Ashanti dominated the radio with R&B, pop and hip-hop hits throughout the 2000s.
Now, she is publishing a semi-autobiographical children’s book “My Name is a Story.”
“Growing up with a different name, sometimes I felt a little like, ‘How come my name is different?'” Ashanti told WTOP. “I just remember being in circle time in grade school and the teacher doing roll call, she calls out this one, she gets to my name and there’s a little bit of hesitance. … I remember that feeling, so it definitely comes from a real place.”
In Ashanti’s case, her name carries a powerful origin story from Africa.
“My name originates from Ghana; it means ‘woman of strength,'” Ashanti said. “Sometimes when we travel outside of the United States to foreign countries, sometimes the women are considered a little bit lower on the totem pole, but in this specific tribe of people, women run things! … When I found that out, I was like, ‘Yes! I’m gonna use that.'”
In the storybook, the mother creates a fun acronym from the letters of the name.
“I love that section,” Ashanti said. “It’s something that speaks volumes to describe yourself, describe the empowerment, describe feeling confident, saying, ‘Hey, this is why my name is unique and different.’ The ‘A’ means this, the ‘S’ means this, the ‘H’ means this … I think that’s a really cool exercise for parents and grandparents to do with the kids.”
Which classic storybooks did she enjoy reading as a kid?
“That’s a good question!” Ashanti said. “My aunt actually used to buy me books that had my name in it. There’s an Ashanti story, there’s a story about a spider named Anansi. … I mean we all loved the Dr. Seuss books as well, but those were some of my favorite books.”
Many parents reading this book grew up listening to her music, starting with her self-titled debut album “Ashanti” (2002), which won the Grammy for Best Contemporary R&B Album with hits like “Foolish,” “Happy” and “Baby.” Her second album, “Chapter II” (2003), featured “Rock Wit U (Aww Baby),” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100.
“Just classic records,” Ashanti said. “I’m celebrating 20 years … from my debut. The fact that we can go do these arenas and have people screaming out these records, singing all the lyrics to these songs is really a magical moment. … I’m super humbled and blessed. … You just hold the microphone out and people are singing these records that I wrote!”
She also recorded hit duets with Ja Rule, from the No. 1 hit “Always on Time” (2001) to the No. 2 hit “Mesmerize” (2003), as well as the smash Fat Joe duet “What’s Luv?” (2002).
“It was very different [with both],” Ashanti said. “I think Ja was in the studio, but remember, we didn’t know each other early on, so it was kind of like, ‘Oh, OK, that’s the girl.’ It was [big] for me because they were out already, but I just remember feeling like I have a bunch of big brothers that were really excited. … We were just making some awesome music.”
She also acted in movies like “Coach Carter” (2005) starring Samuel L. Jackson.
“He was super welcoming,” Ashanti said. “He said, ‘I love that you take this serious,’ because sometimes musicians don’t get the best rap transitioning over into acting, so he really respected and appreciated that I was taking it very serious with everything going on that time, my album was out, I’m shooting music videos, touring, but I carved out time.”
Most recently, she just cut a new single that will be coming out soon.
“I have new music coming out, very excited about that,” Ashanti said. “I have a new single called ‘Falling for You’ that was written by myself and Bleu. I can’t wait for people to hear it. I’ve been playing snippets on Instagram and my DJ has been spinning it after my shows and the reaction has been incredible, so I’m very excited about that.”
Until then, pick up a copy of “My Name is a Story” to read with your kids.
“My message is just to uplift and encourage kids with a unique name to embrace it,” Ashanti said. “I want kids to feel empowered, happy and confident about being different and unique, and I want kids who don’t necessarily have a unique name to embrace it as well and be open-minded. Just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”