It may be five years since she dropped a new album, but that doesn’t mean the “Foolish” songbird has been sitting around. In fact, Ashanti, 33, has started her own record label — for which she recorded Braveheart (out March 4).
She spoke to TIME for this week's issue.
TIME: This album was supposed to come out months ago. What caused the delay?
It’s kind of been, again, me being the head of my record label, there are so many things to deal with, like producer agreements and scheduling and budgets and getting a clearance and there are so many things that can hold things up. And while that’s happening I’m like, 'You know what, let me go into the studio.' You get the creative bug and then that ends up taking time. I love recording. I love what I do. Timing, sometimes, it wasn’t my friend.
It sounds like a lot of work.
It is so much work. It’s not only the producer, then it’s the attorneys and then it’s studio bills and then it’s the mix and then it’s the master and then it’s the license and then it’s negotiation and then it’s the publishing… There’s a lot that goes into it. This is my first time and it was extremely hard and it was a little frustrating but I’m really excited. I feel like the music was all worth it.
Does your album Braveheart have anything to do with the Mel Gibson movie?
Kind of. The title is self-explanatory. It’s being brave and having heart in whatever it is you do. But the metaphor that I used was that, in the movie, the Scots have homemade weapons and paint and they’re barefoot. But their drive and their passion was undeniable. They came for war. And they ran onto that field fearless. I feel like that’s the position I’m taking, coming from a major record label to an indie and having my own record label and doing it on my own. I think it symbolizes where I am now.
Honestly, my album speaks for itself. Everything I’m doing is so brave. Being a young, female artist with my last album coming out in 2008 with a major label, and in 2014 as an indie, is very brave — especially in these times with this economy and the music industry changing so fast and social networking and media. There are a lot of risks and a lot of sacrifices made.
And I take it you're a fan of the movie.
It's definitely one of my favorites.
How many times have you seen it?
I haven’t watched it recently but one of my fans bought me two DVDs for Valentine’s Day, even though I have it.
Speaking of Valentines, one of your new tracks is about your first real love. How do you know when it's real?
There is definitely a difference. Real love hurts. You don’t know it’s real until it hurts. Happiness is expected, you know? You can be happy about going to the movies. You can be happy about sailing on a yacht in the south of France. But when you feel touched internally, if you miss someone or your life isn’t the same without that person in it and you realize it, for me that’s real. It’s about a sincerity that’s missing, that you don’t get with every person.
You mean like when things aren’t so good?
Absolutely. If you’re in a one-room shack eating peanut butter and jelly and you’re still happy, that’s real love.
What’s the best love advice you've ever gotten?
I get pretty good advice. I have pretty good people around me who are in marriages for decade. My parents have been married for 36 years now, or 37. The advice that I get is that it’s about sacrifice, it’s about being a unit and being yourself, and being appreciated and appreciating that person, and not trying to change — when you fall in love with someone it’s about that person, and not trying to change them into something else.
You have lots of cool duets on this album. What makes someone great to collaborate with?
What works for me is the yin and the yang. I’ll bring the sexy and let him bring the hardcore, so you can appreciate the balance of the record. It’s just having that chemistry that’s organic, that it doesn’t seem forced, it seems like that’s who it’s supposed to be and that’s how it’s supposed to sound.
Who would be your dream collaboration? Someone who you haven’t worked with before.
You know who I’d love to work with? We were talking at the Grammys. The Weeknd. I think something with him would be super cool. I love Bruno Mars. I love Miguel. Me and Miguel were on a plane together not too long ago and we talked about doing something as well.
Is there any music you’ve been listening to a lot recently, besides your own?
You know, I’ve been asked that question a few times, and since the movement is about being honest and being brave, I have to be honest. I’ve been listening to nothing but my album. The fact that it’s coming out, I have to listen to it!
You don’t have time for other stuff?
Right. If you ask me in another month or two, I’ll have a different answer, but as of right now I’ve kind of just been listening to everything and I’m listening to what the fans are saying about certain records. I’m going back and I’m like, ‘Oh wow! They got it!’
What about other stuff? Have you seen any good movies or do you have a favorite TV show?
I definitely have not been to the movies in a long time. What is my favorite TV show? I guess a guilty pleasure. I watch reality TV. I can’t lie. I watch the Housewives. I catch a little Love and Hip-Hop every now and then.
Between Beverly Hills and Atlanta. I don’t know. They get crunk. They definitely get crunk.