, Ashanti is fully submissive on the song. "Oh I can't wait to get next to you / Oh, I just can't leave you alone / Boy you got me doing things that I would never do / And I can't stop the way I'm feeling if I wanted to," she coos. While not a mega-single on the level of 'Foolish' or 'Rain On Me,' 'Only U' is a track many artists would lust for and is nothing short of a certified banger.
'Concrete Rose' ends on a high note with the defiant close-out track, 'Freedom.' Written by Ashanti and co-produced by Demetrius McGhee and Irv Gotti, the song sees the singer lashing out against her haters and naysayers with lyrics like, "See, I ain't never think that I would have a situation where the people around me just envy, I must replace em' / See, I always thought the people who watched me grow would wanna see me blow, fa'sho, but little did I know." Featuring rolling piano keys, organs, and snares, 'Freedom' stands as the LP's most transparent track and gives the listener a glimpse of the backlash that fame can bring and underneath the glitz and the glamour.
Ashanti's appetite for a lover that can spoil her emotionally is detailed on the serene 'Every Lil' Thing.' Written by Ashanti and co-produced by Seven Aurelius and Irv Gotti, the Murder Inc. mami expresses her desires of unlimited adoration, singing "baby, from what you told me, you can give every lil' thing / and baby, from what you've shown me, instead of going out, you can bring the world to me / see, I done had it all, did it all, and now I'm looking for more." Powered by harps and light snares and Ashanti's bubbly vocals, 'Every Lil' Thing' is one of 'Concrete Rose's finer selections and quite the treat.