Grammy award-winning singer/songwriter Ashanti is taking her career to new creative heights. The 35-year-old entertainer recently partnered with Screen Media Films to executive produce her first film, Mothers & Daughters.
Ashanti joins a star studded cast that includes some of Hollywood’s most elite: Susan Sarandon, Christina Ricci, Sharon Stone, Selma Blair, Courtney Cox and Mira Sorvino. Her song, “Mother,” a tribute to her own mom and manager, Tina Douglas, is the movie’s theme song.
The film, which is in select theaters now, highlights significant, yet divided mother- daughter relationships in today’s modern world. Director Paul Duddridge uses the story of single, career driven Rigby Gray, a rock photographer, on how to be a transparent mother. When Rigby unexpectedly becomes pregnant, a series of photographs documenting different forms of motherhood appear in multiple variations.
Although this might be her first time executive producing a feature film, don’t sleep on Ashanti’s SAG card. Her credits include Coach Carter (2005), John Tucker Must Die (2006), Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) and Stuck (2015). So, don’t be surprised when you see her in front of the camera real soon.
Recently, the multi-platinum artist chatted with EBONY.COM about her latest film project, her “Momager,” and all things music.
EBONY.com: Congrats on Mothers & Daughters. How was your experience executive producing a film for the first time?
Ashanti: It was a great and fulfilling experience for me and my team. Parts of the movie were filmed separately so, unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to hang out with everyone on set like I wanted. A lot of variables were thrown in different places at different times, so it was all about tying it together and making everything make sense. I think the storyline was so well put together.
EBONY.com: Did you have a favorite relationship between the characters in the movie, or one that you could relate to the most?
Ashanti: Well actually, I can’t relate to any of the characters in the movie because all of the relationships in the movie were estranged. My relationship with my mother is the completely opposite of what’s portrayed and our bond is the closest connection I have with anyone. But if I could choose a scene, it would be at the end when Selma Blair’s character came to visit her mom at the hospital. She was having a child herself and was looking forward to tightening their connection by patching past disagreements. It was a warm, nurturing moment and I have those type of instances all the time with my mom.
EBONY.com: Your nickname for your mother is “Momager,” and it was only right for you to bring your song “Mother” on board for the movie. How much of the song is reflective of your relationship with her?
Ashanti: That’s one of her favorite songs of mine and the lyrics speak for itself. When I said, “You taught me strength and you gave me guidance, whenever faith was lost, you were there to find it,” I really meant it. It’s a reflection of seeing myself growing up with and having an amazing mom right by my side. As an adult, I appreciate our relationship even more because many of my friends and peers don’t have the closeness with their mom. Everything I said in the song was very vivid, heartwarming and represented a clear picture. To know that so many people yearly dedicated that song to their mother on Mother’s Day is such a great feeling and I’m really proud of that as a songwriter.
EBONY.com: How different is the process of executive producing a movie from executive producing an album?
Ashanti: With the film, you have a bunch of executive producers, directors, writers, scripts. There’s, management, lighting, the union and etc. There are so many components a part of that game, so naturally it isn’t my world. But when I’m writing my album, it’s totally my world. Even though it’s myself and another producer creating the project, Conceptually it’s more under my power and on my own terms. At the same time, it’s a different type of pressure because I’m ultimately speaking, I’m solely responsible for the end result. It’s pretty much, having everything on your shoulder versus depending on an entire team.
EBONY.com: After leaving Def Jam/ Murder Inc., you created your own independent label, Written Entertainment. In the music industry’s current state, would you recommend for new artists to start off independently or with a big machine behind them?
Ashanti: Times are completely different now. If you’re a brand new artist with a record you want to release to the masses, I would suggest you try and get it hot yourself first. This way you can create your own demand so you’ll end up having the option of demanding what you want if you do decide to sign with a label. If you don’t and you still get on hot on your own, you then have the ability to reap all of your profits
As a new artist there are so many new ways to put music out there where you don’t necessarily need a label because now labels will have their hands in your pocket and leave you with less control. Labels are going to tie you down with a 360 deal, they take percentages of literally every endeavor you’re tied to. It’s a lot of stipulations and constraints placed on you. What makes it worse is that, in terms of distributing budgets, labels aren’t even giving the same amount as they used to. It totally defeats the purpose. My advice would be to get it out there on your own first which will lead you to calling the shots.
EBONY.com: As you look back on your career and major milestones, is there one song that sticks out to you the most or one that you’re proudest of?
Ashanti: That’s tough because when you write your own music, each song comes from a real close place. If it’s something that I didn’t go through 100 percent myself, then someone close to me went through it. I also like different records of mine for creative purposes and metaphorically wise. I love “Rescue” off my debut and “Living my Life” from Chapter 2. There’s a record I have called “Struggle” off the Declaration album that I’ve been re-enjoying lately. More and more people have been starting to ask me that more, so I’m going have to go back and listen to my discography to get my answers prepared (laughs).
EBONY.com: Do you have any new music coming out and are you working on anything with Ja Rule?
Ashanti: I just posted snippets of a few songs on Snapchat and the response from my fans was overwhelming. Ja and I are like family. We talk all the time and we’ve been performing a lot recently. We have a few shows that’s are lined up for the summer. The dates should be released soon*.
EBONY.com: The world is still mourning the loss of Prince. Do you have any cool memories of meeting him?
Ashanti: Prince was one of the most talented musicians to ever do it. He performed at Madison Square Garden in New York when I was really young. Somehow my cousin and I snuck backstage and we saw him walk by in those pants with his butt cheeks hanging out. My cousin was a lot older than me so she was infatuated with him. As he passed by she howled, “Aowoahh” and he turned around and smiled. It was the most hilarious thing ever. That was my very own Prince moment.
People don’t really know this but we were going to try to do something out in Turks & Caicos. It’s one of my favorite places to always visit and he had this huge pink house out on this beautiful waterfront. I used to jet ski past it all the time. I was talking to the Prime Minister and we were in talks to potentially throw a concert there. But as you see, it never happened.
I know for sure 7 Aurelius, who was a big Murder Inc. producer, is crushed, as we all are. He thought he was Prince. He did “Foolish” for me, “Pain is Love,” and “Rainy Dayz” for Ja. He would use a bunch of synthesizers and sounds on his records to give off this Prince vibe. We were so inspired by his musicianship when we created those records. He has influenced so many artists and genres of music and he’ll definitely be missed.
*Ashanti and Ja Rule will be embarking on an 11 city tour beginning August 25.
Alex Titus hails from Long Island, NY, loves to travel and appreciates old school R&B music. Follow him on Twitter at @AlexTitus5