No, Ashanti can’t sing. Her second album, Chapter II, begins with not one, but two intros, including the annoying “Shany’s World,” in which Chink Santana boasts not-so-cleverly for over four minutes about his hostess while she coos in the background, showing off her not-so-spectacular pipes. Shany’s voice, in fact, ranks up there with some of pop music’s finest vocal talents, including powerhouses like Paula Abdul, Jennifer Lopez and Kevin Aviance. The album’s got some great tunes (“Rain on Me,” “Carry On”), but they’d be better suited for someone like Mary J. Blige, whom Shany & Co. bite off of on “Breakup 2 Makeup” (the track uses the loop from Blige’s version of “Sweet Thing”). With vocal talent out of the picture, surely Shany must possess some other redeeming quality, right? Charisma? Songwriting prowess? Some sort of social or cultural relevance? “Then Ya Gone” does purport to be a life-affirming jam (“One day you’re here, baby/And then ya gone,” goes the chorus), but I don’t think that counts. Shany fares better with less ambitious tunes like “Ohhh Ahhh” and “I Don’t Mind,” where she can just, well, ohhh and ahhh. Of course, none of this is Ashanti’s responsibility. It’s not her fault that our standards are so freakin’ low. It’s not her fault her record company has inexplicably coined her “the princess of hip-hop and R&B.” The new track “Living My Life” even makes multiple references to songs from Ashanti’s enormous, life-long canon of hits! It’s no surprise that the singer all but gives credit to Murder Inc. head Irv Gotti on the old-school R&B track “The Story of 2”: “I got a dreammaker…Dreams are made not by one, by two.” At least her dreams—like her album—are consistently a-shitty.
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