Braveheart (to be released March 4, 2014)
It has been the best of times and the worst of times for Ashanti Douglas.
The worst? Her fifth album, Braveheart, has been floating around since at least 2011, with the release date pushed back further than LeBron’s hairline. Many fans just assumed it was thrown in the cryogenic chamber with Dr. Dre’s Detox, never to see the light of day.
However, the album has finally arrived, with hopes that it could be the best of times for the Princess of Hip Hop and R&B.
Sadly, that’s not the case. What should have been a triumphant return to the game winds up more like a visit from your hyperactive long-lost cousin – you’re happy to see her until she falls back into old, annoying habits.
But first, let’s talks about what works on the album.
All of Ashanti’s biggest hits all have one thing in common – great production, often laced with familiar samples. That’s the case for Braveheart, which boasts some really solid beats. I just about broke my neck nodding my head to “Runaway,” which borrows from LL Cool J’s “I Shot Ya.” Bass guitars rumble through “Nowhere” while the single “Never Should Have” drives forward with marching percussion.
It’s the songwriting and lyrics, however, that prove to be Ashanti’s undoing.
Now we know Ashanti will never be confused with Whitney Houston’s but her last album, 2008’s The Declaration, showed signs of growth, in both vocal ability and songwriting. That mostly goes out of the window here. That’s painfully apparent in the first track, “Intro/Braveheart”: “A lot of people counted me out/that feeds my hunger to continue my journey” she says on the atmospheric intro. She knows she’s the underdog and is ready to prove her haters wrong and the track sounds like a woman ready to ride into war. Seconds later, she yelling all over the track, hitting needless high notes – her vocals knock around like a drunken night of bumper cars. An industry veteran should know her range better than that.
Much of the songwriting rings hollow as well. “Love Games” with Jeremih is endearing at times but lyrics like “I kiss you there/you kiss me back” sound straight out of seventh-grade fifth period. The themes used on “3 Words” (I love you boo!) and “She’s Can’t” (“she ain’t got nuthin’ on me!”) don’t bring anything new to the table either.
Most frustratingly, on “Scars,” by far the best track here, Ashanti gets in her own way yet again. The midtempo track urges strength through struggles and succeeds – until Ashanti pops up at the end to give a rambling explanation of the lyrics. “(Scars) is a double-entendre, I guess.” Thanks, playa, we already figured that out. It’s like someone turned on the DVD commentary.
And I won’t even get into the handful of “TURN UP” tracks like the sickeningly repetitive “Court” or “I Got It,” with Rick Ross rapping off topic about choppers and chickenheads, as usual. At least he used “pickles in his salad” instead of Wing Stop for his obligatory food metaphor this time. At least Rawse is still sticking to his new year’s resolutions.
Considering all the struggles Ashanti faced in releasing Braveheart, this was her chance to bring something new to patiently-awaiting fans. Instead, it’s just the same ol’ Ashanti – same hot beats, same questionable vocals and hollow lyrics.
With an album named Braveheart, I wish she would have shown more bravery by trying something new.
Best tracks: “Scars,” “Nowhere,” “Runaway”
3 stars out of 5