Few items carry the "declaration" title well. There is, of course, the Declaration of Independence, along with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And there is also the Declaration of the Rights of Man. Such powerful examples may exaggerate the level of boldness Ashanti would need to title her fourth album the Declaration, but when examining contemporary R&B history, Ashanti is simply reminding individuals why she is deserving to be the "Princess of Hip Hop and R&B."
Although several years have passed since her historical and controversial receipt of the Soul Train Aretha Franklin Award for "Entertainer of the Year," time has proven—without much trumpeting—that Ashanti is more than a one-album, let alone a one-hit, wonder. For the record, Ashanti is the only singer to have fourteen top ten R&B hits this decade. She is also the first female performer to simultaneously hold the top two places on the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Surprised? Well, dear reader, you are probably not alone. More than half of her 15 million albums have been sold outside of the U.S.—making her an international superstar by all measures.
While Ashanti may not have massive marketing machines behind her like Beyoncè, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey or Janet Jackson, she has managed to have incredible longevity, despite limited commercial and critical success. That being said, some may not find Ashanti's Declaration as bold as its title suggests, but the album is definitely her best work and a personal magnum opus rife with female empowerment and sensibility.
It's no secret that Ashanti's prior works were largely guided by Irv Gotti. In fact, her early success was fueled by her collaboration with members of The Inc, especially Ja Rule. This time around, Ashanti touts her new-found creative control—replacing Irv Gotti with a host of industry heavyweights: Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins, Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds, Jermaine Dupri, Channel 7, Neff-U, Peter Stengaard, and L. T. Hutton, who worked on the album's powerful lead single, "The Way That I Love You." Early sales will no doubt be fueled by the strength of "The Way That I Love You," which is a stark change—lyrically and sonically—from her previous lead singles: "Foolish," "Rock Wit U (Awww Baby)" and "Wonderful."
For better or worse, much has changed since 2004, when Ashanti released Concrete Rose. And if truth be told, the R&B landscape has been completely redefined. Just think, as hard as it may seem: four years ago, Destiny's Child was still a group, the Fugees were in the midst of a "reunion" and Rihanna was preparing her first release, Music of the Sun.
More important, several R&B divas have surfaced (and disappeared) since the release of her GRAMMY-winning debut—giving Ashanti ample motivation to prove herself as the real "Princess of Hip Hop and R&B." So if the Declaration pulsates with a sense of urgency, then one should blame the album's timing, rather than its contents, because the album materializes as Ashanti's penning of a new musical chapter, rather than an attempt to redefine or takeover the R&B genre.
The Declaration lays all of Ashanti's cards on the table—covering a wide range of emotions that every female experiences, no doubt, at some point. "Good Good" acknowledges her sexual prowess, while her "Shine" empowers others to overcome their own personal battles. "Struggle," however, is the album's stand-out track and a realistic portrayal of a relationship that has successfully weathered the storms of love. Another treat is "Things You Make Me Do," a duet with Robin Thicke, where we find Ashanti falling prey to the power of love.
All in all, the Declaration reminds us why the world fell head-over-heels for Ashanti in 2002. And now that she has finally declared her professional independence, Ashanti's future works may finally get the respect (and attention) that they deserve.