Ashanti – Ashanti (review)

You may not have noticed, but we are in the midst of a Puff Daddy revival. This week’s No. 1 pop and R&B records are based on tunes made popular by artists who once recorded for Sean “please call me ‘P. Diddy’ now” Combs’ Bad Boy Records.

Jennifer Lopez’s pop smash “Ain’t It Funny” employs a snatch from Craig Mack’s “Flava in Your Ear.” (And isn’t it a great ex-boyfriend’s revenge that Combs’ former gal pal Lopez is using one of his songs to get to the top of the charts?)

And the R&B No. 1 “Foolish,” by newcomer Ashanti, borrows its hypnotic melody from the Notorious B.I.G.’s “One More Chance.”

It may come as shock to some hip-hop/R&B listeners that these nearly 8-year-old, but still-familiar, cuts are fodder for nostalgic re-purposing.

But therein lies the secret behind the jet-propelled ascendancy of 21-year-old Long Islander Ashanti, who is on no fewer than three songs in the Billboard pop Top 10 (her own “Foolish” and guest appearances on Fat Joe’s “What’s Luv” and Ja Rule’s “Always on Time”).

She speaks to a cohort of music fans who were too young to viscerally experience the glory days of the Bad Boy era, which still have a potent significance in hip-hop culture.

Ashanti’s career is modeled after another artist whom Combs helped mold: Mary J. Blige.

Where Blige is called “the queen of hip-hop soul,” Ashanti is being touted as “the princess of hip-hop and R&B.”

And Ashanti’s eponymous debut follows the same formula as Blige’s seminal sophomore effort, “My Life, ” a moving meld of heartbroken lyrics and hard hip-hop beats. One of Ashanti’s tunes, “Baby,” even uses the same backing track as Blige’s unreleased but widely bootlegged “Same Place, Same Time.”

But sad lyrics and terse beats do not a superstar make. Ashanti’s lazy croons lack Blige’s soul-bearing heart.

Throughout the album, Ashanti presents herself as a young woman searching for her identity through relationships with no-good men.

The best cuts — “Scared” and “Rescue” — evoke the intoxicating mix of danger and newfound pleasure that defines young romance. But Ashanti’s thin voice and ingenue persona are too passive to sustain an entire album. Too often she comes off like a copy of Blige, with much of the original’s quality and impact lost.

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