For anyone not yet tired of Murder Inc.‘s signature overplayed, recycled and overplayed again sound, the “world’s most talented” record label’s “hip-hop/R&B princess” arrives with her debut self-titled album. Ashanti shamelessly delivers more of the same hit-proven formula that has been well-oiled and perfected by label head Irv Gotti on recent hits like Ja Rule’s “Always on Time” and J. Lo’s “I’m Real” (both of which featured Ashanti). The songs are infectious and fine-tuned and most of the album is underscored with bristling live instrumentation courtesy of Chink Santana, Rob Bacon and Butch Smalls (acoustic guitarwork fills the standout “Rescue” and the midtempo “Scared”). The disc’s lead single, “Foolish,” has already ascended the charts and it seems the Murder Inc. sound has fully captured the pop world—at least for now. But tracks like the flute-infused “Happy” are admittedly—and perhaps too obviously—influenced by other R&B divas like Mary J. Blige and rarely give way to anything fresh or new. Ultimately, Ashanti fails to carve a unique niche for the budding singer.
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