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by
9 September, 2008@10:04 am
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“It’s been about four years now.  I’ve been through a lot.”

That’s how Ashanti’s new album, The Declaration, starts out.  While she’s been going through it, the airwaves have been dominated by the likes of Alicia Keys, Mariah Carey and Rihanna.  Leaving us to wonder, where does Ashanti fit in?  What can she offer that the others don’t?

It’s been four years since her last album, but really it seems like the release of 2002′s hit single “Foolish,” was the last time she was truly the “Princess of R&B.”  Can she take back the title with The Declaration?

We get a taste of what she’s been going through on “The Way That I Love You,” as she laments all the time she’s given to a broken relationship.  She tried to convince herself what they had was too good, but once she starts finding credit card receipts and messages on his sidekick, she knows he doesn’t love her the same.

As she sings, “All I have to say is why?” We find ourselves asking the same question.  What kind of fool would cheat on Ashanti?!

She spends a few more tracks grappling with the end of this tortured love affair, not quite being able to let go.  However, on “Girlfriend,” she seems to have moved on to someone else as she sultrily teases, “I’m lying here between these sheets lying wide awake/thinking about the love we could make…If I was your girlfriend I would let you touch everything…I would let you take control of everything I have inside.”

Ashanti is actually at her best when she quiets things down and plays the sensual seductress role.  Along with “Girlfriend,” she continues to have success with this tone on “Things You Make Me Do” featuring Robin Thicke and “Good Good,” where she touts the prowess of her…good, good.

“I put it on him right/I do it every night/I leave him mouth open like woooo…”

As a vocalist, though, Ashanti is fine but she’s not going to bring the house down.  She doesn’t have the ability to transcend standard R&B fair into something exceptional.  On the inspirational ballad “Shine,” for instance, she just doesn’t have enough firepower to really inspire.

And not to violate the rules and requirements of R&B and hip hop, Ashanti is sure to include a “Dear Mama” track, “Mother,” leaving no doubt that she loves and appreciates ma dukes.  At this point we can just go on the assumption that hip hop and R&B artists love their mothers unless stated otherwise (i.e. Eminem).  We don’t necessarily need a five-minute track stressing the point.

Ashanti closes out the album with “The Declaration,” and it sounds like she’s thinking about that relationship that seemed so right at the time.  But now Ashanti declares: “I’m still here and I see you for who you are/and you’re not far from the devil baby.”

This album is a decent listen, but unfortunately, while Ashanti’s been dealing with the devil, she’s become just another face in the R&B crowd. – Stefan Schumacher

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